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Visions of Lincoln

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jul 2, 2007 1:50PM

In the ludicrous horse race that the 2008 presidential campaign has devolved into, much of the charisma and ideas that pushed Barack Obama to become a candidate in the first place have been lost in the "reporting" of the money and power-grabbing of this most early of seasons. At this early juncture, handicapping and speculation are a fool's game, although that hasn't stopped many from trying.

Along the way, we've been treated to such spectacles as Joe Biden practically endorsing Obama in the week after his announcement that he is running, Bill Richardson put both feet in his mouth on Meet the Press, John Edward's obsession with his hair, and myriad Obama and Hillary YouTube videos. If aliens were orbiting above our nation, watching all of this play out, they would quickly come to the conclusion that we were deciding if we should nominate a game show host, an android, or a hip-hop star. What they wouldn't conclude, however, is that we were trying to nominate a candidate with a message or ideas.

Earlier this week, the Obama campaign launched two ads in Iowa, making sure that they have gotten heavy play on the internet. Both ads highlight why Obama took off in the first place: his skill at conciliation and negotiation, and his ability to stir and inspire audiences with the power of oration. As biographical ads go, they serve their purpose well, refocusing his base on ideas, and introducing new voters to many of the themes he touched on in his 2004 keynote address to the Democratic Convention. (Although Obama has been short on actual ideas and solutions in both his speeches and his website.)

As the Obama camp struggles to promote ideas and a message, rather than just more news of fundraisers and cash-in-hand (which they did late last week with an email touting the quarter million donors that have contributed thus far), the Illinois state GOP is struggling with it's own efforts to find a message to promote it's ideas (as well as the struggle to pick which ideas it will promote). As Andy McKenna went up to address party faithful in Peoria last week, one of his own, state Senator Kirk Dillard was talking up Barack Obama in Iowa.

Still reeling from the defection of state Rep Paul Froehlich of Schaumburg, finding his own political conversion to Democrat (after doing the political algebra, no doubt), McKenna still must contend with what has become the party of Lincoln, in a state that has become so blue it makes him green. Next year's front-loaded primaries don't make McKenna's work to heal a fractured party any easier: mending the deep division between moderate and conservative Republicans in this state in time to mount serious and credible challenges to Democratic incumbents seems nearly insurmountable, with ballot-access petitions hitting the streets in August.

As the Obama camp tries to move the debate over to ideas and visions for the nation in the state of farmers and factory workers, we hope that he keeps in mind that men of conviction and ideas have made great presidents; Great Compromisers only built the strength of the opposition while angering the base (think Bill Clinton). Back home in Illinois, there is no shortage of ideas and convictions, and the state GOP needs to figure out how to settle that debate. When (and if) they can do that, maybe Illinois can have a state Democratic party that isn't so self-loathing and narcissistic that the rest of us suffer under the weight of the collective ego.