The Day the Hare beat the Tortoise to the Oval Office

Obama resembles the Hare in the story of the Tortoise and the Hare  (1). Having entered the national scene just four short years ago as a keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama’s rise defies the tradition norms of presidential selection. In the well-known children’s story, the slower Tortoise won the race against the faster Hare by using a slow and steady approach. Dunn states that history shows that candidates with longer and steady public careers typically win against candidates with shorter and less tested careers (2). That may all change.

Looking over some of the Presidents in the twentieth century, they typically have had fairly prominent public careers (1):

FDR – President’s Cabinet and Governor of NY
JFK – Won elections in both the U.S. House and Senate
Jimmy Carter – State Senator and Governor
Ronald Reagan – Twice elected Governor of California
Bill Clinton – Attorney General and Governor of Arkansas

To this point, Obama has served as a State Senator and is still in the process of completing his first full term as a U.S. Senator. Conversely, McCain has served two terms in the House and currently serves in his 4th Senate term.

In addition to the comparatively short length of time he has served, Obama is much farther away from the ideological center than McCain. Ranking as one of the most liberal member of the Senate, Obama does not naturally appeal the “meat and potatoes” of American politics (1). Appealing to the far left of the political spectrum, his candidacy in some ways reflects McGovern of 72 more than Clinton of 92 (1).

Clearly this paradigm favors McCain. So why is Obama giving McCain a run for his money?

While American politics can be equated to the race of the Tortoise and the Hare (1), there are two other paradigms that must be considered: “No great men are elected President” (2) and “American politics does not reject mediocrity” (2).

Although Obama does not fit into the typically mold of a political tortoise, he may better fit into the two latter molds. First, he comes from one of the Big Ten electoral states (1). Being from one of the Big Ten, Obama represents a state that serves as a better microcosm of American politics than McCain’s home state of Arizona (1). So Obama is more like everyone else than McCain.

McCain also reminds people of a time gone by. Reminiscent to Bush Sr., McCain represents an America of strong military service (3). He also conveys an image of moral clarity that views the world in black and white, right and wrong. Like Clinton before him, Obama seems to better reflect the culture’s current complexity of relativism (3). Again, Obama is more like everyone else than McCain.

Also, having been a POW, McCain stands apart as a man who has endured extreme conditions that few will ever face. Obama on the other hand doesn’t really stand out for any single thing. Despite for an extraordinary ability to connect with people, his record does not distinguish him from any other U.S. politician. With the trend being clear, one could summarize it with the following children’s melody:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Obama resembles the Hare in a Tortoise’s race. He also looks like the most uncommonly common individual in the race. Will Obama’s commonness be enough to place him in the most uncommon of offices, or will the Tortoise come from behind to win the race?


1- Dunn, C. (2007). The seven laws of presidential leadership: An introduction to the American Presidency. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

2- Dunn, C. (2008). Lecture. Delivered October 1, 2008 at Regent University.

3- Dunn, C. (2001). The scarlet thread of scandal: Morality and the American presidency. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, INC.

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