The popular notion about Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee is that they're soaring in the 2008 presidential race because they're candidates of change. And indeed that's true. But it's a particular kind of change that is key to their appeal. They might be called the "take it easy" candidates.
There's a certain amount of nostalgia in their message, too. They would like to return America to a more tranquil time when the country seemed less threatened -- like the years between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the 9/11 attacks in 2001 -- and when our politic culture was less combative.
And this points to an underlying theme in both the Obama and Huckabee campaigns. It's pretty simple: We can get along with the world and with each other. As a nation, we don't have to be tense and angry. We can take it easy.
Since he began his run for the Democratic nomination, Obama has emphasized his goal of ending the bitter fighting between Democrats and Republicans and forging bipartisan compromises. He promises to stop the polarization, the hyped-up political atmosphere, the nasty squabbling, the personal attacks -- in short, all the stuff that millions of Americans hate about Washington.
His early opposition to the war in Iraq plays a role here. America, Obama suggests or at least implies, doesn't have to go off on crusades around the world. Nor do we have to be so furiously at odds with adversaries around the world that we insist on an arms-length, no-talking relationship. Obama says as president he would meet with anti-American leaders like President Amadinejad of Iran.
A Republican senator mockingly refers to Obama as "Senator Bring Us Together." But it's a talking point that Obama has been using effectively since his celebrated speech at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston. Americans, he said then, can "pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one."
Just this week, Obama is stressing this idea in his Christmas TV ad. Sitting with his wife and young daughters beside a Christmas tree and a fire, he repeats a line from his campaign speeches -- and it seems quite appropriate in a Christmas holiday context. "The things that unite us as a people are more powerful and enduring than anything that sets us apart," he says.
Huckabee, the first candidate to air a Christmas message, makes a slightly different point in his ad. Politics isn't the most important thing in life, he indicates -- a point campaign-weary residents of Iowa and New Hampshire no doubt agree with. At Christmas, Huckabee says, "what matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ."
From the beginning of his candidacy, Huckabee has promoted the idea that everyone needs to lighten up. He introduced himself in the early television debates among Republican presidential candidates this way: "I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at anyone about it." Though a Republican, Huckabee has actually echoed Obama, a Democrat. In the Republican debate on December 11 in Des Moines, he said his top priority is to "bring the country back together."