Spread-Out Positions: the Weakness of Obama's Speech

In Sun Tzu's strategy, a spread-out position tries to defend too much territory. It loses its focus and leaves many openings for attack, which is why it is defined as weak. Obama's speech addressing race illustrates how easily this mistake can be made. Obama's strong positioning came from being a candidate that transcended race and party, something that all America can applaud. Unequaled as an orator, he should have embraced the opportunity to solidify this position when the firestorm about his pastor gave him the opportunity. Instead, he tried to defend himself on too many fronts, trying to be all things all people, spreading criticism and blame rather than building up his position. Since this is the most common strategic mistake that politicians make, he ended up looking very like a traditional politician. In conflating the views of his minister with that of the black community and the prejudice of his white grandmother, he mires himself in the problem. Instead, he needed to do something unexpected and imaginative. For example, he could have claimed his post-racial position by embracing the truth of Ferraro's statement instead of criticizing it. Only as a black candidate can he prove the America has moved beyond racism. Since his goal is to America together, he should have confessed that he was personally very wrong to tacitly accept his minister's anti-American, anti-white rhetoric without standing up to condemn it and that he would do so in the future. If America is going to get beyond its past divisions, people in his position are going to have to speak out against racial hatred, wherever it is preached. Instead, his message of unity ended up sounding like the old rhetoric of joining the class struggle rather than moving toward a new future. This was a strategic opportunity missed and will not put an end to the questions about his character.