Barack Obama is a different kind of Democrat. He is one who actually intends to win.
I don't know if he will or not, but I do know that he has made a key decision: He has decided to run as a candidate for president and not as the leader of a movement.
Movement candidates often fail when the demands of the movement come in conflict with the demands of politics.
The most recent example was Howard Dean's (short-lived) campaign for president in 2004.
Dean was supposed to be leading a movement designed to "empower" citizens who felt locked out of the process. His slogan, and the title of one of his books, was "You Have the Power."
Some in Dean's own campaign were worried, however, that he was too conventional a politician for the task. Dean had been a six-term governor and former chairman of the Democratic Governors Association (and would go on to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee). The fights within the campaign were endless, and the "empowerment" side won, with Dean running a TV ad right before the Iowa caucuses featuring the candidate facing the camera and saying, "This election is about power. About who runs the country and who owns it."
The empowerment movement loved the ad, but the Democratic voters of Iowa hated it and Dean came in a bad third, effectively ending his campaign.
It is hard to imagine Barack Obama running such an ad. His first general election ad stressed his love for country and "heartland" values, and how he has a "deep and abiding faith" in America.
His second ad talks about how he fought for workers' rights, moved people from welfare to work, wants to end tax breaks for companies that export jobs and will "never forget the dignity that comes from work."
There is not a word about power. There is not a word about who owns the country. And the ads are clearly not movement ads.
They are not angry, threatening or in your face. They are calming. They are meant to introduce Obama to the nation. This latter goal is very important. Reporters who have been covering his campaign for 18 months know him (or think they do), but most of America does not.
As Obama has begun the introduction process, there have been a number of stories recently about whether he has been "flip-flopping" (Newsweek), making "incremental changes in the face of political reality" (The Washington Post) or making "policy pirouettes" (The New York Times).
The answer is probably: Yes.
The press can be unforgiving about any changes in position, large or small, real or imagined, that a candidate makes.
The late George Carlin became famous for his comedy routine on the "seven words you can never say on TV." But presidential candidates have four words they can never say on TV or anywhere else: "I changed my mind."
Other words they cannot utter include: "As circumstances have changed, so have my positions" and "I have learned a thing or two."
This is not allowed, because it is proof of flip-flopping, pandering, moving to the (gasp) center and, worst of all, trying to get elected.
And you have to be very careful of that last one.