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Starting Gate: Hope Or Irrational Exuberance?

Barack Obama opened his campaign with a message of "hope" and "change" and he's closing it the same way. What's changed from here to there is not what he's pitching but the circumstances in which he's selling it.

Two years ago, Obama opened his argument largely based on his initial opposition to the war in Iraq, targeting a Democratic Party whose opposition to that war had grown exponentially since Howard Dean used it to propel his campaign in 2004. Now, he's closing it amidst an economic crisis and signs of a deep and lasting economic recession. In both cases, public sentiment has been strongly on his side, but is it real "change" or a case of what Alan Greenspan once called "irrational exuberance?"

Obama and his team have put together an outstanding campaign by any measure and a large part of that has been their attention paid to issues and details. They've put together a large-ranging agenda and stuck with it throughout the primaries and general election campaign. The candidate known for his high-flying rhetoric has just as often sounded like a policy wonk at times, combining minute details with his overarching theme.

The focus on the message (amplified by unprecedented media coverage and campaign spending), has put Obama well within reach of the White House. Even as there is some evidence that the race is getting closer heading into the final weekend, even normally pessimistic Democrats are finding it hard not to see the glass half full, if not spilling over.

With the economy overshadowing every other issue, Obama used his 30-minute infomercial last night to focus solely on that. The well-produced piece of political theatre was clearly aimed at connecting Obama to the concerns of everyday Americans struggling with their jobs, health care, retirement and future. For every case, Obama had a fix, some policy point or position that solves the problems voters face.

But, as CBS News' Wyatt Andrews noted in a Reality Check following last night's ad, Obama's plans run up against reality.

"If he closes every loophole as promised, saves every dime from Iraq, raises taxes on the rich and trims the federal budget as he's promised to do 'line by line,'" Andrews writes, "he still doesn't pay for his list. If he's elected, the first fact hitting his desk will be the figure projecting how much less of a budget he has to work with - thanks to the recession. He gave us a very compelling vision with his ad buy tonight. What he did not give us was any hint of the cold reality he's facing or a sense of how he might prioritize his promises if voters trust him with the White House."

That observation amplifies the common gap between campaign promises and the hard choices that must be made after the election pomp and circumstances fade. Obama has promised a lot during this campaign, not the least of which is to "change" the country – and the world – in dramatic ways. It's a message tailor-made for this electorate after six years of war and in the midst of an economic turndown. And voters have just a few more days to decide it what Obama is offering is change they can believe in or a case of irrational exuberance.


Around The Track

  • A new round of polls from Time and CNN shows Obama with the lead in Colorado (53 percent to 45 percent), Florida (52 percent to 47 percent) and Virginia (53 percent to 44 percent) and McCain up in Georgia (53 percent to 47 percent) and Missouri (50 percent to 48 percent).

  • CBS News' Maria Gavrilovic gives an on-scene view of the Obama rally that became part of last night's 30-minute ad.

  • Former President Bill Clinton made his first appearance with Obama in Orlando, Florida last night. "Folks, we can't fool with this," Clinton said. "Our country is hanging in the balance. And we have so much promise and so much peril. This man should be our president."

  • Make sure to grab the election results widgets from CBSNews.com to put on your blog or social networking pages, giving you real-time updates on the Electoral College count and a state-by-state look at election night as is happens.