Posts about obama

Join the chorus

(This is crossposted from Comment is Free, where the comments are always interesting. It repeats a bit of what I said here yesterday and replaces and expands on an earlier post.)

The contrast in Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns — and their voters — is starkly illustrated in their Super Tuesday speeches.

Obama is the orator, Clinton the manager. Obama’s crowd behaves like a devoted cult Clinton’s like a well-behaved class. Obama has succeeded — with considerable help from media — at portraying his campaign as a movement, while Clinton’s is, well, a campaign.

Obama’s 21 minutes:

My problem with his campaign is also illustrated in this speech. Though he catalogues his issues — Iraq, health care, the standard list — his message is made up of little more than stock marketing taglines. He’s not so much running for office as branding himself.

Listen to last night’s medley of his greatest hits: “Our time has come… Our movement is real… Change is coming to America… We are more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America… This time can be different…. Not this time. Not this year…. This time we have to seize the moment…. This fall, we owe the American people a real choice…. We have to choose between change and more of the same, we have to choose between looking backwards and looking forward. We have to choose between our future and our past…. We can do this… We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek…. Yes we can…. Yes we can….” Cue crowd chanting: “Yes we can…”

His supporters, including many New York friends of mine, buy his image and believe he is less political and that he is indeed different. I think he’s more political and his campaign is the greatest example of the selling of the president I’ve yet seen. To state it harshly, I say that relying on these stock phrases — believing that we are going to swallow empty oratory about “change” punctuated with chants of “yes we can” — is a cynical political act.

But then again, I can’t argue with the fact that it’s working. It’s working with voters and it’s certainly working with the media, which have given Obama more attention through much of the campaign. Here’s a chart from Daylife showing Obama getting more coverage even as they racked up equivalent delegate counts.as Clinton amasses more delegates.picture-30.png

Media like Obama’s story. It’s a better story, they say. That is, if the real story is about personality and oratory over issues and competence. See this discussion about some Kennedys’ endorsement of Obama (note not about other Kennedys’ endorsement of Clinton) between the Washington Post’s media critic, Howard Kurtz, and political correspondent, Chris Cillizza, on CNN:

KURTZ: Chris Cillizza, you could argue about whether this Kennedy endorsement was a big deal, but what a collective swoon by the media — ask not why this was such a big story. Are they totally buying into Obama as the new JFK?

CILLIZZA: Well, you know, I do think, Howie, that in the Democratic Party, people have been waiting for the next JFK. A lot of people thought or maybe believed it was Bill Clinton. And I think Barack Obama is the next obvious heir to that legacy. It’s a powerful story, and I think as much as the media gets accused of bias, in the decade I’ve spent in it, I don’t think it’s bias as much as it is good storylines. And I will be frank — this is a very interesting, fascinating storyline….

If you are looking for the next John F. Kennedy, I believe he is it.

You can hear him aching to cover to the Second Coming of the Kennedy. That is obviously a better story than the Second Coming of the Clintons.

Now watch the brief clip of Clinton’s Super Tuesday speech posted on YouTube by her campaign. She delivers the same essential message and about the exact same issues but without the chanting and cheering behind her – without the excitement:

When I complained on my blog that I want to hire a manager not a spiritual adviser for the White House — especially after eight years of grossly incompetent management from someone who thought he had a cause — my commenters responded with their dreamy wishes for an uplifting Obama administration instead. Said one: “I don’t want an executive, I want someone to stoke the fires of political engagement so that the people will be involved in thier government again.” Said another: “We don’t want an executive to lead us – we want someone who will amplify our voices and give us the ability to reach into government.” Nevermind the job title is chief executive.

Indeed, commenter Andrew Tyndall argued that management is a turnoff: “The virtue that many Democrats in the party’s base hail as ‘competent management’ is an attribute that many non-Democrats may see as the vice of being ‘wedded to bureaucracy.’ It may be that a liberal Democrat who talks in generalities, rather than specifics, has an easier time persuading those voters who are reflexively against big government that he does not have the heart and soul of a bureaucrat — or ‘manager’ to use BuzzMachine’s less pejorative term.”

So I appear to be the odd man out. Maybe I should just join the chorus. Ch-ch-ch-changes:

(Disclosures: I am a partner at Daylife. And I voted for Clinton yesterday.)

Unofficial secrets

The other day, I poked at the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden for whining about Clinton’s campaign being not as nice to the press as Obama’s. He emailed me wondering why I gave him a slap when I argue for transparency in the press — and besides, it came in a blog — which is a fair point. But I responded: “But in there was an attitude I saw in many reporters’ notebooks and columns and analyses — other nonstories: that the campaigns should be nice to us. Where does that presumption come from? Indeed, isn’t that a little close for comfort? I’m not saying we need to be hostile. . . . But our readers really shouldn’t care about the campaigns’ skills at flacking us and about our inconvenience.” So where’s the line between whining and reporting? I’m not sure. Now I see this video from my colleague at the Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg, coming up against an Obama wall when she tries to interview campaign supporters at headquarters and at a rally and the campaign flunkies try to stop her. She calls that paranoia. Is that complaining or reporting? You decide.

Sexism, racism, cynicism & whining about Hillary

Hillary Clinton won in New Hampshire. It’s as simple as that, right? No, not if you listen to the narratives around her victory in the media, where they continue to root against her.

The sexist narrative comes, shockingly, from New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who argues that Clinton won because, after the bully boys slapped her around on Saturday’s debate and her eyes welled up, women gave her pity votes: “But for one moment, women knew just how Hillary felt, and they gave her a sympathy vote. It wasn’t a long-term commitment, just a brief strike by the sisters against their overscheduled world.”

That’s a sexist insult to both Clinton and her voters. It says that women are emotional and not rational and that they’d throw away their votes and their country over a moment of reality-show drama. Sister, for shame.

The racist narrative, far more shocking, comes in the Times from pollster Andrew Kohut, apologist for his obviously incompetent profession, who argues that the head-counters and the pundits all predicted the vote wrong because poor, white voters — Yankee crackers — left to their own devices in private polling booths would not vote for a black man: “But gender and age patterns tend not to be as confounding to pollsters as race, which to my mind was a key reason the polls got New Hampshire so wrong. Poorer, less well-educated white people refuse surveys more often than affluent, better-educated whites. Polls generally adjust their samples for this tendency. But here’s the problem: these whites who do not respond to surveys tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than respondents who do the interviews.” In short: Clinton got the trailer trash vote and Obama didn’t.

So what that says is that Clinton’s resurgence is a victory for racism. What an insult that is to her and to her voters and to the nation. That devalues and corrupts her victory.

The whining comes from the press, who complain that the Clinton campaign wasn’t as nice to them as the Obama campaign. As a fellow journalist, I suppose I should be sympathetic to them, but I’m not. That’s inside baseball. Its their job to get the story; that’s what they’re paid to do. What difference should it make to the voters and the fate of the nation that they don’t like a candidate’s flacks? I’ve seen this narrative all over in the last few weeks. The most convenient example comes from the UK, where the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden moans and mewls: “The Hillary Clinton staff excluded all foreign press from their “victory” celebration. . . . Contrast that with the Obama staff. Senior aides chatting away to big shot and small fry reporters alike. Credentials and access to as many reporters and members of the public who wanted it. Throughout the Iowa campaign, Obama volunteers would thank us for coming, accompany us to the correct entrance if we asked the way. Clinton staffers treated us as an inconvenience at best and at worst like a bad smell. As this exchange was taking place, an American reporter I know came over to us and said: “Get used to it – this is what the next eight years could be like.” Except that after tonight’s result it looks like we won’t have to get used to it after all.” And why should we care?

That is — or should be considered — an insult to journalists, who should be able to exclude their inconvenience and annoyance from their stories. But it makes one wonder whether they did.

None of these narratives says that voters voted for Clinton because they thought about it, because they are intelligent, because they cared for the country, because they agreed with her about issues, because they thought she could deal with the economy — our No. 1 issue, say the pollsters, and the one Clinton attacked most aggressively in the last debate before the New Hampshire primary. No, there has to be some reason other than those for voting for Clinton.

Now to the cynical narrative: change. Inspired by a Max Kalehof comment in my post here, I created this Blogpulse chart showing the frequency of the words “change”, “Obama”, and “Edwards” in the blogosphere in the last six months. Note the synchronous rise: the moment in late October when Obama, especially, harped on the word and the blogosphere followed.

change0108.png

I went to the record on YouTube to see when this change for “change” visibly and aggressively entered Obama’s campaign. Note that this video from September had no “change” signs:

But this video from October had the new “change” signage on the podium but not in the audience:

Now look at the Oprah rally in December. By then, the “change” narrative was fully in place — clearly tested and approved — and all the signs in the crowd are new from the printer. All of them scream “change”:

I’m coming to think that “change” is more than an empty word. This movement to “change” is looking more and more like a cynical act. It is an effort to pander to an audience — the young voters, the media say — with a simple, shallow idea, as if that should be enough to sway them. To say that they would is to insult them. It says that they buy candidates like they buy deodorant.

I spoke with a reporter tonight who’s writing a story on what brought out young people for Obama in Iowa and New Hampshire and she is hearing that they are seeing through “change” and making their judgments on issues. I believe that women, white voters, black voters, and young voters do likewise. Not to believe that is to dismiss their opinions and their votes.

Obama, the internet victor?

I wonder whether, quietly, Barack Obama is to become the first candidate elected by the internet.

It’s not as if he has been all that aggressive in his internet strategy. That is, he has been no more and probably less disruptive in his online tactics than Howard Dean was. But I wonder whether it is the internet that has brought together the factors that are making him victorious.

First, the higher turnout among young people in Iowa — and, it appears, New Hampshire — is being credited as a key factor in his win(s). It has been said plenty of times that young people may get excited about a candidate but they don’t show up. Now they’re showing up, not only to vote but to jam public events that show the mo’. What’s different this time? It could be some magic potion of Obama as Pied Piper, but I think the change may well be the internet. He spoke to young people on their turf and they responded. They made it a point to befriend the bejesus out of him on MySpace and Facebook — they made that their own crusade — and I think media and political strategists thought that was cute but didn’t understand the full power and impact of that. It’s significant that one of Obama’s advisers is a founder of Facebook, Chris Hughes.

This leads to the second factor: the organizing power of the internet. To hell with the phone bank and campaign office downtown. And to heck with rallies, for that matter. The internet is the greatest organizational tool ever and both the campaign — and, importantly, the citizens themselves — used it to organize supporters to get out and support.

Third, of course, is money: It’s not just that Obama raised a helluva lot of money. It’s far more important, of course, that he raised it from a helluva lot of people. But what’s really important in that is that those people felt invested in Obama and his campaign. Yes, he got lots of money to pay for commercials. But what he really got was citizens with an equity stake in his victory. That wasn’t being done before Howard Dean showed how to raise money online and Obama made brilliant use of it.

There are, of course, other factors. The fact that older voters — like me — are the ones favoring Clinton shows that we hold nostalgia for the Clinton years, but young people have no fond memories of the era; they’re too young. I thought that Clinton ran a flawless campaign at the start but now it turns out to be flawed. I do think the media have from the start made Obama their darling and the mo’ was there for him to grab. See my post in April showing how the coverage of him was out of proportion to the polls. You could argue that the media were merely more in touch than the polls but I don’t think so; I believe Obama’s rise became a self-fulfilling prophecy that only he could screw up — and he didn’t.

It would be unwise to count Clinton out yet. She is smart and experienced and tenacious. And Obama is inexperienced and can mess this up. But as a Clinton supporter, I’ll concede the trajectory here.

My point is that as we analyze this fairly incredible and rabid shift in power between the two candidates, I haven’t heard the internet being given the credit I think it may deserve. And that’s not because he ran the campaign on the internet; no one will call him the internet candidate. It’s because he used it to speak to the right people and in ways that weren’t noticed or understood by big media. What do you think?

Ch-ch-ch-changes

There are some good and meaty comments about the emptiness of Barack Obama’s change rhetoric at Comment is Free, where I crossposted my remarks from below, and also on Eamonn Fitzgerald’s blog. First, Eamonn:

The Austrian novelist Robert Musil began writing his masterpiece The Man without Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) in 1921 and was still working on it when he died in 1942. The three-book work is set in a country called Kakania, a parody of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the story includes a patriotic movement called Parallel Action, which is devoted to the “redemptive idea”. The leaders of the movement evoke it constantly in the vaguest terms because they have no idea what it means or how it might be applied. One of the group’s most ridiculous figures is General Stumm, a man who has almost no experience with ideas. Despite this drawback, he is determined to discover the “redemptive idea” before anyone else, and with the utmost efficiency. Says Stumm: “It turns out that there are lots of great ideas, but only one of them can be the greatest — that’s only logical, isn’t it? — so it’s a matter of putting them in order.”

In his excellent essay “Exhuming Robert Musil”, Ted Gioia says that the protagonist Ulrich “… changes his ideas with the ease of an actor learning a new role. He is prone to making sweeping statements, such as: ‘In times to come, when more is known, the word ‘destiny’ will probably have acquired a statistical meaning.’ His eloquence and ability to turn a phrase are stunning, yet his ideas never cohere into a philosophy or a belief system. They are as ephemeral as a passing storm.”

Is the mantra of “change” the “redemptive idea” of our times? Jeff Jarvis now hates the word.

From Comment is Free, Ebert says:

The word means exactly nothing. Every tinpot workplace has a ‘change programme’ with a ‘change director’ and a ‘change manager’… everyone has to ‘embrace change’ and ‘show a commitment to change’. Nothing changes but the organisation often gets ‘restructured’, putting any real work back for six months while those who have still got jobs (which they have had to re-apply for) get used to the new structure. The word seems to have crept in since the fall of the Soviet Union to give the illusion that capitalism is ‘going forward’ (another empty useless expression).

Polygram says:

Obama is a fantastic example of the hollow man, the tabula rosa on which the campaign consultants can write whatever script they wish, and Obama, with no idea what the hell it means, will deliver it in just that kitsch and florid way so beloved in American campaign rhetoric.

Yesterday says:

I worked in a place where a ‘change director’ was appointed who had come from a deadbeat job at a bank. We called him the ‘small change director’. ‘Embracing change’ always made me think of Alcoholics Anonymous and a lot of the training techniques seem to have come from that body.

Christopherhawtree:

The word “change” is of course always on the lips of Gordon Brown. But the past decade has shown that “change” can simply mean misdirected busyness; apparent change is in fact stasis. Real change is not announced but happens as a result of more complex social and artistic forces than any such proclamations can engender.

Chewtoy:

If they’re not referring to the Buddhist and quantum theory notion that all matter is in constant flux, then surely they must mean by “change” that they’ll change to a totally different story once they get elected.

Edwardrice:

“What is most important in the age of Change is not change itself but continuity in change and change in continuity”
(The Collected Thoughts of Comrade Brown) – Private Eye

Giuseppeh:

t’s all about subconscious associations. By saying the word enough and having it on as many banners surrounding the candidate, each of them hope to become that brand.

Of course it would be great if we lived in an adult world in which issues were discussed, candidates gave us their specific points of view on each and every major issue facing our world and people listened and analysed.

Of course it would be great if the advertising men didn’t dominate the political stage as they dominate the commercial stage in our world, peddling people like honda cars.

But we live in this world and people do respond to ridiculously simple subconscious messages, people are like five-year-olds asking their mum for the latest transformer toy for christmas because they saw it in the adverts between a postman pat cartoon.

We live in this idiotic world, in which people are just going to get dissappointed later on, like the kid who gets bored with his new, flashy transformer toy after five minutes and then realises christmas doesn’t come every day.

The Seinfeld Campaign

My colleague Peter Hauck has a great post up on PrezVid calling Obama’s the Seinfeld campaign. Filled with yada yada, it’s the campaign about nothing.

ParkRidge47 on video…again

Breaking news over at Prezvid: ParkRidge47 makes his next video, an interview on YouTube.

Hacking the campaign

TechPresident’s Joshua Levy does an excellent job showing that Barack Obama’s huge numbers on YouTube are likely gamed and inflated. And this makes me wonder whether his MySpace numbers are similarly manufactured. Add this to the anonymous anti-Hillary video made by a political operative and you get a disturbing, or at least unflattering, picture of some of Obama’s supporters. Some are trying to hack his campaign for him.

No one is saying that Obama’s staff is doing this. But it could hurt him nonetheless. That anti-Hillary commercial, coming from a hidden source, smelled of a dirty trick. Somebody’s engineering lies about at least his YouTube viewership. People will wonder how much of his buzz is elusive, the effort to goose it even desperate. See Peter Hauck’s post below asking whether the honeymoon is waning. Remember, too, the unwelcome attitude many in Iowa had to the invasion by hordes of Deaniacs with accents from elsewhere. It may be easy to hack a campaign, but I doubt whether it will be effective.

Last week in California, I was talking with some people who know about these things and they thought the Obama’s numbers were bogus but didn’t yet know how to prove it. TechPresident’s Levy shows how the number of visitors and views just don’t match up. The clearest evidence of fishiness is all this is TechPresident’s own YouTube chart, which they acknowledge looks darned suspicious:

tech president obama chart

But there’s a problem with all these numbers even if they aren’t bald-faced lies. We are so accustomed to the horse-race story in politics, the narrative media loves to push, that we are in a constant hunt for new numbers and new charts that tell that tale. Beware internet numbers, though. This is not a mass medium. It is a mass of niches. And even the biggest numbers are necessarily small. It’s the sum of all those small numbers that is huge. In other words, this is not a medium of winners and losers but of coalitions. Last week, amidst the Hillary 1984 commercial kefuffle, a half-dozen reporters called me working on the exact same story (which indicates a problem with reporting, but that’s a subject for another blog), and one of them asked whether the number of negative Hillary videos on YouTube indicated a loss of momentum for her (Mo is their favorite angle in the horse-race story). I laughed, which was more polite than scoffing with scorn. One person can make 10 anti-anybody videos. A hundred can make a thousand. And all that indicates is the thinking of 100 people, not the mood and mo of the nation. The numbers of views is similarly misleading, if you let them be: I watched the Hillary commercial because it was entertaining and being talked about, not because I agreed with it. No, the press hates this, but there’s only one number that matters — the election-day tally, of course — and that’s the one scoop they can’t have; it’s ours. So whether they’re gamed or not, view all these internet tallies with suspicion. They are for entertainment only, no wagering or governing with them allowed.

(Crossposted from PrezVid.)