Posts about prezvid

Obamania

I’m a day late linking to an amusing skewering of Obamania by David Brooks in yesterday’s Times. He writes about Obama Comedown Syndrome.

Up until now The Chosen One’s speeches had seemed to them less like stretches of words and more like soul sensations that transcended time and space. But those in the grips of Obama Comedown Syndrome began to wonder if His stuff actually made sense. . . .

Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he’s waffling on his promise. Why does he need to check with his campaign staff members when deciding whether to keep his word?

Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?

If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate? A People for the American Way computer program would cast the same votes for cheaper.

And should we be worried about Obama’s mountainous self-confidence?

These doubts lead O.C.S. sufferers down the path to the question that is the Unholy of the Unholies for Obama-maniacs: How exactly would all this unity he talks about come to pass?

The cult of change

Paul Krugman today on the Obamaniacs:

I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.

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.)

We’re hiring a manager, not a spiritual adviser

In the interest of blog openness, here’s why I’m voting the way I am Tuesday:

Two things trouble me about the Obama campaign: First, its reliance on empty rhetoric: “Change” and now “yes, we can.” But change how? Can do what? And second, the candidate’s lack of experience is an issue. I fear that we could end up with Jimmy Carter: a well-meaning incompetent, as it turned out, rather than the Second Coming of the Kennedy; there’s just no way to know now. Worse, we could end up with someone who tries to backfill the rhetoric and defines change in ways we didn’t bet on.

I hear people saying that Obama’s impressive oratory gives them something to believe in. That sounds nice. But that, too, is dangerous. I don’t want to hire a spiritual leader for the White House. We have someone now who thinks he stands on spiritual principles and backfilled his definition of them in disastrous ways.

No, I want to hire a manager: tough and experienced and practical. That is what we need, especially now.

We have supposedly disdained the selling of the president, the productizing of politics. But we fall for it, like we fall for celebrity news. The Infotainment Rules blog draws that parallel nicely:

The Obama campaign more and more begins to resemble a celebrity marketing campaign, as I mentioned here:

“The way Barack Obama is being covered by the media and the blogosphere, he’s not a political candidate anymore–he’s a celebrity. He doesn’t have political followers–he’s got fans. He doesn’t have a political platform–he’s got a one-word slogan–“change” [which works, 'cause "change is good," just like Nissan says, right?]. He makes narcissists feel so good about themselves.”

So: the slogan has changed–now it’s “Yes, we can”–but the marketing pitch is the same: Obama’s the one.

Quoth Oprah.

I am reminded unfortunately of the scene from The Candidate in which Robert Redford sits in back of his car mouthing the words he’s been delivering in random order. I just went out to buy the DVD. Here’s what he says: “Ladies and gentlemen. The time has passed. Got to be a better way. I say to you can’t any longer, oh no, can’t any longer play off black against old, young against poor. This country cannot house its houseless, feed its foodless… They’re demanding a government of the people, peopled by people. Our faith, our compassion, our courage on the gridiron… The basic indifference that made this country great. And on election day, and on election day, we won’t run away. Vote once. Vote twice for Bill McCay.”

I am also reminded of the final scene, in which the victorious Redford asks, “What do we do now?”

I have no doubt that Barack Obama is a decent, smart, and well-meaning politician. But don’t forget that he is a politician. And I fear that turning yourself into a slogan is an essentially cynical political act. Since the start of his campaign, except for a brief period in the middle, he has lacked the courage to be specific in his oratory.

Hillary Clinton has been specific, sometimes to a fault. She is, as debate moderators rudely enjoyed pointing out, not as likable. She is certainly not the orator Obama is. But where others see a lack of change because she has lived in Washington and the White House, I see experience and a potential to get things done. I agree with her on issue. I respect her. So I’m voting for her in the morning.

: See also the transcript of Howard Kurtz’s show this weekend on the media’s complicity in wanting to turn the Obama story to Camelot, the Sequel.

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?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: 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.

You see John F. Kennedy’s daughter and his brother get up and say this person sounds, feels and looks like my brother or my father. It’s a very powerful story. Ted Kennedy is more symbolic. He’s not just a senator from Massachusetts, he’s also the last one of the Kennedy brothers. So…

KURTZ: So you believe basically it deserves all this blowout coverage because of the symbolism involve? Brief answer.

CILLIZZA: You know, I don’t know if it deserved it, Howie, but I do think it was an important story as it related to Ted Kennedy saying, yes, this person resembles my brother.

KURTZ: OK.

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

I’m not going for a fairytale storyline or a rousing slogan. I’m looking for someone to run the government. I want a manager. Managers don’t make good celebrities.

Nice beat. But can you lead to it?

Barack Obama stars in a music video, sort of. will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas and Jesse Dylan, Bob Dylan’s son, brought together a bunch of celebs — Scarlett Johansson, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Kate Walsh, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Adam Rodriquez, Kelly Hu, Adam Rodriquez, Amber Valetta, Nick Cannon — to cover Obama’s New Hampshire primary speech.

Here’s Ari Melber’s report on the video and here‘s ABCNews.com’s:

It was inspired, will.i.am told ABC’s Alisha Davis, by Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and in particular by the speech he has gave after the New Hampshire primary.

“It made me reflect on the freedoms I have, going to school where I went to school, and the people that came before Obama like Martin Luther King, presidents like Abraham Lincoln that paved the way for me to be sitting here on ABCNews and making a song from Obama’s speech,” will.i.am said.

“The speech was inspiring about making change in America and I believe what it says and I hope everybody votes,” Dylan said.

This is the Viral Video Chart’s tracking of the video’s rise — 200,000 views in a day:

To me, this only underscores the notion that Obama’s campaign is the most rhetorical of the bunch: speeches and slogans so neat they can fit in 4/4 time.

(Crossposted from Prezvid)

What does the Times have against Hillary?

I was amazed that on today’s New York Times front page, I couldn’t find a mention of Hillary Clinton’s victory in Florida — not even a reefer (jargon for a promo box), not a by-the-way paragraph inserted into the Republican story, not a news peg added into a story about 527 groups advertising on behalf of Obama (a positive story for him, nonetheless, since they say he’s working hard to repudiate them while they say Clinton is not). It’s the same story online: other than a line in the chart of results, there’s a mention of Clinton’s win only below the fold (that is, the first screen), in smaller type, under the label “more politics.”

I went to the Times Square newstand to look at the Washington Post. Clinton’s victory is right at the top of the page aside McCain’s. I would call that proper news judgment.

Yes, it’s true that Clinton officially won no delegates because the Democratic Party is punishing Florida. But that, itself, is a story: There’s a huge turnout in Florida for votes that supposedly don’t count. Where’s the outrage about disenfranchising these voters; it’s an undemocratic, unDemocratic, unconstitutional, and — considering Florida’s importance in November — just plain politically dumb move by the party. But the Times relegated the story to the bottom of page A16.

If I were a communications student, I’d be doing an analysis of the Times’ coverage of Clinton. There is a pattern here.

(Disclosure: I’ve said before and will repeat that I’m planning to vote for Clinton on SuperTuesday.)

Obama playing the race card

Times of London columnist Alice Miles minces no words in calling Barack Obama for playing the race card without merit against Hillary Clinton:

What a shame that a contest that has the world gripped, that is transforming international opinion of the United States, that has shown America in its best and most brilliant light, threatens to descend into a pathetic slanging match over race. What a shame for the centre Left, which had everything to cheer about in the stunning choice between, potentially, the first female and the first black president, that they are allowing the contest to slip into an idiotic series of unproven claims about racial bias.

On Monday Hillary Clinton called for a truce reminding everyone that “Senator Obama and I are on the same side”. Hear hear. But how did it come to this?

The thin catalogue of complaints against the Clinton campaign from the Obama campaign were unfounded, manipulative and self-indulgent. At best they called into question the oversensitivity of Mr Obama, at worst they showed him willing to play a divisive race card that is damaging the entire Democratic Party and tarnishing a great and historic electoral contest for the centre Left. The whole episode has convinced me he isn’t tough enough for the White House.

For since when has referring to somebody’s past admitted drug use – if indeed the Clinton campaign ever intended to do that, which is far from clear – been a racial slur? More racist, I would say, to equate drugs with blacks, and that’s what the Obama campaign is doing, not the Clinton one.

As for Mrs Clinton’s statement that Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality was realised only when President Johnson managed to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress? No more than fact, surely; an attack on Mr Obama’s lack of experience, certainly, but hardly a slur upon King. Mr Obama’s campaign is twisting things so that a comment about any black man is a comment about him, just as any attack on him is an attack on all black people. I ask again: who is playing the race card here?

She’s unafraid to say what we’re afraid to say in the U.S. And I think she’s right.

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.