(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.
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.)