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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.