Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama's cool campaign

There are two weeks until the U.S. Presidential election votes occur, but the Presidential debates are over, and the odds of a win for Barack Obama are shortening by the day. Moreover, it appears very likely that the Democrats will increase their House majority and get a majority in the Senate, so Obama will most likely govern with a very supportive Congress for his first term as President.

It struck me while watching the third Presidential debate that a part of Obama's success over John McCain in the campaign can be attributed to what Marshall McLuhan would have termed a "cool" campaign. McLuhan described 'cool' media as 'low definition', and therefore 'high in participation or completion by the audience'. Obama has run a campaign that has been rich in suggestive metaphors ('Change', 'Main Street not Wall Street'), with much of the detail left open until after the election. This has allowed the very diverse constituencies in the U.S. electorate to project various hopes upon an Obama Presidency.

2008 may always have doomed as a winning year for the Democrats but, to use McLuhan's metaphors further, John McCain's 'hot' campaign has not been the way to dislodge Obama's 'cool' campaign. McCain consistently came across as aggressive ('hot and bothered') during the debates, and was criticised for the lack of detail about his policies, not necessarily because Obama has more detailed policies, but because McCain consistently brings the campaign back to himself.

His vastly overplayed 'suspension' of his campaign at the time of the Congress vote on the $700 billion bailout package exemplified this. Whereas Obama simply returned to Washington to vote, McCain declared that he could solve the problem - when he didn't, it made him look ineffectual, even though Obama had no more apparent effect either. Making Sarah Palin his Vice-President only added further fuel to an already hot McCain campaign, whereas Joe Biden has reinforced Obama's cool campaign by drawing little attention to himelf while coming across as competent.

There is the danger with using the term 'cool' about an African-American candidate that you are using stereotypes. I don't think so in this case, not least bacause Obama's 'cool' campaign contrasts to the 'hot' style of African-American community leaders such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and, yes, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The endorsement of Colin Powell of Obama as a candidate who is both capable and tranformational has been the icing on the cherry for Braack Obama's campaign. While there had long been rumours that Powell would endorse Obama, not least because of how he was shafted by the Bush forces over Iraq when he was Secretary of State, the photos that appeared last week from the Africa Rising event in London suggested that he was personally moving from the starched shirt, white bread world of the U.S. Republican Party.

1 comment:

db said...

Hey Terry

Along these lines, if you didn't see it, you might be interested in the NY Times piece:

"Will Gun-Toting, Churchgoing White Guys Pull the Lever for Barack Obama?"

There is a great description about two thirds of the way in, about the difference between B. Clinton as someone who'd cross the street to see you; and Obama who'd nod and wait for you to cross...