Vote for me, I am not George W. Bush!
That is the fundamental appeal of campaign Obama. It is a wholly false premise and any voter who chooses Obama on the basis of that nonsensical emotional appeal, is investing in the future of fools gold.
Why a false premise? Most obviously because George W. Bush is not a candidate for office in this election. There can be little doubt that most Americans are frustrated, to one degree or another, with the Bush performance in office. His job approval ratings are a clear reflection of that frustration. The reasons for that judgment are many and varied but the fact remains that he is not very popular with his fellow Americans as he leaves the presidency.
Because of this, campaign Obama has chosen to run against Bush in a obvious and naked attempt to accrue that pent up frustration to their electoral advantage. Although sound political strategy (it has been done before with some success, think the Carter years), it is not based on the qualities or experience of Obama, nor the policies he advocates. Rather it represents the selling of a bill of 'no goods'. A 'Vote for me because I am not him' is the slight of hand in a magicians run for office. It calls the attention of the voter to a non-candidate rather than presenting the positive resume and the advantages therein of the candidate who is asking for a counter vote.
Obama spends all day on the campaign trail calling his opponent on the ballot George W. Bush. Rational people know there is a distinct difference between McCain, a moderate, and Bush. They know, in fact, that McCain has opposed Bush on any number of occasions on some of the more important issues of our time. Clearly John McCain is not George W. Bush, or anyone else for that matter.
Yet the fools gold appeal relentlessly proceeds. Why? Most notably because it is an emotional appeal, meant to tap into the anger and dissatisfaction with Bush. Every politician and political party knows that the way to manipulate voters to your cause is via, not reason and logic, but emotion. Issues and policies are put forward as window dressing but the focus in on reaching people emotionally. Ever notice, although everybody and their dog complains about negative political advertising, that it goes on nonstop and, most importantly, that it works. Candidates call for campaigns based upon issues and thereafter proceed to attack each other on the most base levels. Negative campaigning is all about emotional manipulation, and it works well.
What campaign Obama has achieved to date is to effectively sell this smoke screen of false premise. In the process, they hide the background of the candidate and the activities of the campaign and it's surrogates. Should anyone, and that means literally anyone, point out the weaknesses of the candidate or the questionable actions of the campaign and it's supporters, the reaction is to always appeal to emotion with references to racism, negative politics, George W. Bush, failed policies of the past and so on. The longer voters are thus distracted, the better for the candidate behind the curtain.
Elections are about the future, not the past. George W. Bush will not be the next President. Playing on the emotions of voters relative to past events and past actions has virtually nothing to do with what comes next. To make an informed choice based upon intellect, voters need to anchor their judgments on the records of the candidates in the race. When either candidate has a campaign based upon a false premise which in turn is designed to distract the attention of voters from the record of that candidate or, worse yet, to hide portions of that record, something is not right. It is difficult, if not impossible, to intellectually trust someone who is plainly avoiding or hiding their past actions and positions. When one recognizes emotional manipulation, it is not only uncomfortable, it is terribly disconcerting.
If election 2008 is based primarily upon the false 'Not Bush' premise, than voters will have bought the fools gold and America will have chosen to be, at least in this election cycle, a foolish nation.
More importantly, a future based upon a false premise has no foundation.
Obama's Campaign: An Emotional Escape Hatch from the Bush Era
By Barbara Ehrenreich
When did you begin to think that Obama might be unstoppable? Was it when your grown feminist daughter started weeping inconsolably over his defeat in New Hampshire? Or was it when he triumphed in Virginia, a state still littered with Confederate monuments and memorabilia? For me, it was on Tuesday night when two Republican Virginians in a row called CSPAN radio to report that they'd just voted for Ron Paul, but, in the general election, would vote for ... Obama.
In the dominant campaign narrative, his appeal is mysterious and irrational: He's a "rock star," all flash and no substance, tending dangerously, according to the New York Times' Paul Krugman, to a "cult of personality." At best, he's seen as another vague Reagan-esque avatar of Hallmarkian sentiments like optimism and hope. While Clinton, the designated valedictorian, reaches out for the ego and super-ego, he supposedly goes for the id. She might as well be promoting choral singing in the face of Beatlemania.
The Clinton coterie is wringing its hands. Should she transform herself into an economic populist, as Paul Begala pleaded on Tuesday night? This would be a stretch, given her technocratic and elitist approach to health reform in 1993, her embarrassing vote for a credit card company-supported bankruptcy bill in 2001, among numerous other lapses. Besides, Obama already just leaped out in front of her with a resoundingly populist economic program on Wednesday.
Or should she reconfigure herself, untangle her triangulations, and attempt to appeal to the American people in some deep human way, with or without a tear or two? This, too, would take heavy lifting. Someone needs to tell her that there are better ways to signal conviction than by raising one's voice and drawing out the vowels, as in "I KNOW ..." and "I BELIEVE ..." The frozen smile has to go too, along with the metronymic nodding, which sometimes goes on long enough to suggest a placement within the autism spectrum.
But I don't think any tweakings of the candidate or her message will work, and not because Obama-mania is an occult force or a kind of mass hysteria. Let's take seriously what he offers, which is "change." The promise of "change" is what drives the Obama juggernaut, and "change" means wanting out of wherever you are now. It can even mean wanting out so badly that you don't much care, as in the case of the Ron Paul voters cited above, exactly what that change will be. In reality, there's no mystery about the direction in which Obama might take us: He's written a breathtakingly honest autobiography; he has a long legislative history, and now, a meaty economic program. But no one checks the weather before leaping out of a burning building.
Consider our present situation. Thanks to Iraq and water-boarding, Abu Ghraib and the "rendering" of terror suspects, we've achieved the moral status of a pariah nation. The seas are rising. The dollar is sinking. A growing proportion of Americans have no access to health care; an estimated 18,000 die every year for lack of health insurance. Now, as the economy staggers into recession, the financial analysts are wondering only whether the rest of the world is sufficiently "de-coupled" from the US economy to survive our demise.
Clinton can put forth all the policy proposals she likes -- and many of them are admirable ones -- but anyone can see that she's of the same generation and even one of the same families that got us into this checkmate situation in the first place. True, some people miss Bill, although the nostalgia was severely undercut by his anti-Obama rhetoric in South Carolina, or maybe they just miss the Internet bubble he happened to preside over. But even more people find dynastic successions distasteful, especially when it's a dynasty that produced so little by way of concrete improvements in our lives. Whatever she does, the semiotics of her campaign boils down to two words -- "same old."
Obama is different, really different, and that in itself represents "change." A Kenyan-Kansan with roots in Indonesia and multiracial Hawaii, he seems to be the perfect answer to the bumper sticker that says, "I love you America, but isn't it time to start seeing other people?" As conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan has written, Obama's election could mean the re-branding of America.
An anti-war black president with an Arab-sounding name: See, we're not so bad after all, world!
So yes, there's a powerful emotional component to Obama-mania, and not just because he's a far more inspiring speaker than his rival. We, perhaps white people especially, look to him for atonement and redemption. All of us, of whatever race, want a fresh start. That's what "change" means right now: Get us out of here!
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida.
© 2008 Barbaraehrenreich.com All rights reserved.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Vote for me, I am not George W. Bush!