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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Don't kid yourself into thinking that the enthusiasm of Obama supporters can be dismissed as being a "personality cult"

Music. Rhythm and repetition. Striking visual images, especially of people and their faces. I can't imagine that the ancient Greek and Roman politicians two millennia ago failed to make good use of these in connection with their elections (or, failing that, their rabble-rousing) because they can inspire extremely powerful reactions.

I've watched this recruiting commercial for the U.S. Marines maybe 10 times. It's terrific. It quite literally brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.

I've watched this campaign music video only about three times. But it's also terrific, albeit in a pretty different way. It also quite literally brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.

James Taranto, in his Wall Street Journal "Best of the Web" column today, called the second video "creepy" and describes it as depicting

people who appear to be in some sort of trance as they mouth along with Obama's various rhetorical flourishes from his speeches, then repeat the mantra "Yes, we can." The whole thing has the feel of a cult of personality.

He quotes Democrat and self-described Obama voter Kathleen Geier from a TPM Cafe essay warning that "this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign," and warning that "he's not Jesus! [Obama]'s not going to magically enable us to transcend the bitter partisanship that is tearing this country apart."

They're both overstating their cases, and missing the point โ€” and in Taranto's case, it's almost pure wishful thinking. There are a whole, whole lot of Americans who can react positively, emotionally, and patriotically to both of these videos.

"Oh my," some of you may be saying, "Beldar's gone around the bend and become an Obama supporter." Never fear that, gentle readers. Barack Obama will never have my vote, my endorsement, or my support, and if he's the Democratic Party's nominee, I will do my very best to ensure that he's not elected.

But I would be a poor excuse for a pundit, for a blogger who opines on matters political, if I could not watch that music video and recognize its artistry โ€” or if I could not watch the Obama campaign and recognize that candidate's power to inspire hope among the discontented, the disaffected, and even just those who feel guilty that they aren't feeling more discontented and disaffected (like, I suspect, most of the Hollywood actors and music stars who actually appear on Obama's video).

Taranto's badly mistaken to mock or write off this video, or the enthusiasm for the Obama campaign of which it's representative, as "creepy" or a "personality cult." The plain and simple fact is that Obama's youth and charisma and passion, arriving on the American political scene when he has, are going to be powerfully attractive to far more than those at risk of infection by mere "cults." He's going to swell a lot of hearts on the campaign trail. If he becomes the Democratic nominee, Republicans are going to have to be prepared to combat that.They'll have to do so in two distinct ways, though.

First, they'll have to match Team Obama's artistic power. John McCain hasn't given the speech yet that can be put to music in this particular way. But that Marine commercial is a fine example of how powerful emotional chords can be crafted and plucked for patriotic themes, and unlike the limp-saluting pretend-hero John Kerry, McCain's history furnishes good material for use in this way. Those of you of a certain age will remember Reagan's "Morning in America" commercials. There's a tone that was in them, a hopeful and forward-looking tone, that the McCain campaign needs to reach for, not just in their paid advertisements but in all of their campaigning. If the public's sole take-away image of McCain is that of the smart-aleck, grumpy, spiteful old man that he sometimes reveals in public, then overcoming the emotional power of the Obama campaign will be extraordinarily difficult. And the bad news is that so far this campaign season, the most passion McCain has aroused has been from movement conservatives who've opposed him for the GOP nomination.

But while Team McCain can't ignore the electorate's hearts, it absolutely must engage the electorate's minds as well. It's got to engage the grown-up voter who can wipe a tear from his eye after watching that Obama music video, but who will then say, "Damn, that was powerful good stuff. It's too bad, with all that charisma, that Obama is a naive child on foreign policy and the most liberal big-government tax-and-spend Democrat in the Senate on domestic policy."

To win, we have to get votes from people who find Obama likable and inspiring, but who can also feel patriotic and justified in supporting a candidate who has more steak despite having less sizzle.

Posted by Beldar at 08:49 PM in 2008 Election, Politics (2008) | Permalink


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(1) invernessie made the following comment | Feb 7, 2008 10:45:03 PM | Permalink

I love that Marine advertisement as well. If I were 20 years younger.... (oh yeah, when I was 20 years younger, I "toyed" with the idea of becoming a "jarhead", but I had reservations that I could uphold the high standards of our Marines).

Talking with my Dem friends (who far outnumber my Republican friends in Obama's home turf), I know it is not a cult, but folks who are trying to find someone who evokes a diplomatic rather than a militaristic (in their terms) reaction to threats to the U.S., someone with a more "sensitivity" to the views of other nations and their intentions toward the U.S., a candidate with counter-strategies, other than aggression, to defend the United States of America. While I do not share these beliefs, I do belive that they are folks of good faith who do not fully fathom, comprehend or wish to achkowledge the reality of evil in this world.

(2) Phelps made the following comment | Feb 7, 2008 11:00:45 PM | Permalink

Part of the problem the party faces is that McCain isn't an optimistic type. Vengeance is more his style.

I'm really starting to think this might be a Whig collapse in the making. When the party ends up with a nominee that a significant portion of the party is actually hostile to, it faces existential danger.

(3) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Feb 8, 2008 3:37:52 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Another difficulty is that we are coming off of 7 years of a Presidency that has been notably inarticulate. People need a certain amount of eloquence in public life, and hence are more susceptible to it after a long absence.

Mr. Taranto and I must be missing a gene that you have. My cortex listens to the Obama video and can appreciate the great strengths of it. But I don't feel anything. I keep remembering Jimmy Carter and "I will never lie to you," which is not so different from "Yes we can," even if Jimmy didn't have starlets flashing hints of cleavage. A big difference is that Obama, for all his skimpy resume, has been on the national stage ever since the 2004 Democratic convention and is familiar in a way that Carter was not. But he's still fresh enough to seem the outsider. Good trick for the Democrats. The press will slobber all over him. There is a personality cult around Obama, identifiable by their press passes. They will give McCain hell, which will be good for him. He needs to relearn the lesson that no Republican can ever expect a fair shake, let alone coverage in favor of him, from the press. Even if Hillary gets the nomination, the press will turn on McCain.

I am pessimistic about the GOP's chances this fall for two reasons:

1. McCain is not one to take contrary advice easily. This will make him less nimble than he will need to be.

2. The country is dissatisfied with the GOP and is ready for a change. Only five times in history has a political party won three or more elections in a row: Monroe after Jefferson and Madison, Van Buren after Jackson, Taft after McKinley and T. Roosevelt, Truman after F. Roosevelt, and Bush41 after Reagan. And of these only Monroe went on to a second term.

The GOP has fallen between two stools in the Conflict:

a) no big attack has succeeded in the US after 9/11
b) the Conflict has not been brought to a successful conclusion (if you had been told in April of 2003 that our troops would still be Iraq and could not be withdrawn without throwing all gains away and leaving a far worse devil's cauldron behind, would you have believed it?) Bush has been wretched at explaining and persuading the electorate of the big job. He's been even worse at raising concern about the infiltration of militant Islam in Europe. Those Friends, who, though not Quakers, would never fight, may mock this assertion. I'd like to hear their explanation of the idiotic Archbishop of Canterbury's claim that having only one system of law is "a danger" and urging that at least parts of sharia law be adopted.

So. McCain is a good bet to get votes of those who use their cortexes, while keeping the limbic system locked up. What to do to get the votes of those who believe in cleavage and the amygdala? I don't think your notions are enough, but I have no suggestions either.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(4) JMW made the following comment | Feb 8, 2008 3:40:06 AM | Permalink

Being a fairly hard-nosed Republican myself, I would rather like to challenge the viewpoint that, in Presidential elections, steak outweighs sizzle --

In 2000, frankly, it's not as though we elected a foreign policy savant with the ideology of William F Buckley. We elected someone who, on the trail, appealed to people a certain way and whom, I believe, in the long light of history will continue to do so. George W. Bush, for all his faults, is charismatic in his direct appeal to ordinary people and is one of the best grass-roots campaigners of our day.

Personally I find the comparison between Obama and JFK disingenuous. My belief is that the appropriate comparison -- state and all -- is to Lincoln. Here is a fiery upstart of humble origin who, while not politically correct for our day, exudes a certain kind of leadership.

Ultimately it's my belief that Presidential contests are not about ideology; they are, really, about who is the most ... well, presidential. People, I think, genuinely look for that "quality" that transcends ideology in a President. Calling Obama naive on foreign policy or a particular type of liberal, in my view, rather devolves the job he's seeking into one of a policy wonk or a partisan agent.

All Presidents are 'mugged by reality' in the same way that many college students are when they leave school. I'd rather have someone who can walk straight, than a orthodox ideologue. We have checks and balances for a reason.

In that light -- I frankly feel Obama is the least bad of the three remaining contenders for the highest office in our land. John McCain exudes smug vindictiveness and raw ambition; Hillary Clinton is just of plainly obvious bad seed.

(5) Michael J. Myers made the following comment | Feb 10, 2008 7:17:52 PM | Permalink

I've an older sister who, though a bright woman, is steeped so deeply in the San Francisco Bay area political ethos that she can do nothing more than repeat liberal talking points verbatim. She never bothers to internalize them, and can not restate them in her own words. That's always my litmus test to see if someone has really thought about the verbiage they are mouthing. She hasn't and seemingly can't restate this political cant. She can only regurgitate. Gratuitous shots at Bush however are always on offer.

But I was surprised at her comment about Obama a couple of mornings ago. Her take is that the suffering young people of the United States living under the oppressive regime of Bush Chimpy McHitler have been wandering in the political wilderness for 7 plus years now and have stayed away from politics. However the rise of Obama has given these poor souls new hope, and they are now engaged in the political process and that is a good thing.

About the only point that the two of us might agree upon is that something that gets people out to vote and to participate in the democratic process in a reasonably well informed manner is a good thing.

I'm not certain that the "Yes We Can" video says anything more than "yes we can" without stating "do just what?" That blank remains to be filled in. But it does appear that it's stirring up participation.

(6) MC made the following comment | Feb 12, 2008 3:04:54 AM | Permalink

Yes We Can, redistribute the wealth of this nation?

Yes We Can, negotiate with terrorists?

Yes We Can, ask Oprah to be SecState?

Something like that?

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