Monday, January 28, 2008

Selling the message

So, Obama wins South Carolina by a massive amount, wins the endorsement of the Kennedy clan and looks as though he might really be able to beat Clinton to the nomination. But what, as I have asked before, are people seeing when they look at Obama - or Hillary Clinton for that matter? The answer seems to be that both Democrat candidates have sold themsleves as abstract candidates. The messages they sell - change, reconciliation, stability, renewal - are inherently meaningless. This is not a battle over conflicting policy commitments or radically different ideas over domestic or foreign policy. Even in those areas where there are squabbles it is not what the candidate plans for the future that is disputed - it is their position in the past.
This is, perhaps, because each candidate is running as a 'who' candidate and not a 'what' candidate. What is important is the image; what is persuasive is the personal. It doesn't matter what the President will do in Iraq - it matters that they are the sort of person who was opposed to the war. It doesn't matter what the minutiae of their healthcare policy is - it matters that they are against people being unable to afford healthcare. In a sense, each of them have grasped firmly the necessity of creating a coherent and attractive narrative, without yet having employed it to explain their policy ideas. So far, then, this is image without the need for substance. It may be that this is what the Primaries are all about - the time to expound on policy will be in the actual Election. But there is now a definite impression that whichever Democrat runs, the story will be just that - the story.
On the Republican side the opposite is true. The differences are largely political, the stories uninspiring. The one candidate who originally tried to run a campaign based mainly on the personal, Rudy Giuliani, this blog's original favourite, has seen his campaign slump drastically, and now faces victory or death in Florida. As far as the others are concerned, a competition less like a beauty contest would be hard to imagine. It may be more interesting in terms of the substance of what is being said, but the glitter and the stardust is elsewhere, and it will be hard for whichever Republican wins the nomination to combat the glittering story provided by his opponent.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head --this reminds me of the 2000 race, where the Republicans had a larger and more diverse playing field, but the Democrats had more glitz and media savvy. The former was more interesting to policy wonks, but the latter to the rest of us. I was disappointed by the nomination process then, and I cringe now.

IMHO, that nomination process failed the country. It's cold where I live, but hell would have to freeze over for critical thinking to carry the day on Super Tuesday.

I don't care from which party a candidate hails -we don't need a dating service like a party to choose our sweetheart for the next four years. God, I wish people cared about substance. But they won't anytime soon.

4:52 pm  

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