As I look down upon American society…literally and figuratively… from my perch up here in Canada, I must admit that it’s politics and political figures fascinates me to some extent. The higher up the political ladder one goes, its becomes more and more like following a t.v. reality show, where as we know, “style over substance” is the premise of all the various plots. The continuing drama surrounding U.S. presidential politics is the highest stage where this phenomenon plays itself out. Where “American Idol” meets “America’s Top Model”, to create figuratively, “A perfect storm”.
What I had found most fascinating about the 2008 U.S. presidential election but for whatever reason didn’t feel moved to comment on at the time, was the treatment that Sarah Palin received from the so-called “mainstream media”, made up primarily of the so-called “liberal” participants. For me, it was an intriguing contrast when compared with the A-list starlike adulation, Manchurian candidate Obama received. Maybe because the difference was so blatant I didn’t feel the need to state the obvious… and not surprisingly a year later, it still continues.
Obama has always been the media’s “guy”. They created, nurtured, directed, marketed and protected, “The Obama Brand”. When he first popped up on the national scene during the 2004 Democratic convention, I remember saying to myself, after listening to the t.v. commentators heaping praise on his speech, that this dude is a media creation. However, let me be clear: Barack Obama was and is no mindless stooge. As a political strategist, the man is brilliant. He used them also for his political advantage. I saw during the 2008 campaign how, depending on the audience he was catering to, he would mesmerize them with conflicting speeches… and the mainstream media would fall all over themselves saying how inspiring he was, while never calling him out on his inconsistencies. Sure, the right-wing zealots over at Fox News like Sean Hannity and radio talkshow personalities, like Rush Limbaugh would rail against him, but outside of their diehard supporters, their rantings fell on deaf ears. No-one took them seriously… especially the majority of those within the Republican Party itself, much less the majority of Americans as was proven at the end of the election.
Obama’s greatest political feat was not winning the Presidential election against John McCain. That was a given. Whoever won the Democratic nomination was going to be the next President of the United States of America. Obama’s greatest political triumph was defeating the Clinton machine, (in February 2008 I wrote this post predicting that he would beat her). So after he won and Hillary got onboard “The Obama Train”, it was pretty much smooth sailing for the Obama campaign. Not only did he have the overwhelming majority of Democratic base in his corner, but more importantly, the Independents, primarily moderate conservatives, were supporting him.
All was well until… “uh-oh!”… John McCain picked a nationally unknown female Alaskan Governor, a Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Although everyone was lambasting McCain on this choice, I saw it as a clever political move on his part. I still didn’t think he would win, but it was a choice he needed to make to put some life… to give his sinking campaign a boost… which it did! For a time at least. He desperately needed someone to galvanize the Republican base, especially the social conservatives. McCain is a moderate. He therefore appealed primarily to moderate Republicans and Independent conservatives, so having Joe Lieberman as a running mate would not benefit him much, plus it would alienate him even further from the more right-wing segment of the Republican base. There was no way he was going to get the Black vote, so asking Colin Powell would be a waste, plus there were already indications that Powell was going to support Obama. Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs would further alienate the more right-wing segment of the Republican base, so who was really left?
Well as the saying goes: “desperate times call for desperate measures”. By choosing Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign hoped to solidify the support of the more right-wing elements of the Party, such as the social conservatives; gain the support of White middle and upper class women who felt betrayed by the Hillary loss; and win over the “Walmart” constituents, who were primarily conservatives, if not necessarily Republicans, but weren’t being inspired enough by the campaign to vote for John McCain. Most importantly however… and I don’t know if during the vetting process of Sarah Palin they took this into consideration… she was very photogenic! This added greatly to her appeal. Ever since the Kennedy-Nixon television debate in 1960, it is a given that within Presidential campaigns, being “camera friendly” is more important to getting elected, than any policy position a candidate may have!
So it was very interesting observing how, as the “Palin phenomenon” took hold and gained momentum, the mainstream media, although rattled in the beginning, got it’s “shit together” to make sure that this upstart wouldn’t derail their guy. Did they really believe that Palin could seriously spark enough excitement into the McCain campaign to pull off the upset? I doubt it… but they weren’t going to take the chance! In the beginning no one gave the relatively unknown junior Black Senator from Illinois a chance against the Clinton machine… and look what happened! The lesson was learnt:
“Never underestimate your opponent!”
So the attacks started. Fast, furious and relentless! It became a fascinating case study of the media utilizing a strategy of war by “style over substance”. I’ll just highlight some of the things I observed that made me… well go “umm”. First, the belittling of her political achievements. Out of the four finalists: Obama and Biden vs McCain and Palin, she was the only one with any actual political “executive” experience. She had run two administrations, i.e., campaigned and won at both the municipal and state level, yet this was dismissed and even ridiculed. Now if someone was applying for a job and they had proven they had the ability to successfully perform the requirements of that job, in a similar albeit lesser position, wouldn’t that count as an advantage in some way over other candidates without any experience!? Well not for her. The media effectively…and brilliantly I will add… turned this into a disadvantage.
I also remember watching a part of the Katie Couric interview with Palin and at the time I thought that Couric so was condescending and obviously biased against Palin, that I changed the channel. I found the question and subsequent badgering of Palin by Couric to name a newspaper or magazine that she reads insulting and demeaning. Although it was portrayed by the media as “see she is ignorant, illiterate and uninformed”, I wouldn’t have answered that question either. Furthermore, the fact that in her speeches she was light on specific policy positions (like Obama), made numerous gaffs (like Obama, Biden and McCain) and appeared ill prepared in some of her interviews, as well as debates, (like Obama, Biden and McCain) these were all used to discredit her more intensely than the other candidates.
The attacks against her family, especially her daughters were in a word: despicable! The media and late night talk show hosts, made the most inappropriate comments in reference to her children, especially her teenaged unwed daughter who was pregnant at the time. Even her down-syndrome son was the target of rumours… and by then America was conditioned to laugh and feel that it was “okay” to attack her in this way! In contrast, it was understood that Obama’s daughters were off limits. If there was even a hint of any negative comments or connotations, real or imagined, however small, directed towards the chastity of their image, the Obama-ians were willing to call down the wrath and fire of God from heaven against those inhuman demons from hell, who threatened the sanctity of their innocence.
The most effective part of the strategy though was comparing Palin with Obama, while in fact his actual opponent was McCain. Obama never really ran against McCain, since in reality he was no threat. Obama ran against the Bush-Cheney legacy, primarily the Iraqi war and Gitmo. The threat however became Palin’s popularity… not Palin herself… as she wasn’t the Republican presidential candidate. However… and this was slick… the media made her appear to be the opposing candidate by stressing the fact that if McCain won the election, she would be “a heartbeat” away from the Presidency! Brilliant!
Unfortunately for her, she played right into their hands. Although she opened this “can of worms” herself with her statement referring to candidate Obama as “just a community organizer” with no executive experience, the comparison of her as a Governor… in the same vein as Pontius Pilate… and Obama as a community organizer like Jesus Christ was… well… laughable… but again a brilliant move by the media. Without a doubt it is true that the words and life of Jesus has inspired men and women throughout the ages to be “community organizers”, however Jesus himself, according to the Gospels at least, never was one! In fact, nowhere is it recorded that he ever organized a rally, a march or any other event against the government of the day or in support of the disadvantaged. When his enemies tried to trick him into taking a political stand against the Roman empire he stated: “Give onto Caesar what is Caesars”. It is written that when he was accused of being a “community organizer” and therefore a political threat to the status quo of the day, both King Herod and Pontius Pilate stated that they “found no fault in him”… i.e. he was not a community organizer in any way or form! However, “style over substance” loss that round for Palin.
Palin’s problem as I see it was this. First, she was certainly over her head in the national political arena. She wasn’t a Washington insider like the other three candidates. Second, she wasn’t media savvy enough (at the time), especially being in the national spotlight. Third, she didn’t know how to play the political game on this national stage and said what she truly believed. She needed to learn how to be more of a chameleon… a politician… like Obama.
Regardless of these experiences, just like I stated above that Obama wasn’t a “mindless stooge” of the media, in no way do I believe that Sarah Palin was an “innocent naive victim” of the media. She made the decision to get into the ring and run with the big dawgs, knew the risks and got beat down! What I have come to admire about her though, is that although she was beaten, she didn’t consider herself defeated. She learnt from the experiences and like Obama, now uses the same media to her personal advantage. She has become a lot more media savvy and maintained her popularity with a large segment of the American populace.
Palin has just released a book on her life, focusing on her experiences and the issues which she faced being John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate. I recently watched her interview with Oprah. What I found interesting was that although Palin is first and foremost a (controversial) political figure, Oprah didn’t ask one question about Palin’s policy agendas on particular issues nor even her political beliefs in general. She did ask if she was considering running for President in 2012. It was obvious (to me at least) that although Oprah appeared to be magnanimous, what she was actually doing was calling into question Palin’s credibility as a successful woman and her commitment and integrity as a mother. Palin never seemed fazed, didn’t let it rattle her, as it may have before. She played along, answered the questions with confidence, stayed on script and appeared genuinely appreciative of the opportunity to be on the greatest stage in the world on which to peddle her book. Yep… she’s learning.
My wife bought and has read “The Audacity of Hope”. When she finished it she asked me if I wanted to read it. I declined as I have no interest in reading about the life of Barack Obama. I know all I need to know about him… and this may surprise some of you… I actually do admire the fact that he played “the game” at a highly unscrupulous level and won. He’s a master at the strategy of “style over substance”. That is what politics… and American politics in particular… is all about. I fully acknowledge that for most Black people, those of African descent worldwide… and for others… Brown, Yellow and White alike… he is a cultural icon. As I stated above and before in other posts, as a political strategist, I consider him a genius and the most influential political figure of the 21st century (so far).
However, I will be buying and reading Sarah Palin’s book. Regardless of her politics, as a person, I find her more of a kindred spirit than Obama. I got a little “rogue” in me myself.