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Aug 02, 2008

Obama's "Entitlement" vs. Plain Looking The Part

(last frame from latest Obama campaign video, "Low Road")

(frame grab: McCain "The One" video ad)

In completely undisguised terms, the McCain campaign has been focusing on painting Obama with a God-complex -- as someone who looks upon the White House with a sense of entitlement.

Sadly, many in the media have been infected with the same virus, propagating over-and-over the idea that ("Niccolo," or now, "Moses") Obama has been single-mindedly running for president practically since he was born.  The offshoot has been article-after-article -- like the major Ryan Lizza piece on Obama's political history in the New Yorker recently, or the latest background piece in the NYT on Obama's teaching career -- with the "life-long Presidential entitlement" thesis built-in, validating the assumption by selectively parsing the history and proffering key quotes from Obama antagonists.

There is a small, but important technical point to be made about this "entitlement" framing, however.

As both the first African-American candidate for president, as well as someone without a long legislative history or an established persona with the American public, the fundamental task of the Obama campaign -- as it would be with any other candidate with the same profile, regardless of his or her character -- has been to establish -- in fact and in feeling -- that Obama is equal to the job.  If you recall from the endless string of Democratic debates, one route Obama has taken to establish this has been through rhetoric.  I'd love to have a bill (one with Franklin's face on it, not Obama's), for example, for every time Obama finished a sentence by saying:  "... and that's why I want to be President of the United States," or "... and that's what I intend to do as President of the United States," or "... and we can make that happen when I'm the next President of the United States."

The point is, it has been completely logical and understandable, especially from early on, that Obama would identify and associate himself with the office at every opportunity.  And yes, that is exactly what Europe was about.

Given that logic then, it is fascinating to see how the difference between "entitlement" and "association" is playing out, if just at the level of text, phrasing and (considering McCain's just-released "The One" video sending up Obama as a presumed prophet) even typography.

Perhaps what really galls the opposition (and a lot of the media), however, is not just how Team Obama "religiously" associates the candidate to the office, but how easy and natural the linkage has been.  That being the case, perhaps that effectiveness has had a lot less to do with arrogance or entitlement  than with the candidate's poise, confidence and the air of inevitability (in dramatic contrast to the wayward opposition) from Obama fitting the part.

(image 1: last frame from Obama campaign "Low Road" video ad.  image 2: frame grab: McCain "The One" video ad)


In this age when for better or worse, appearances are so important, Obama's physical stature and deportment actually make him look more presidential than McCain, despite the obvious fact that he is a relatively young man of mixed race running for an office whose previous occupants have consisted of (mostly) old, white guys. It must really rankle McCain, who is making one final attempt to prove he is as big a man as his father and grandfather, despite never having been an admiral. He has more in common with Bush than policies.

Did anybody else notice how Obama's face seems to turn into flames a couple times in "The One" ad? The first time it happens, the narrator says "and he has anointed himself" but says "anointed" so that it sounds like he's saying "ignited".

One hears so much about Obama being too stiff, not being able to relax and go with the flow when appearing with the hard-hats. I dunno, he looks pretty relaxed here. Could they be on their way to have a beer???

Rachel Maddow is right when she states that McC referred to himself many times in future presidential terms without notice by the media. But when Obama does it, even if indirectly, it's in the news cycle 24/7. I'm sorry to say this, but that sure seems like racial prejudice to me. There is nothing in McC's history (POW), education (4th from the bottom) or legislative (much benefiting cohorts) that would suggest he'd be any better, indeed any different, as president than W has been. We all know where that took us.

Although I can't replay the campaign videos, my impression of McC's is that it is very difficult for them to make Obama look bad. In a way, even playing the 'tour' images with the racism and violence overtones, Obama still LOOKS good and in charge. All they can destroy him with are the words, very carefully chosen. But then, those of us who are visually oriented, would say that, right?

OTOH, the constant, back-of-the-brain image that I hold in my head of McC, is of a scruffily dressed, ill-at-ease chubby guy in scuffed shoes, trodding along. He can put on a suit and tie, but he's still that other guy.

Regarding presidential impressions, Obama makes it look cool. Whereas, McCain resembles the old, shuffling dunderhead Tim Conway played on "The Carol Burnett Show."

Sadly, many in the media have been infected with the same virus, propagating over-and-over the idea that ("Niccolo," or now, "Moses") Obama has been single-mindedly running for president practically since he was born.

Nothing new here although, interestingly, this malady of single-mindedness seems to only affect Democrats. In 2000 Gore's eight years as vice president proved he would do anything to be president while Bush, if he lost the election, would happily retire to his beloved ranch (which he bought to make himself look Reagan-esque in spite of the fact he is terrified by horses).

In 2004 I listened to a serious explanation that John Kerry was complicit in his Purple Heart wounds in 'Nam because he knew it would look good when he ran for president. Kerry wanted to be president so bad that he enlisted in the Navy, volunteered for dangerous shooting duty in country, not for honorable and patriotic reasons but because of a driving self-interest to become president.

This "presumption" thing isn't a rational argument. Anyone who has been campaigning for this job for as long as these two is driven, committed to the goal. McCain's argument, vote McCain because the other guy is worse, is really the only chance he's got left. Side by side — in June when BHO claimed victory in Minnesota in contrast to McCain's seriously embarrassing speech from Louisiana, or in July where BHO addressed a couple of hundred thousand in Berlin while McCain stood before dozens in Ohio — it's a clear choice.

Of course this could backfire. After all if Obama becomes "The One" then what does that make McCain? The "Wannabe"?

I hope I can stay fascinated by observing the various low-down plays work their way out. Otherwise, I'm going to feel depressed. Josh Marshall has a Sunday talk show video up at TPM of David Gergen explaining the realities of under-the-radar racism from his raised-in the-South awareness. TPM also has a link to a New York Magazine article about how the low-down approach is all McCain's got to work with, so Obama will just have to find a way to kick it to where it deserves to go. Meanwhile, James Wolcott blogs what also seems true to me - that in the McCain "Annointed One" ad, Obama just looks so likable (that radiant open smile) and comfortable in his own skin... Is this enough to undermine McCain's poisonous message?

This ad has a hidden symbolism as well that took me a few times to catch. I'm sure it was largely unintentional, but at the moment when Charlton Heston's Moses makes an appearance, Obama is making a statement about the floods of Noah. Obama's comments represent a biblical story wherein god washed the entire Earth with floods. To counter that the McCain team shows us Moses parting of the waters to escape from Egypt. I find it sort of funny that Obama's comments are inclusive of the the entire world or from the framework of the United States, the entire country. The image the McCain camp juxtaposes is one of a separation of two sides with Obama's symbol mockingly pushed through the center. It appears to me as a hidden reference to how Obama's campaign is hinged on togetherness and trying to be a candidate for all Americans while McCain is still hell bent on separating us into two groups where one believes in McCain and the other, the enemy. Did anyone else notice this?
I suppose another way to look at it is a failed attempt to mock Obama's biblical reference because they use the wrong story as counterpoint. I don't know. Overall it seems like McCain's campaign feels there is nothing of substance worth talking about when they can instead spend their money on a few crass jokes that only make already sworn conservatives giggle while they lose the respect of the rest of us.

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