July 31, 2008


Sam Smith

Barack Obama has gotten where he is using remarkable cynical and manipulative marketing worthy of something dreamed up by Donald Draper or Sterling Cooper of Mad Men. It has been based almost entirely on replacing actual policies with words and phrases designed to produce a warm and fuzzy feeling among voters desperate for something new and different.

Whatever one thinks of the integrity of such an approach, it suffers from one dangerous flaw: because it lacks any substance it may at some inconvenient moment evaporate as a useful tool. For example, as the campaign progresses, some of the people who have been fooled some of the time might discover, as has been wisely said, that "hope don't pay the cable."

Obama's touchy-feely European trip is fair warning of this danger. Since returning home there has been no significant change in his standing in the polls. This supposed historic event has turned into just one more episode in a not particularly interesting campaign.

Worse, into the vacuum has come not just an invigoration of McCain but, only a few weeks after Jon Stewart felt compelled to explain to his audience that it actually was okay to laugh at Obama, the comedians are taking their gloves off. Carrie Budoff Brown writes in Politico:

"It wasn’t until the last week. . . that the narrative of Obama as a president-in-waiting - and perhaps getting impatient in that waiting - began reverberating beyond the e-mail inboxes of Washington operatives and journalists. Perhaps one of the clearest indications emerged Tuesday from the world of late-night comedy, when David Letterman offered his 'Top Ten Signs Barack Obama is Overconfident.' The examples included Obama proposing to change the name of Oklahoma to 'Oklobama,' and measuring his head for Mount Rushmore. . .

"Following a nine-day, eight-country tour that carried the ambition and stagecraft of a presidential state visit, Obama has found himself in an unusual position: the butt of jokes.

"Jon Stewart teased that the presumptive Democratic nominee traveled to Israel to visit his birthplace at Bethlehem’s Manger Square. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd amplified the McCain campaign’s private nickname for Obama ('The One'). . .

"The harsher treatment from comedians and columnists - coupled with the shift by McCain from attacking on policy to character issues - underscores the fine line that Obama is walking between confident and cocky."

The underlying problem is that, with full premeditation, Obama has given us little but his character to vote on. Not a bad political approach when you're up against someone so bereft of character as Hillary Clinton.

But in the meantime, however, reality has not stood still. The economy has been collapsing; the housing market is in a state that has been described as the worst since the Depression.

And what does Obama have to say about all this? Primarily that his tax policies are better than McCain's, which is true enough, but hardly enough to turn things around as the recent tax rebate flop has indicated.

Obama is running against a laughably weak opponent yet barely busts the 50% mark. The primary reason is that those who are supporting Obama they think he is cute, eloquent, impressive or black have already made their mark. There are no more of those.

What remains is a growing number of voters who are being hurt, or expect to be so, by unusually poor economic conditions. In fact, a growing number of voters who supported Obama because they thought he was cute, eloquent, impressive or black are also joining the realos - those who need more dough and less cliches.

For such voters who Obama claims he is comes in a far second to what he or McCain might do. Obama has chosen so far not enlighten them. These voters may not turn to McCain, but they could easily stay home.

In a better Democratic Party time, the guy picked as front man would be taken aside by the pros and told to ditch his narcissistic pitch and come up with something solid that would actually assist voters. But Democrats aren't like that any more.

Still, this is the time to do something before an increasing number of people for an increasing some of the time figure out that Obama isn't what they had thought.

The clock's running. It's time to stop listening to the Mad Men and start helping the little folks.