Saturday, September 06, 2008

Note to Nader: Dump Gonzalez and take Vanna. And no, I'm not kidding this time.

So yesterday the buzz is all about how Sarah Palin stole McCain's thunder at his own convention; I'm sure that theme will be prominent in the weekend talk shows as well. (No question that McCain's plodding, glitch-bitten speech was a dull anticlimax to Palin's.) The official line from Republican delegates and operatives argues that Palin is a better candidate than Obama, but you almost get the feeling that they think she's better than the guy at the top of their own ticket. The GOP is plainly enamored of her (or doing a good job of faking it, anyway), even if John Q. Public is still making up its mind. And though I'm guessing that the media are a bit miffed at Palin for taking that swipe at them during her speech, on Friday one of my local newspapers editorialized her as "the real candidate for change."

This just serves to underscore how fickle and shallow we can be in evaluating our prospective leaders. I'm the first to admit, "my guy" was the beneficiary of this syndrome. I do believe that Obama is a worthy candidate
certainly the lesser of the two evils in this election. At the same time, I have no illusions about the fact that many of his disciples are backing him for less-than-substantive reasons. He's cool, he's charismatic. He has that resonant voice and that certain way of cocking his head and flashing a crooked grin while answering an interviewer's lame question with some wry one-liner. Hell, I'm sure that there are people, probably female and black*, who support him simply because they saw him on Oprah.

But if nothing else, Obama's been out there doing his thing for a couple of years, subject to constant scrutiny and an awful lot of right-wing slime. Sarah Palin gave one prime-time speech. Written by someone else. And suddenly she's the Republican Obama; the faithful are agog, acting the fool, suggesting that if they had their druthers, McCain and Palin would switch places on the ticket. All that stuff about John McCain's history as an authentic American hero, and his reputation as a congressional maverick, and how we need him on the front line to keep us safe from terror.... That's so yesterday! 'Cuz today we've got Sarah, and she's just so damn perky and telegenic!

Is that all it takes for a man or a woman to become a cultural Pied Piper nowadays?** A great smile, a nice voice, stylish clothes, a confident strut? An "inspirational" speech-making delivery? "Sex appeal"? We are talking about making someone our president.

Should I laugh or cry?

By the way, if you don't get the line about Vanna in the title, click here. (You need to be reading this blog more regularly. Wink.)

* For a long time I argued that we should discuss social issues in nonsectarian terms; I even argued that we should renounce race entirely. (For two more representative posts on the subject, try this and this.) But people took me to task for being naive, and refused to even address the issues through the lens I'd provided. Besides, clearly I'm swimming upstream in a river of media coverage that is determined to break down electoral demographics by every possible human subcategory. So I concede defeat. At least for now.
** And yes, again, that applies to Obama as well.


Stever Robbins said...

Perhaps we should all take voice lessons and hire an image consultant. It seems pretty true that appearance, voice, and charisma ("the packaging") count for more than the substance when people evaluate an argument.

The lesson: ignore the package when you're a consumer of information. Pump up the package when you're a producer of information.

Steve Salerno said...

Let's face it (people in my industry, publishing): That's essentially how books are sold, isn't it? "Packaging"? "High concept"?

I guess that's how pretty much everything is sold in America. I just hate the idea of regarding the presidency in the same category as a consumer product like laundry detergent or Ex-Lax.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve wrote:
"Is that all it takes for a man or a woman to become a cultural Pied Piper nowadays? A great smile, a nice voice, stylish clothes, a confident strut? An 'inspirational' speech-making delivery? 'Sex appeal'? We are talking about making someone our president."

It could be argued that this is one more symptom of "how the self-help movement made America helpless," to quote the sub-title of one of my favorite books. :-) All too often we choose being entertained and inspired over thinking for ourselves. Not that thinking for ourselves is easy, given the glut of information and misinformation out there.

I think that for a long time Americans have always been suckers for packaging and what I like to call B.S.O.'s (bright shiny objects), but it's become a lot worse in recent years. We pride ourselves on how sophisticated we are, but we often fall for what's attractive and entertaining over what's more substantial. And I think the self-help movement, with its shiny happy charismatic gurus, has had a lot to do with encouraging and perpetuating this tendency.

Or maybe I have it exactly backwards, and maybe self-help has ripped a big page from the political playbook. (Self-help "leaders" certainly have learned from Madison Avenue and Hollywood; there's no doubt about that.) At any rate, both politicians and selfish-help/new-wage gurus seem to have a gift for lying or, at best, artful misrepresentation.

I love to make fun of these things, but when a presidential election is at stake, it becomes less funny and a little more disturbing.

Anonymous said...

I'm for Palin and Whatshisname!

Yes, that's all it takes. Send a (good-looking) woman to accomplish what the devil could not. Simple. Brilliant. Finally realized by the old crusty Rethugs. Identity politics at its most glamorous.

Anonymous said...

Your sexism and racism are tiresome, Steve.

"I'm sure that there are people, probably female and black* , who support him simply because they saw him on Oprah."

That's because male supporters of Obama, especially white male supporters, have all principled and carefully thought-out reasons to vote for him. None of that silly image stuff that only dumb females, especially black ones, fall for.

You know, if nothing else, Palin's candidacy has fully revealed what sexist pigs some self-proclaimed "reasonable" men are. And for this we should already be grateful. I am.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, there's a whole other element here that ties this to the SHAMscape, which is the patented American tendency to mistake confidence for competence. This is something I address at length in my upcoming piece for Skeptic, so I won't belabor it here, but suffice it to say that if you listen to our politicians nowadays, they very seldom offer actual tangible plans/tactics, but the mere confidence "that we can [fill in the blank]" as an IOU for that plan. This a direct outgrowth of empowerment-based thinking. (And the American people simply nod and smile and feel reassured...)

To Anon 12:02: Well, clearly someone wasn't reading this blog six or eight months ago, and didn't bother to click through to the links right here at the bottom of this post. Pointing out reality is not any kind of "ism." The so-called Oprah Effect in Obama's candidacy has been widely commented on, and the vast majority of Oprah's viewers are women. Obama's following among blacks has also been amply documented in poll after poll (including exit polls), and to my mind is unquestioned, especially if one looks at the fact that upwards of 90 percent of blacks skewed towards Obama in the most recent primaries. You're telling me that's just coincidence? (As I've argued before, when a black person votes for another black person simply because they're both black or they supposedly "share certain common interests," that is every bit as racist as when a white person refuses to vote for a black person on that same basis.)

You know what really gets tiring, Anon? People who see some sort of demon lurking behind every statistic or other aspect of reality that they don't like.

Anonymous said...

You just never own up to your prejudice and hubris, do you, even when they are staring you in the face. I guess this is not surprising. But it is a mark of a small man.

Steve Salerno said...

Fellow bloggers, I allowed that last comment as an example of an ad hominem attack, or the kind of pseudo-argument that people resort to (as I almost knew this individual would) when they're either bereft of a good rebuttal or they're too lazy to make a pointed case. This last comment is, of course, a variant of the old schoolyard comeback, "Oh yeah, well so are you!" It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now.

Mike Cane said...

I don't know, Steve. Maybe Anon 1:46 has a point. How tall *are* you, anyway?


But seriously. To see you put Nader in a headline nearly made my head pop off my neck (something the Palinistas would like to *actually do* to me at my blog!).

Anonymous said...

Your remark concerning the substitution of political confidence for competance really hits the nail on the head. Here in the UK it has become alarmingly obvious that ALL politicians have dumped competance completely, relying on soundbites and 'reassurance' (read that as hoodwinking) of the electorate, marketing and image manipulation to sell their 'brand'--while the country goes to hell in a handbasket. This would be far less alarming if not for the fact that this marketing of government works so well and seems to have been accepted unilaterally as the way politics is done these days.
Scary stuff.

RevRon's Rants said...

Well, Steve, I think it's time to drag out the bran muffin recipe again, but not for you this time! Don't let anonymous get you down. People with "issues" typically read what they choose into other people's statements, the better to serve them as they parade those "issues" around. Unfortunately for women's progress, such diatribes generally (and unknowingly) reinforce the Rush Limbaugh perspective of the women's movement.

Hubris? Isn't that a Middle Eastern dish, made with chickpeas and garlic? Delicious! :-)