US Presidential elections are always fascinating to me. The primacy of that country in the world obviously makes the epic process of selecting its leader of interest to anyone, but there are other reasons too.
There was an aphorism I heard several times when I was studying American history at both Sussex and Groningen: American history is not long, but it is very broad. The scale of the country and the complexity of its 2oo+ years of being give it a richness and complexity that is absorbing, to say the least.
Part of the breadth of this election takes in the new constituency. I was lucky to hear Joe Trippi, architect of the Howard Dean 2004 campaign, speak in Westminster last year and subsequently read his book about the experience, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
It was clear in the aftermath of that phenomenon that 2004 was a dress rehearsal for the 2008 campaign.
At the excellent State of the Net conference in Italy, which finished yesterday, I saw Joshua Levy of Techpresident talk about the current state of the campaign. I’d not spent much time following the current race online, so I was surprised at the scale of Obama’s lead in terms of popularity on Facebook and MySpace.
Obama’s online popularity is of course out kilter with his standing among Democrat voters – where he is running a close second to Hilary Clinton. His success in the online world is in part due to his support from young voters and his canny support for net neutrality [link] and free speech, key issues for internet citizens.
What struck me was the way that actually the most effective campaigning was being done by people outside of his campaign staff. Josh showed us a video produced by Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas setting Obama’s speeches to music and also a Bollywood remix of Obama.
As Josh adroitly pointed out, some would say the latter video is highly representative of Obama’s campaign: it says nothing of substance while being highly involving. Style very much prioritised over substance: a wise position at this stage in the Herculean task of building a coalition of support large enough to win a nomination to run for President. You want to give people a good feeling about you, but as few reasons as possible to start disliking you…
In contrast to these spontaneous expressions of support is this cringe-inducing video by Hillary Clinton’s team designed to appeal to the young voters flocking to Obama’s (is cause the right word? Brand?).
It’s one of those efforts that prompts you to reverse engineer the creative process. You can imagine the brainstorm where the bad idea was conceived, and built upon: “Yeah! Yeah! And then we could, like, have Hillary photoshopped with a guitar with someone saying she, like, totally redefines what it is to have guitar solo.”
Someone in the room knew it was an abysmal idea and stayed quiet. Let us remember that always, and swear never to be the person who didn’t say: “That completely sucks. People will laugh at us.”
As Joshua put it: “No one under forty would write the line ‘The blogs were going crazy.” *Cringe*
: : If you’re interested in politics and online campaigning it is worth taking a look at the dark underbelly of the campaign in this Observer article and comment piece by the brilliant Mark Hanson post on Comment is Free (write more, Mark, write more!).