Obama: ‘user-friendly’ candidate

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By Matthew Engleman

By Matthew Engleman

With such a close and interesting presidential race this year, the air waves are full of commentators trying to make sense of such a rare occurrence. Yet despite the amount of words and opinions one important element seems unexplored: the role of our mediums. You read right – not media, but the mediums themselves.

This presidential race can be summed up as a battle between the book, the television and the internet: which medium more voters use, and which candidate benefits most from these media.

Sen. John McCain is by default the book candidate because he won the Republican Party nomination. The Republican Party owes much of its political strength in the last twenty years to grassroots religious movements. These voters defer most of the time to a book for answers on contemporary questions. Even though it is widely reported that the majority of the religious right feels somewhat ambivalent (or downright uncomfortable) with Sen. McCain, he is, by far, the one candidate which these voters will support.

The main characteristic of the book is that the words don’t change, they are rigid. It is not too hard to recognize this quality in conservative politics. For example, what is more rigid than a wall to keep out the bogey man?

On the other side of the aisle Sen. Hillary Clinton is no stranger to the television, having been the First Lady during her husband Bill Clinton’s administration. While Sen. Barack Obama is not incompetent in front of the TV cameras, Sen. Clinton has relied solely on the television when things were looking less than good.

First, there was her emotional moment in New Hampshire on Jan. 7 that gave her New Hampshire’s primary, according to most analysts, and landed her on the front cover of Time magazine. Most effective, though, was her “3 a.m.” campaign ad, in which images of sleeping children were juxtaposed with a ringing phone in Washington. The intention was to amplify any doubt about Sen. Obama’s experience through fear.

Texas and Ohio seemed to have gotten the message. The TV can convey fear well because the viewer is so passive that the tone goes right to the sub-conscious. Not so with the internet. An internet surfer is more in control of the content and therefore less passive.

The effect? Within a day, the “3 a.m.” ad is being satirized on Youtube. The internet user is more critical because the computer user is in “search” mode. It is not hard to imagine that if the ad had aired a month before the primaries in an area with many internet users Sen. Clinton would not have been so successful.

Sen. Obama, on the other hand, has fared much better on the web. A Youtube search with his name finds many video tributes, in which parts of his speeches are set to music to emphasize the eloquence of his deliverance. Obama is more “user-friendly”, a necessity for any future candidate.

It is also important to consider that the internet is the world-wide web, an international community. This also plays to Sen. Obama’s favor, due to his multi-ethnic background and international experiences. Simply put, he has a multi-national image.

In mid-March, though, his campaign was struck with a blast from the past. The broadcasting of the sermons from Sen. Obama’s “spiritual leader,” Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., has caused a television backlash. This is not surprising, as the comments from Rev. Wright reference events in America’s past.

While giving a lecture at the Mission Inn on March 18, NPR President Kevin Klose said that television has made America “ahistorical,” leaving us in a “continuum of forgetfulness.” To the TV viewer, the comments from Rev. Wright seem derogatory and offensive, yet to the internet viewer whom can “link” to the past, the comments may seem justified, time will tell.

As the internet becomes the most used medium in America, presidential campaigns will change and so will the candidates. Candidates will have to be able to jump from one format to the next and seem natural. Right now, Sen. Obama is the best juggler, giving enthusiastic speeches to TV audiences, eloquent narratives to book audiences, and adaptability to internet users. He is so good in fact, the Supreme Court might just have to choose him for us.

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