The presidential debates of 1960 ushered in a newfound awareness of image - this time the personal one on camera due to the mercurial rise of televisions. Those who simply listened to the debate reported a win for Nixon, whereas those who viewed the program declared Kennedy the champion. As tomorrow’s ballot battle will finally declare a winner, politicians and the media continue to cater to a culture that truly embodies the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words,” making it ever more important for the candidate’s PR team to sell their nominee’s image. It will come as no surprise that Sen. Barack Obama trumps the other in marketability.
But should looking presidential and fitting in with pop culture qualify you to lead the world’s most powerful nation in a time of economic turmoil?
In this presidential cycle, Mr. Obama has graced the cover of a dozen Time magazines and eight Newsweek publications. His face has been painted on GQ, Rolling Stone, Vogue for Men … the list continues - even including a few teen magazines. The headlines often read: “The Contender,” “A New Hope” and “It’s Obama Time,” while his photos remain strong and occasionally have an artificial halo-like glow.
Sen. John McCain, on the other hand, was on the cover of Time only five times - and three of those appearances were with Mr. Obama. There are no pop culture magazines that place Mr. McCain’s “trendy” look on their cover or teen magazines that ask about the Arizona senator’s “dreaminess” factor. Yet, allegedly this is all done in fairness, or a way that the networks can try to present themselves as fair. In truth, it wouldn’t be far off the mark to claim that the mainstreammedia has sold product Obama to the American people.
So what makes Mr. Obama sell?
His style is fresh. His look is original. His image portrays the essence of youth. His rhetoric sculpts a catchy headline for the Fourth Estate. Although Mr. McCain attempted to sell his “maverick-ability,” he carries himself like an old politician. Despite the fact that he looks like your average elected official, he attempted to market his policies as refreshed and against the traditional grain. Frankly, policies won’t motivate voters tomorrow to vote for Mr. McCain. The mainstream media, which is unofficially Mr. Obama’s PR machine, has made the populace desirous of a man who appears powerful. Simply because someone appears on the cover as presidential and powerful does not mean he would make an effective commander-in-chief.
As a result, many voters tomorrow will be blinded by the pretty pictures of Mr. Obama, thereby losing sight of what’s important - the issues.
Although this perception may seem to be a reality, it does not necessarily translate into an actuality.
Only when we turn the page past the cover, past the publicity to find the heart of their policies and the motivation behind their philosophies, can we truly determine the candidate’s suitability for our nation’s highest office. If we look at the ad campaigns of the candidates, both can be denounced as having been untrue to some form of their commitments to being different. Mr. Obama’s claim is change, though it has been hard to tell exactly what the change is, and Mr. McCain’s specialty is having been a maverick and a veteran. Both espouse some kind of difference from the norm, but neither is exuding it particularly well. The differences the voters see are in Mr. Obama, by virtue of being black, and Mr. McCain’s decision to nominate a woman to vice president. Mr. McCain himself doesn’t look very different, and Mr. Obama’s selection of Joe Biden made his ticket look a little more “normal.”
However, perhaps it would be more important what the president will do, than what he looks like.
For instance, Mr. McCain is pro-life and against embryonic stem-cell research, which would most likely provide impetus for abortions thereby raising the number of such procedures performed. Mr. Obama is pro-choice and would be in favor of policies that allow women to disregard the life of a viable human being inside her as well as the opinion of the living man who made it possible for her to potentially bear a child.
Mr. McCain is in favor of lowering the taxes on the wealthy with the highest corporate tax in an effort to stimulate the economy, and Mr. Obama wants to raise taxes on the sector responsible for creating the most jobs, which history shows to be poor judgment. In essence, Mr. McCain is making an effort to keep most Americans employed while having the rich pay more, and Mr. Obama is taking the popular idea of taxing the rich and giving it to the poor.
No matter what the outcome tomorrow, the American people will finally have their say in this critical moment in our young history. We must respect and honor the will of the people no matter how unbalanced and shameful the media reporting has been.
Armstrong Williams’ column for The Washington Times appears on Mondays.