Friday, 22 February 2008

Reframing Barack Obama

The anti-Barack backlash has started.

Respected economic commentator Robert Samuelson laments the “Obama delusion”. He critiques Senator Obama’s policy planks and concludes:

[Obama] has run on the vague promise of "change," but on issue after issue --immigration, the economy, global warming -- he has offered boilerplate policiesthat evade the underlying causes of the stalemates. These issues remain contentious because they involve real conflicts or differences of opinion.

The contrast between his broad rhetoric and his narrow agenda is stark, and yet the press corps -- preoccupied with the political "horse race" -- has treated his invocation of "change" as a serious idea rather than a shallow campaign slogan. He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't.

Alongside Obama the lightweight is Obama the leftie. Try this from George Bush's former top adviser Karl Rove.

Perhaps in response to criticisms that have been building in recent days, Mr. Obama pivoted Tuesday from his usual incantations. He dropped the pretense of being a candidate of inspiring but undescribed "post-partisan" change. Until now, Mr. Obama has been making appeals to the center, saying, for example, that we are not red or blue states, but the United States. But in his Houston speech, he used the opportunity of 45 (long) minutes on national TV to advocate a distinctly non-centrist, even proudly left-wing, agenda. By doing so, he opened himself to new and damaging contrasts and lines of criticism . . .

In recent days, courtesy of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Mr. Obama has invoked the Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Franklin Roosevelt to show the power of words. But there is a critical difference between Mr. Obama's rhetoric and that of Jefferson, King and FDR. In each instance, their words were used to advance large, specific purposes -- establishing a new nation based on inalienable rights; achieving equal rights and a color-blind society; giving people confidence to endure a Great Depression. For Mr. Obama, words are merely a means to hide a left-leaning agenda behind the cloak of centrist rhetoric. That garment has now been torn. As voters see what his agenda is, his opponents can now far more effectively question his authenticity, credibility, record and fitness to be leader of the free world.

The road to the presidency just got steeper for Barack Obama, and all because he pivoted on Tuesday night.

Watch these counter-stories over the next few days and weeks. Similar efforts wrecked previous Democratic candidates’ presidential bids. And what is happening to Senator Obama is a valuable case study. These counter-stories – especially Rove’s efforts – can work because they’re simple and appeal to existing voter preconceptions.
Senator Obama can beat them - if he challenges the basic premises with bold, decisive moves to turn some Democratic orthodoxies on their heads and appeal to the centre of the American electorate. Remember how Bill Clinton did that in 1992. If he doesn’t, all that will remain of Senator Obama is his rhetoric.

[Thanks to the excellent Framing Science blog for these references]


Anonymous said...

Sorry to disappoint Karl Rove, but Obama does not have a 'secret left-wing agenda', in fact the unexciting truth which will bear out when Hillary steps aside is that Obama policy-wise nothing different to offer than Clintonian New Democrat and Keynesian type policies, simply wanting an effective - lean and mean - government capable of actively helping citizens counterbalanced with a recognition of private enterprise as the engine of economic growth. Not very exciting. But it doesn't matter because Americans already agree with this agenda and Obama will win on the basis of being a more effective leader at bringing the USA back to its center and good repute.

linda said...

Obama is employing the rampant dumbing-down attitude so perverse in America and deviously relying on the masses' hunger for faith and belief in something. On tv today he said in an ad "Am I my brother's keeper?". Implying that he is a deliverer when it was Cain the murderer who said "am I my brother's keeper?" when asked the whereabouts of his younger brother Abel. Why is he quoting a murderer? Is this because he knows the masses don't recognize who said these words? Obama knows what he's doing but, is it right?

Stephen said...

You quote Karl Rove as if anyone with half a brain would take him seriously!
Just ask any average American if he feels safer, more prosperous, or more optimistic about the future than he did before 8 years of right-wing neocon domination!
Obama will run his presidency as he has the most powerful campaign in history. He WILL change the way Washington works. And that's why the like of Rove are so desperate to stop him.

linda said...

I am not a republican and don't see where I've quoted Rove in concept or word. I would trust Rove as well as I would trust Obama. They are more like kind than most are willing to see. This nation is full of blind people who perceive Obama to be the new one eyed king. I would bet money that if he wins he will not run for a second term. My choice for President would be Joe Biden but he dropped out for lack of a new widget to sell.

Neil Stockley said...

Thomas / Stephen:

Obviously, I have a lot of sympathy with your points of view. But I wonder whether Senator Obama really would change the way Washington works, having heard that one before!

Americans may agree with Obama's agenda. My point is that the Republicans and others may be very effective at using counter-stories and framing to make them think he has another agenda, or simply, that he would be an ineffective leader - weak, all talk and no substance etc.

McCain is also campaigning as a break from the Bush / Rove / neocon years, so peoples' feelings about the past 8 years may be neutralised.

Obama needs to have a story that enables him to appeal to the general electorate, just as he has won over voters in the Democratic primaries, and counter the unfair attacks that are coming.

Ask John Kerry.

linda said...

I don't know nor care to know what obamas agenda is or is not. why? because he has quietly noted in his speeches the weariness within the older Americans', the younger voters yearning and desire to be hopeful for something to believe in and the black Americans' demand to be included. all valid concerns but i don't trust his method. obama reminds me of a psychiatrist when talking to a frustrated patient. he dances around using ordinary synonymic terms without defining the issues and offering attainable solutions. all the while encouraging a trust me attitude and maintaining a calm demeanor as though he truly understands the problems and is capable of curing them. He is acting messianic because the patients are desperate. obama is seizing the opportunity by using hope and dreams in the same kind of mind controlling manner as cheney/rove via bush has used fear. honestly, bush's redemption is his sad record and lack of intellect.
America should be afraid of what they're willing to settle for.