Marshall McLuhan famously wrote that “the media is the message” and I wanted to analyze the exploratory announcements of some of the presidential contenders. What I’m looking at is the manner in which they announced rather than what they said:
Barack Obama announced here that he was running and what is noticeable about this announcement is almost more how it didn’t happen than how it did. Several days before, Obama spoke at Ebeneezer Church where Martin Luther King preached on the national holiday in his name, and many political insiders believed that this would be where he would announce to the country his presidential plans. Obama instead said that this was not an appropriate time to make such an announcement. It can be argued that Obama does not want to be seen as simply the “black” candidate, and while there would be something symbolic about an MLK day announcement, it would be equally limiting in its national exposure. While Obama will not downplay his race, I believe he will talk about transcending race and culture to bring America together.
Obama’s use of the internet to make the announcement is also important. He wants to portray himself as the youthful and envigorating candidate. Howard Dean began the use of the internet with his phenomenal fundraising efforts in 2003-2004, but 2006 and youtube (Macaca anyone?) has placed a newfound importance on viral video and the internet. By making such an important speech purely online, Obama is riding the new political wave for all it is worth.
Hillary Clinton’s notification of her presidential aspirations began here. Similar to Obama the announcement is done online but rather than a closeup shot of the candidate as done with Obama, Clinton’s pronouncement is done with far softer lighting and on a floral couch. I think this is clearly done to “soften” the admittedly hard or polarizing image. While her gender will also play a role in the campaign, this annonucement (its’ language eerily similar to Obama’s) is meant not to focus on being a woman, but to focus on being an approachable human being. In a direct dichotomy to President Bush who everyone wanted to have a beer with, Clinton may be seen as too professional and too smart and thus unapproachable. The timing of her announcement is also interesting…something anoodle and I discussed here.
The final announcement I wanted to briefly mention was that of Sen Chris Dodd. He announced in a slightly more traditional way although Don Imus is a weird radio host (both outside the mainstream Washington Beltway and yet respected enough to garner interviews with candidates on both sides of the aisle. To the national community, Dodd has very little name recognition and the fact that he appeared on such a (forgive me) 20th century media doesn’t help expose his face to a national audience. What is also interesting is the decision to not form an exploratory committee but rather just jump straight into the political fray. There is something refreshing about someone ignoring political precedent (and bullshit in all honesty) and simply saying they want to be president.
This will be a year with more concern placed on image and appeal than ever, and it would be a wise idea for us to watch every image that the campaigns want us to see (and those that they don’t want us to see) to examine candidates control the media.