Saturday, November 8, 2008

Oh, how wrong I was

I underestimated the passion, power, and sheer numbers of the Obamanation this spring. I underestimated his intelligence, his campaign, and the strong current of discipline and commitment to ideas that carried this, our most groundbreaking, game-changing politician, to the presidency.

Of course, much has changed in the last several months. When Hillary Clinton conceded and the Vice Presidential picks were made, the fog suddenly cleared, revealing the landscape.

Barack Obama was not the candidate running on hopes of hype, and the Obama brand was not as empty as it had seemed to me then. John McCain was the candidate relying on hype and passion alone, with no content to offer.

In the days leading up to and the weeks following the DNC, Obama filled out the policies he'd refused to detail throughout the primary process, and they were solid. They were clear, and they supported his key messages. Suddenly, the Obama brand was not shallow or fashionable; it was heavy and meaningful. He picked a running mate for policy over politics. Biden was not the most strategic choice for a campaign, but he was an excellent choie for the actual office of Vice President.

And John McCain squandered all the content- the credibility and solid reputation he had required over decades of being himself, filling out the McCain brand with the truth of his passions and personality. But to clinch the base he should have been taking for granted, given the whos and whats and rumors and fears surrounding his opponent, he lent his brand to the wrong people- the very people who had helped him build it by opposing them every step of the way in his long career and many attempts.

The lion John McCain became a man defeated. The maverick John McCain fell in line, listened to the campaign staff his brand had been built on eschewing, and selected a campaign-minded VP over a policy-minded one. He shared his maverick image and painted his lion mane on cowardly decisions. The Straight Talk Express was hollowed out, restructured, and turned into a meaningless campaign tool. And as the quality and honesty of McCain was watered down and swept away, his brand lost meaning. And so did the candidate.

Consistency and quality are the key to maintaining brand value, and at the end of this long, hard election season, the country decided that it was Barack Obama whose words held meaning and strength, whose policies promised to be effective and fresh. And fans countrywide watched in sadness as John McCain's words lost all truth, meaning and power. As he knelt at the alter of the old status quo and spoke change, there was no one who would believe him. He had been tamed, his brand was worthless.

I don't know whether Hillary Clinton would have been able to overcome the hatred and preconceptions that dogged her. She had a solid name- a name built on strength and passion. Of course, to some, strength and passion can be interpreted as stubbornness, harping, and ruthlessness. The aloofness that served Obama characterized Hillary as cold. And of course, she, too, gave herself over to the old strategists in the end, at a time when the country wanted something new and different. She may have lost only because we've seen her name in that office before.

Team Obama has my respect for surprising me. Over time, the man himself was able to convince me, one day at a time, that his words and promises were supported by content, that they would be supported by careful action and real policy.

Hillary is tofu. Some people will never make that switch.

McCain could have been a Borden- not so exciting, but familiar, reliable, and accepted countrywide. He could even have been a cheddar- a little more exciting, a little sharp, but liked but almost everyone. But he let himself become a Randalls- overpriced and frequented mostly by the upper-middle class shoppers who've never really bothered to compare.

At the end of the season, Obama has proven himself to not be a Mac. Obama is a Whole Foods. He seemed to be all hype and loft and yuppies, but anyone who sat down for a truly blind taste test was solidly converted.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is Barack the new Mac?

The Obama Brand

As time passes, I find my confidence in Barack Obama as a viable President shrinking. To be clear, my perception Obama as a viable candidate is separate from my perception of Obama as a viable President of the United States of America... but of course, that is an explanation from another entry. And, frankly, neither one is too healthy right now.

Like so many others, I was swept up in the zeal of Obama's Audacity of Hope, and my enthusiasm crested when he left the podium to be replaced by the not-so-inspiring, I-guess-perhaps-likable actual Democratic candidate. The guy makes an impression, and that speech brought people to their feet- storming the gates to join the Cult of Obama.

The sweeping enthusiasm and seemingly unending details: "He's black!" "He's smart!" "He's well-educated!" "He worked on the south side of Chicago!" "He's a political outsider!" (and of course the inevitable accidentally racist, "He's so articulate!") thundered through the political pipelines, thrusting the freshman to a seemingly unavoidable bid for 2008. The enthusiasm was warranted. The bid came too soon.

Like the college coach with an already-strong starting line whose new star can only play four seasons, and like the parents of a summer-born child who might trail his classmates indefinitely, the Dems should have red-shirted Obama.

He's refreshing. He's inspiring. He's promising an alternative to the long-reviewed-and-politically-polished plans of the other candidates. The Audacity of Hope was Barack's 1984 Superbowl ad, and it laid an undeniably appealing foundation for the Obama brand in front of millions of Americans, not unlike the one 1984 rolled out for Apple.

And the message wasn't all that different:

"Six months before we knew about Mac, we had this new ad that read, "Why 1984 won't be like 1984," reveals Lee Clow, creative director at Chiat/Day. "It explained Apple's philosophy and purpose; that people, not just government and big corporations, should run technology. If computers aren't to take over our lives, they have to be accessible."

How long before someone discovered Obama were Democratic dreamers sitting around and musing about the potential of a black political figure with the leadership and inspirational qualities of a preacher, the voice of an orator, the virgin veil of a political outsider and a clean record? How long had components of that speech been scrawled on pieces of notepaper in the backs of hopeful drawers? Longer than the six months that 1984 copy sat on Chiat/Day's shelves, that's for certain. The branding of Obama had begun long before Obama stepped into the suit and filled out the profile, and dedicated supporters are coating themselves in Obama the same way that long-haired college students and self-impressed techies have long donned the Apple mantle and matching Converse All Stars.

And with the enthusiasm of the pre-Obama dreamers and the Democratic party at large, Barack's presidential bid came too early.

It's easy to bury under the hype, the passion and the big-name endorsements, but Barack Obama is not and will not be ready for the presidency. He's not politically wise enough to avoid going after Hillary Clinton at every opportunity or experienced enough to run an office like the presidency. Beyond that, he doesn't really have a record yet. Yes, he has local records, and yes, he has high hopes and big ideas, but he isn't nationally proven, and with every article I read, his youth shows a little bit more. It's pretty telling that the American presidential candidate he is most often likened to is JFK, a big sparkly brand name who swept the nation with enthusiasm. JFK was also young (43), also a minority (Irish Catholic) and also a junior Senator. His in-office performance was mediocre at best.

As with any brand loyalty, Obama-loving can be a very powerful thing eventually, but beware: brand loyal customers are far less price-sensitive.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Skirting the issue

The New York Times reported today on a not-so-startling medical breakthrough- two teams of scientists claim "that they turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field."

Now, this is not the first time such a possibility has been shared, and it's definitely not the first time the media and other groups have waved the idea in the air as a sort of ultimate compromise.

For years, anti-abortion activists and other religious and political groups have fought stem cell research on the grounds that it is immoral, mostly because it seemed to necessitate the use of a dead embryo. Some of these embryos were the products of medical abortions, and some were produced in labs specifically to harvest stem cells. Both stirred up the passions of God-fearing groups literally screaming bloody murder and chastising the scientific community not to play God or interfere with the natural order of life and death.

Yes, stem cells clearly hold more promise for fighting cancers, permanent injuries, destroyed organs, chronic illnesses, diseases, birth defects, lost limbs, deteriorating brain matter and even the aging process itself than any other medical tool, but are such revolutions worth the destruction of an already-aborted fetus? What about ten? What if it encourages women to start having abortions left and right, under pressure from the medical community or thinking they'll be paid for their trouble? Won't God get angry if we start creating lives in test tubes and destroying them a few days later for want of their parts?

So now, lab-coated scientists are hacking skin cells like so much Ikea furniture- tinkering around with tinier and tinier parts, adding and removing pieces at will, rearranging and gluing together. It's really an incredibly cool process. But what really makes this development so vital in the eyes of the scientific community is that they may have finally found a way to get around the religious roadblocks of abortion and the creation/destruction of life. This development is the political grease they needed to push the whole watermelon through and fight for the funding they've begged for for years. As Wired put it:

Scientists have hailed embryonic stem cells as one of the most promising research fields in medicine, saying they could lead to myriad therapies. But currently, many stem cells are derived from embryos, which is a lightning rod issue that crosses political and religious lines. The new technique could sidestep ethical issues involving the destruction of embryos and collection of human eggs.

If the new method proves successful, "we can disconnect the whole stem cell debate from the culture war, from battles over embryo politics and abortion rights," said Marcy Darnovsky, associate director of the Center for Genetics and Society.

This is great news for the medical and scientific communities, not to mention for people living with diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's, psoriasis, diseased organs, permanent nerve damage and more.

But it's still a cop out. We as a society needed this cop out in order to save lives, but it's not everything I could have asked for.

I would have asked that everyone who feels passionately about medical advances, saving lives and improving the overall medical health and quality of life for everyone speak up and vote down the idea that a potential human life is equally or more important than an existing human life. I would have asked that the leaders standing in the road of scientific progress be forced to make an on-the-spot choice to cure a loved one or destroy an embryo that would otherwise be incinerated. I would have asked that the members of the National Right to Life attempt to explain why haploid eggs- potential cells far more likely to be flushed in a mass of blood and tissue than fertilized into a successful embryo- have more of a right to life than living humans with 46 chromosomes and established families. I would have asked that the voting public watch these attempted explanations falter and finally vote on logic rather than on herding instincts.

I will take this alternative, and I will take it because it may save lives and because people who are suffering shouldn't have to suffer anymore. I will take this grease, and I will celebrate it. But we could have asked for more.