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.