Posts tagged ‘john mccain’

October 8, 2008

What you see is what you get (Nixon/Kennedy redux)

So, it was my good fortune to  be the first person to point out more than a 13 months ago that in this  political year image would be as crucial a factor in determining the  presidential election as it was in 1960.

Since then, requests for interviews invariably, and very quickly I might add, boiled down to “what do the candidates wardrobes say about them.”  Shortly after I was quoted in USA Today, a producer for WGN pre-interviewed me for a segment.  I tried to explain to her that it was much  more complicated than that. Could I go on air and briefly discuss the complexities? (Sure, that sounds funny now but at the time I was serious.)

She never called back and I learned my lesson. Give NBC, FOX, and CBS what they want.

Of course, though I was certain of the statement I made, I certainly didn’t know exactly how it would play out.   As the nominees of each party emerged, lots of people  jumped on the Nixon/Kennedy paradigm and they’ve pointed out the obvious similarities. One candidate is young, attractive and magnetic but lacks experience.  The other candidate is old, not so telegenic, prone to soporific public appearances but chock full of experience.

(The role race has played in the campaign is beyond the pervue this blog entry, although you can bet the farm I have a lot to say  about how it has been sublimated. Perhaps reading my blog “Sarah, Plain and Tall(tale)” might give you some idea….)

The Nixon-Kennedy debates were  historically significant because they were the first to be televised and that very fact  made it possible, if one were inclined to do so, infer something not only from the answers the candidates gave but how they looked while they were giving them. We all remember form high school history class that people who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon had won, but those who listened and watched on television thought Kennedy won.

I’ve been waiting for 13 months for the moment in this campaign that would make the issue of image as compelling– and decisive– as it was in 1960.

I think that finally happened in last night’s televised debate.

I think we saw last night, for the first time in this election, how filtering a town hall meeting through television affected the candidates’ message and chances for victory.

The conventional wisdom  had it that  McCain was supposed to have the home court advantage in the debate because he had built his campaign on town hall style meetings.

Obama on the other hand was supposed to be at a disadvantage because he excelled as the rock star/politician in front of tens of thousands.

The conventional wisdom (an oxymoron, if there ever was one) got it all wrong.

Last night Senator Obama looked  calm, cool and collected, in control and in command. . His youthful energy was contained but obvious in his statesmanlike posture. . John McCain on the other hand looked, anxious, jittery, scattered–aimless even– and inescapably old from what appeared  to be a dowager’s hump as the cameras gave us panoramic views of him roaming the stage.

So what leads me to this conclusion? Watch the debate again and you will notice, if you didn’t already get the vague feeling when you watched last night, that Senator Obama’s choices in presenting himself to the studio audience and to the home audience contrasted sharply with Senator McCain’s.

Obama’s choices underscored his claim that in these turbulent times he is the leader whose judgement is superior to McCain’s while McCain’s  choices undercut his claim that he is the safer, more experienced steady hand to lead us through this crisis.

Why do I say this? What specifically did each candidate do that we could see on television that could possibly affect how we perceived their message?

Senator Obama consistently focussed on fewer that three studio audience members while he was answering questions in a soothing voice and he minimally moved his entire body in order to do this. He usually pivoted slightly or he simply turned his head in another direction. This meant that not only was he connecting with the studio audience but he looked as if he were speaking directly into the camera, and therefore to us at home. The cumulative effect of this over 90 minutes  allowed us to see Mr Obama as  a calm, thoughtful, caring and decisive candidate.

In stark contrast, Senator McCain, roamed the stage, addressing multiple audience members and sections of the stage, haphazardly changing his tone and demeanor and repeatedly (and inexplicably) twirling in place, even walking backwards for no apparent reason other than to be closer to ( but not at) his podium.

If you were watching the debate on television, you saw that Senator Obama was always within the frame of the screen and the cameraman did not have to chase him around  as he did with Senator McCain. At one point, out of what must have been sheer frustration on the part of the director, you saw both candidates on a split screen, and even then McCain couldn’t be contained in the frame.

The fact that the camera had to make such an effort to follow Senator McCain, he came off as erratic, uncertain and unfocussed. It didn’t help matters any that, unlike Obama, he never moved the microphone from his right hand, which meant that he was always forced to move his left arm only in order to make a point. This meant that his gestures were at once more highly exaggerated and repetitive.  He could clearly be seen gripping the microphone tightly which made him look stiff and unnatural, as if he had suffered some sort of stroke which only affected the right side of his upper body.

On television, he came across as one of those grandpas who spend their spare time trying to keep someone (perhaps,”that guy”) off his lawn. This is hardly the image one wants to portray to an electorate looking for leadership in a crisis.

If it’s the case that Mr. Obama won the debate last night, as is the consensus, it is important to understand that it was in good measure because he was able to make us see him connecting to regular people and the television audience, undercutting any of the doubts that he is elitist, unprepared, and of unfit judgement to be Commander in Chief. He was able to accomplish this because of what he said, yes. But the image he projected on television underscored his message. The same cannot be said for Senator McCain.

TheBestDressedList.com

TomKolovos.com


September 30, 2008

Sarah, Plain and Tall(tale)

With my apologies to Patricia MacLachlan, let me tell you a tale about loneliness and abandonment.

John, a “maverick” who, in 8 years of political marriage to his party’s president voted for 90% of the president’s legislative agenda, finds himself saddened by his chances to successfully distance himself from the selfsame disasterous economic and military agenda he voted for so he can now become President himself.

Somewhere in one of his eight homes, he is also saddened that his opponent, an elitist African American upstart half his age and who was raised by a single mother on food stamps, picked a champion of the working class and expert on foreign affairs as his vice presidential candidate.

Even his couture clad, brewing-fortune heiress wife is unable to console him from his public admission that he knows very little about economic matters, which suddenly matter very much to the voters.

Clearly unable to to handle the the burden himself, he decides to put out feelers for an upstart half his age of his very own to put on the presidential ticket.

He asks a few buddies, perhaps some randy buddies, and they tell him that putting a woman on the ticket would show the other side that he meant fundamentally sound business.

So they look around for a political bride.

They find a really good one in Maine, but decide that she isn’t young enough or much of an upstart, so they send her packing.

Suddenly, as if she were a credit card sent through the mail without a FICO credit check, someone pops up on their radar. Her name is Sarah.

She is from Alaska and she is eager, really eager and more than willing to travel down to the lower 48 to take the job immediately. The randy friends like that she was a former beauty pageant contestant and although she is married with children and a potential future ex son in law, it means that she has plenty of practice in the interview portion of her pageants to give confusing, nonsensical answers to difficult questions, and such as.

She seems like the kind of gal that can really read the heck out of an electrifying speech, which some friend of John’s could write and pepper with truthiness. No need to bother the FBI to do a background check.

Just as John had hoped, his plan succeeds beautifully. Within hours of the political marriage, they manage to steal the political thunder from their elitist community organizing upstart opponent. Everyone is talking about Sarah!

Oh, and how much does Sarah like talking about her Alaska homeland which she misses very much. To relieve her homesickness, she paints beautiful, fanciful pictures with words about her life there and the shores of Alaska and their proximity to a far away land called Russia. She even talks about the strategic proximity of her homeland to the exotic land of Canada.

But after a severe economic crisis threatens to force the entire world to party like it’s 1929, John is afraid they may lose the election and he may be forced to sell the entire country to China.

When Sarah leaves to go to the United Nations and on national television with Katie Couric to talk more about Alaska, John panics. Fearing Sarah may not survive the return trip, he declares that he will suspend his campaign and cancel the scheduled debate with his upstart opponent to go to Wahington to help fix the economic meltdown that a week earlier he had declared didn’t exist.

In his haste to get to Washington, he forgets to close down any of his campaign offices or stop running any of his campaign ads on television. He also forgets his haste, since, having cancelled an interview with David Letterman because he has suspended his campaign, he goes to Katie Couric’s CBS office instead, where it turns out he decides to be interviewed. David Letterman feels lonely and abandoned..

In the end, John’s fears are well founded. Sarah does not survive the return trip. Actually, she is politely asked not to return, abandoned really, by one of her most influential admirers at the National Review. She’s had enough of Sarah’s tall tales. She admonishes that “if BS were currency, Sarah… could bail out Wall Street herself.”

Sarah is now working on learning to print currency, and in her spare time, cold fusion. (It’s cold in Alaska and her parents say there’s nothing that their daughter can’t do.) She plans to report on her results this Thursday nite.


TomKolovos.com

September 21, 2008

Back in Black (from the bridge to nowhere)

I’m back!

I have not blogged for almost 3 months and over the next few moths maybe I can find the time to tell you why.

Let’s start with why I’m back to begin with. Since I started blogging for nbc5.com, I’ve been posting my picks for the best and worst dressed celebs at the major awards shows. Hey, it’s frivolous fun and at the end of the day not a dumb thing to do when your website is called TheBestDressedList.com.

Since the Emmy Awards will be handed out tonite, I will post the obligatory list tomorrow.

But in a week in which the headlines have been about the  surprise(?) enormous mismanagement of the U.S. economy and the reality that we face an international global economic collapse that would make the Great Depression look like a trip to Disneyland, I’ll be honest with you, the list of who is wearing what will be frivolous.

As an image consultant, I’m sometimes asked a really important question: “Can a client who has very little substance, make up for it by finessing great style?” Quite frankly  I’m surprised I’m not asked this question more often. My answer is always: “No. Not in the long run.”

The reason I believe this to be true is because if great style, or any style at all, could be a substitute for substance, it would have to be based on smoke and mirrors, misrepresentations and, a word we are uncomfortable using publicly, lies. Eventually, the truth will come out and the charade is over.

Or maybe not. Maybe not if we all really want to collectively continue to believe the charade because it’s more comforting than the truth.

As I write this, I defy anyone to suggest to me that ordinary Americans have the slightest clue about the global economic implications of the last week. While I’m at it, I defy anyone in the Bush administration to have explained it to me sometimebefore this week.

It’s going to take a long time and, OMFG, a lot of my money and yours before the charade is exposed and we can go back to hitting our collective “the fundamentals of the economy are strong” snooze button.

Funny enough–well, funny only in a black comedy ( and I don’t mean TheJeffersons)– the political landscape in the country is facing an equally crucial wake up call. I had no idea how utterly naive it would seem in 2008, when it seemed perfectly logical in 2007, for me to tell USA Today that:

“This is an election, maybe the first one since Kennedy-Nixon, where appearance really does matter, because we have credible female, black, Hispanic candidates, style and substance may actually be competitive, or even equally important to the public.”

Suddenly, it doesn’t really matter how many sources have picked up that quote or in how many foreign languages. As of the day Sarah Palin joined the the Republican presidential ticket, substance has taken a seat at the very back of the political tour bus. How Ms. Palin, and therefore John McCain,  has been packaged to the public in this election will make it possible for those of us who grapple with image, either for a living or academically, to think, rethink, publish, blog and (maybe even blush) for years to come.

After a lot of thought and head scratching, I have lots to say on the subject ofimage and politics in this election. I will share them with you in blog size bites in the next few week/months. (Yes, Marcus, I know this blog is too long….)

Enjoy the Emmys tonite.