Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Straw the Broke the Camel's Back

First a visual haiku that represents this campaign better than anything I could possibly write here. Enjoy for a moment of zen.......

Did you let that image soak in? A cool, composed Obama walking away from a badly sputtering McCain...left in the dust of electoral history, choked and gasping for relevance. In reality, that's a screenshot from the end of the final debate. McCain, in his inimitable way, exited in the wrong direction, caught himself, and corrected. However, rather than correcting himself in a dignified and statesmanlike way he chose his preferred gaffe-correction strategy of calling much greater attention to his mistake by dancing a jig, sticking out his tongue, and bobbing his head like a chicken. That's not a mean-spirited jab at McCain. That's actually what he does in those awkward situations. It's very hard to imagine him staring into Putin's eyes and winning a contest of wills.

I've written on debates in the past, so I won't belabor the point, but the entire series of television events went the way of the medium. The cooler candidate won. In fact, speaking of electoral politics in the television age, my mentor Lance Strate once noted that no "hot" candidate has ever won a presidential election. McLuhan's "hot versus cool" comes in handy to understand this little side note.

One bit of common wisdom I've heard spoken among presidential politics scholars is that an election rarely shifts after October 15th. People's choices solidfy by that point, and if this election is now solid, McCain will lose a landslide and the Congress will shift even further to the Democratic side. As a fellow believer, I look forward to seeing what kind of chops a good Democratic government has, however I want to see a good Democratic government first. Obama's leadership will make or break that, and his historical position is met by historical circumstances. If ever we needed a leader of great character and brilliant mind, it is now. I believe we have that leader, and his campaign message of hope is now solidifying in my mind as more than a slogan. It's a promise and, yes, something to cling to in these hard times.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Wins a Debate?

I'm writing this in the wake of the 1st presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, and after a rather long absence from posting. I'd like to hit one general election point before I get into the meat of this debate post. The economy.

There have been two elections so far. The first was a test of popularity, media-friendliness, and style. McCain won the opening salvo of that election by dropping Palin into our laps with a rush of mythological gobbledy-gook about a moose-hunting, reformer, hockey mom from Alaska who killed the "Bridge to Nowhere." He won by hitting Obama in the media early and often with nonsense about lipstick and Paris Hilton and so on. The long, and I mean looooooong, election campaign had lulled the American people into a daze of sorts, where the Clinton/Obama sparring had set a particular tone. That was the primary, and it seems the McCain people learned some lessons from the late primary season, when Clinton began to make up some ground on Barack with distractions and little things.

The problem with that thinking is that this is not the primary. This decides who the next president and vice president will be in the wake of a disastrous Bush administration. This is the final plunge into the deep end. The Palin pick began to unravel before our eyes as she stepped into the spotlight and Obama began to punch back hard. The meme switched. It changed to a focus on McCain's lies, distortions, and poor management/judgment. That seemed to stick just in time for part two of the election to begin. The economic crisis.

The bailout talks couldn't have come at a worse time for McCain. His trajectory was already on a downward path and the public saw Palin for what she is, a moron, and got back to the issues. The issues had Obama surging just in time for the issues to smack us all in the face with the fall of Wall Street. The seriousness of this choice hit home harder than ever and the primary tactics that had worked for a short time began to make McCain look amateurish and insubstantial on most important matters in the news. The debate seems to have been a push by all common wisdom, although some polls seem to suggest Obama came out ahead. This is the end of the beginning of the end for John Sidney McCain's bid. The end will come when Palin has to sit across from Biden and talk about the country.

Now to the debate. For the record, I think this was one of the highest quality debates in recent memory. It still wasn't a debate, but it was more substantial that any of the events we've witnessed in this election cycle and in the more recent history of the presidential elections. Lehrer did a fantastic job, although having the two men sit next to each other would have had them interacting directly rather than the podium set up that they employed. There was no incentive to confrontation standing 3 meters apart at lecterns. The major problem that I have with any debate analysis is that it covers what happened just after the broadcast. The test of the presidential debates is what people will remember 6 weeks, 6 months, 6 years, and a generation later. The impression matters more than the substance. The human memory maps out the events it witnesses in such a way that landmarks often dictate the territory more than precise accounts. This is an issue of General Semantics and Alfred Korzybski if anyone cares to look it up.

The map of these debates brings us the Reagan moment against Mondale, where the former Hollywood star defends the issue of age by flipping it on Mondale, saying that he won't hold his youth and inexperience against him. It's the Quayle/Bentsen moment..."You are no Jack Kennedy."

These moments are the long term mapping that ultimately decides who won. At this early juncture, thanks to YouTube and the progressive blogosphere the following moment seems to be the lone map moment in the debate tonight.

If that moment sticks, and the polls in the morning papers say Obama won, guess what? He won. As a keen political observer, I'd say that it was largely a tie on substance. Obama's overarching vision is more attractive and future-reaching than McCain's, but McCain articulated his adherence to the Reagan doctrine very well and made a good case for that wing of political thought. The substance was fairly clear, unambiguous, and the voters could choose based on their particular sense of what direction is best for the country. These debates, however, are not about substance, but mapping, and it's safe to say that Obama won.

More soon....

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bombs Bursting in Air

Things have been quiet here at Communicative Action recently. The fact is, I've been a spectator more than a commentator for a while, limiting my conversations on the net to microblogging via Twitter and comments on other people's work. I'm back and ready to talk about two things that are important in the current news cycle.

1. The Democratic National Convention

Several things stick out to me about the convention. First, the media coverage was built on the Clinton-Obama rift, party unity, and hitting McCain. Narratives that are pre-determined are the stuff of modern, institutional media coverage but fail the public in a fundamental way. Like the Downing Street Memos and the Bush administration's case for war, the media narrative is a way to fix the coverage around the story. The story is determined by pundits and insiders and everything that unfolds is fit to that story. Barney Frank sneezes during Hillary Clinton's speech and suddenly there's a story up somewhere about a fractured Democratic Party on the issue of gay marriage.

The story that comes out of the convention from my perspective, based on what happened rather than what happened in relation to pre-determined narratives, is a story of legacy. It's a story of leadership. The convention was most effective in driving a line between the Kennedys, Clintons, and now the Obamas. I felt that the party would almost be better served including the Roosevelts in the mix, but I think that must be ancient history for too many viewers and likely they couldn't find anyone to take the stage with that mantle. The Democratic Party brand has suffered through long periods of leadership void. The charismatic qualities that provide enduring legacies of leadership in American history books are difficult to find and almost impossible to fake. The GOP has done a very good job of building a late-20th century Reagan legacy that was supposed to run through the Bush's and now McCain. The problem is, that legacy is basically lost. Both Bush presidencies were pale in comparison to the large shadow of Reagan and McCain just can't stack up. The GOP will need to reinvent itself in the same way the Dems did with Clinton if they hope to start any kind of lengthy tenure at the head of the nation again.

Obama capped off a forceful, and vibrant convention with a masterpiece. The Ted Kennedy speech, the Clintons dueling speeches, Governor Schweitzer, and the Kerry/Biden 1-2 punch provided lasting memories and excellent branding opportunities for the party. They were reminders of past success, links to the legacies of successful Democratic leadership, and forceful defenses and projections of our ideals. Obama had a tough task to live up to the building momentum, but he delivered his most impactful speech, if not his best. It is a moment of historical significance for America on so many levels, but the immediate importance was the ability of the nominee to take the torch for its final leg and make his case as a logical successor to the Democratic leadership. He did so and more, and I think he gave America a reason to trust him and support him, and yes, to follow him.

I would be remiss in failing to mention the gracious and powerful moment that Hillary Clinton provided in ending the roll call to the nomination. In the primary campaign she hit Obama hard. Yes, there are probably some hard feelings and some bitterness, but she put her nation and her party ahead of herself. She stands to gain respect, power, and future opportunities for her selfless act, but historically that moment will be remembered for its symbolic importance. It will be remembered as one of the great moments in party history. That brings me to the second issue in the news cycle.

2. Sarah Palin

Others are already saying it for me, but this pick for McCain VP is an unmitigated disaster. There are a few sparkles of potential brilliance behind the pick, but I'm tempted to stand firmly in my assessment of this pick as a huge political blunder. This was a desperation pick. It was a pick aimed at attracting disenfranchised Clinton supporters, but actually demonstrates why the GOP is all about appearances rather than substance. They don't get that the Clinton support wasn't a gender-based support alone. It was the notion that a woman of her qualifications, and 35-years of hard work in a male dominated society could crack the glass ceiling and take what is rightfully and deservedly hers. Obama proved to overcome that by offering something a bit different. His story was equally compelling and came at a time when a fresh start is on the minds of the American people. Clinton, otherwise, would have been crowned in Denver.

Palin is an outsider and an interesting character. She could help to rebrand the GOP in a way that is desperately needed. They are the party of the old white hawk now, with ties to big oil, big business, and Minneapolis men's rooms. Palin is a person with an interesting back story and the label of reformer. She's sufficiently weak a political character that neither of those points would actually get in the way of the good old boys network that runs the GOP, but appearances are everything in branding. The Clinton network, however, understand that Palin has done nothing to deserve the VP spot. She has no qualifications for the office, or for potentially being president when a 72-year old former POW with skin cancer is in the top spot. She hasn't earned it. She is everything the anti-Affirmative Action naysayers criticize in condemning the practice. She is taking a position that she has no business occupying simply for the purpose of advancing the image of the GOP with women.

Time will tell if McCain can sell this choice as a part of his mavericky-goodness, but I think the stakes in this election are too high, and the American people know it. I have a theory about the vice presidency for what it's worth. It's called the "close your eyes test" and it helps to easily determine whether the choice was good or not. Let's face it the VP is really only important to people because they're a heartbeat away. Otherwise, the person is a figurehead or a sidekick or a foil. That's the perception.

The "close your eyes test" asks you to close your eyes (surprise) and picture a situation where the president has died, become incapacitated, or is unavailable in some way. A crisis has emerged of dire proportions. A Cuban Missile Crisis type event that is turned over to the VP and the Cabinet. The VP is in the Oval Office delivering an address to the American public in an attempt to inform and project confidence in the government. If you can picture the person in question handling this effectively, they pass the most basic test of the VP position. If there are doubts about their capacity to deliver that address believably, they are a negative in the position. Biden clearly passes that test. He might not be the guy we choose to run the country on a daily basis in a generic situation, but the "close your eyes test" is a no-brainer with him. He can handle it, inspire some level of confidence, and project presidential qualities in sufficient measure to hold down the fort. For the GOP, Romney would be the same kind of character, as would Tom Ridge or even Condi Rice for that matter. I would be upset and I'd have my doubts, but they would be ideological rather than practical.

Those GOP types may even be incompetent and screw everything up, but the projection of authority and leadership are important to maintaining order in the nation. Chaos is bad. Pawlenty doesn't pass the test. Bayh didn't either. Kaine really didn't. Bill Richardson might. Clinton clearly does. guess. But, Palin? Not in a million years. Ask the American people, Democrat, Republican, or Independent if they would feel comfortable with her as president in a time of crisis. The answer is brutally obvious, and that's what makes this choice a disaster for McCain. The short term purpose of this pick is a huge failure, I believe, even if the long term success is a perceived inclusion in the GOP brand. I just think he shot himself in the foot. Time will tell.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vote From Abroad

Just a quick note today about people like me, living abroad and voting in the 2008 election. Watch.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

GOP Hypocrisy on Obama Worship

Cross posted at Daily Kos:

The last few days have seen former RNC eCampaign director, webmaster for Bush-Cheney '04, and former Giuliani '08 advisor Patrick Ruffini hitting Barack Obama hard on his campaigning initiatives overseas, particularly with regard to the Germany event and the flyers printed By Obama for America.

Obama Berlin Rally

In a recent post on the subject, Ruffini calls out Obama as arrogant, saying:

The sea of Germans drummed up by the Obama campaign will be used as props to tell us Americans how to vote, and the campaign isn't trying to pretend otherwise. That's breathtakingly arrogant, and par for the course for Barack Obama.

Ruffini's been hitting it hard via Twitter as well. A few of his more select comments (top to bottom, most recent to older):

The Obama for America Graphics Team really messed this up.

We still expect our politicians to act like statesmen when abroad, not candidates drumming up crowds at rallies. Jarring.

Anyone who thinks that the issue is a German flyer in Germany is a nitwit. The issue is electioneering on foreign soil and personality cult

Covering Flyergate by 9am: Politico, Instapundit, NRO, Hot Air... more to come

Obama for President of Earth:

Senators' trips abroad should be above this kind of electioneering

Obama German flyer story has legs... pickup by @benpolitico and @LaiStirland.

You see that I particularly highlighted the notion that Obama is a product of a personality cult. This is the official GOP meme to explain why their rotten, old, bitter, washed up, absent-minded, liar of a candidate is being throttled to death by an energized nation looking to a inspiring leader for something...anything. Hope is the keyword, but it's about vision.

The hypocrisy is absolutely stunning. Yes, Obama might border on arrogant, looking ahead to the presidency, if you choose to view it from that perspective. I don't even care about that too much. He went to listen. Arrogance manifested in this way is okay with me. Arrogance manifested in the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld model is not okay. Remember when Cheney replied, "So?" when asked about American's overwhelming opposition to the war. And they dare to frame Obama as arrogant? In fact, Ruffini tags his blog entry on the Obama flyer as 'arrogance.'

The cult of personality is really sensational to me. I'm getting more entertainment from the "Party of Reagan" accusing Democrats of being wrapped up in a cult of personality than at any other political angle out there. It's classic. Remember, this is the party that held a primary debate at the Reagan National Library in front of his airplance, with his wife in the front row. In order to be nominated by the GOP you have to douse your head in the bottled sweat of Ronald Reagan as a baptismal of prairie goodness.

To illustrate the hypocrisy and hilarity of this framing, I decided to go back and pull a few telling snippets from a 2004 WaPo piece by George Will on the legacy of Reagan.

In the uninterrupted flatness of the Midwest, where Reagan matured, the horizon beckons to those who would be travelers. He traveled far, had a grand time all the way, and his cheerfulness was contagious. It was said of Dwight Eisenhower -- another much-loved son of the prairie -- that his smile was his philosophy. That was true of Reagan, in this sense: He understood that when Americans have a happy stance toward life, confidence flows and good things happen. They raise families, crops, living standards and cultural values; they settle the land, make deserts bloom, destroy tyrannies.

Good actors, including political actors, do not deal in unrealities. Rather, they create realities that matter -- perceptions, aspirations, allegiances. Reagan in his presidential role made vivid the values, particularly hopefulness and friendliness, that give cohesion and dynamism to this continental nation.

...Reagan understood that rhetoric is central to democratic governance. It can fuse passion and persuasion, moving free people to freely choose what is noble.

He understood the axiom that people, especially Americans, with their Founders' creed and vast reservoirs of decency, more often need to be reminded than informed. And he understood the economy of leadership -- the need to husband the perishable claim a leader has on the attention of this big, boisterous country.

Typically, Will tries to will (no pun intended) his subject into the realm of epic heroism. He is eulogizing Reagan in an effort to make him Homer (not Simpson, that's GWB). The key points to illustrate are in bold. The notion that rhetoric fuses passion and persuasion to move free people to freely choose what is noble. Just words? Kind of throws the criticism about Obama's speech making back in their faces, huh?

The creation of realities that matter, including perceptions, aspirations, and allegiances borders closely on propaganda, but much of political rhetoric is propaganda. All speech is designed to construct. Quality speech can construct quality characteristics in a people, if done effectively. The worship of Reagan is a product of his mythical self, as much as anything else, since he really engaged in some wicked and diabolical things while he was in office. Whatever Obama does with his power, the worship that has begun now is a product of the same inspiration and leadership that the GOP felt for their hero. If they want to pile on Obama, they ought to look at themselves in the mirror a bit more.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rheingold Sprouts

I've been following various fascinating micro-bloggers via Twitter recently and really sneaking in the backdoor on some "conversations" around the web related to new/social media, journalism, and politics.

One of the great debates going on (thanks Jay Rosen) is the battle of newsroom traditionalists to save their profession in the face of almost certain extinction. Newspapers, and to some extent television organizations, are now forced to compete with interactive media which can be generated and disseminated from anyone's laptop. This isn't to say that the skills, wisdom, and resourcefulness of journalism are on the way out. On the contrary. They'll be in greater demand than ever, but the paradigm has shifted and public communication doesn't look the same as only a few short years ago. The gap will surely grow exponentially in the coming few years.

Another fascinating collection of material comes from technology/communication guru Howard Rheingold of Smart Mobs fame (among many other things). Thanks to following his tweets I managed to discover a new widget generator from Sprout(beta) that has many, many potential applications. I created a personal promotion widget in about 20 minutes, which you can find if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this blog, just above my sitemeter. (I would have it in the sidebar at the top if it fit, but Blogger isn't very module friendly. I'll work on it.) Howard's widget features a teaching application with an RSS feed and a presentation video. I'm embedding it here:

The potential for mass communication of various kinds is interesting, given the opportunity to share this widget with others. The idea that one could build an entire community of widgets to generate content and promote communication is very interesting. "Gluing" these widgets together could build a mosaic of content that would certainly resemble a quilt or mosaic of individual content. I'm going to keep up on this and see where it goes. I think, technically speaking, there's a lot of room for improvement, but the concept is good.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I've Soured on Obama

Cross posted at DailyKos:

Yes. That's right. I've soured on Barack Obama. Sour. Lemony sour. The thing is, souring on Obama is like eating a bag of Sour Patch Kids. Something about it just makes you feel off, but you can't stop eating until they're gone. At some point you wonder if you should keep eating and if it's going to make you feel sick, but you don't.

Sour Patch Kids test you. They make you question whether candy has to be sweet to keep you coming back. For sure they're not for everyone and the traditional lollipop crowd may not go in for them, but they are candy and they do call to you when you see them in the candy aisle. You bought them once and you'll keep on buying them because despite the fact that you have misgivings about them, they satisfy some unspoken desire that lives deep down inside for a different candy. A candy that breaks the mold of the everyday sugar fix. There's a built in mechanism with Sour Patch Kids that forces you to stop. You can't eat two bags. They're just too sour. Your stomach will turn. They are the politician class of American candy. The candy that you shouldn't count on to do everything, but that work when asked.

I'm being funny here (I hope), but I have a point. I was an Edwards supporter and gradually latched on to Obama as his star rose and the promise of his 2004 convention speech came to fruition in his 2008 campaign. Yes, I was sucked in, but I'm no dummy and I'm no cult member. I'm far too smart and far too cynical about politics to fall for the glitz of hope on its own. For me, Obama represented a model of modern politics that promised to match the 21st century paradigm that most weathered old veterans of the game just don't get.

He knows how to communicate in the mode by which the country is proceeding, by and large. He knows how to stand in front of the masses and ask us to follow him. He admits that he'll make mistakes, but that we'll collectively find the best path to restore America. Obama is complex. Thankfully, he's complex. We've had enough of this simplicity:

In a television feed of the event, Bush at one point can be seen putting his arm around Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua.

"You're a good man, you're a good man," says the president. Bush then wipes his finger below his nose and calls for the attention of Harper.

"Yo Harper. The president of Nigeria."

I can go on and on about what I like about Obama, but we all know what got us here. We also know what's shaking the confidence he built in us. FISA was wrong. Bending to meet the Republican framing of various issues is also stupid. Not being clear and definitive in the populist portions of his platform is also troubling. In essence, the candidate that we "hoped" to have has been replaced by the candidate that we'll somewhat optimistically settle for, at least at this point.

Undoubtedly, a rousing speech in Denver will revive some of the enthusiasm. Until that point, the dynamism of Obama is missing. The Obama of the general election lacks a polarizing figure on the other side between which sparks and lighting bolts fly. The unintentional brilliance of John McCain is his damning lack of charisma. He's so mind-bogglingly uncharismatic in fact that it's hard to imagine why anyone would pay attention with more than half their focus. I call this unintentional brilliance because it turns off the electorate to a certain extent. It dampens enthusiasm and it forces Obama to shadow box with his primary campaign identity. It's a fight that he can't win, but it's also not going to help McCain beat Obama either.

What we're seeing is Obamafebruary vs. Obamajuly in the media. That's the narrative. McCain is so inept and uninteresting that the only compelling story remaining for the media to tell is the Star Trek TOS "Mirror, Mirror" version of the 2008 presidential campaign. You know what I'm talking about. The one where Kirk finds himself in the mirror universe where Spock has a goatee and therefore is evil. Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous are looking for a fake goatee and some glue in anticipation of an ABC debate.

The reason I posted this diary is because I think a lot of people are missing the identity of Barack Obama, at least as far as the presidency is concerned. I expect certain things of Obama after his inauguration and I think he'll deliver.

1. I believe he'll do something about slowing the Iraq Occupation to a minimal crawl and that he'll eventually get us to the point where there is a small US military footprint in Iraq to protect our diplomatic interests.

2. I expect he'll try to pass healthcare reform, but I don't hold out any big hope that it will get done satisfactorily. That's not a knock on him, but a cynical belief that roadblocks in the system will prevent him from achieving more than a bland, compromised version of his platform.

3. I believe he'll invest in green energy. I believe he'll do it in a semi-free market manner that opens the door for Wall Street to reap huge profits, while appealing to the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans ready to take on the challenge of shifting our infrastructure. I think there will be some capitulation to big business in his program, and I think there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth from some labor unions about his fluidity with respect to championing their cause.

4. I think Obama is going to put people on the Supreme Court that balance things out, but I don't think his choices will appeal to the left. I think his appointees will be heavily centrist politically and that he will appoint at least one, if not more, woman to the Court. Abortion will be safe, but I don't expect a liberal Justice from Obama.

5. I bet at least once that Obama is going to have a FISA moment as president where he capitulates with the right wing and pisses off the progressive base of the Democratic Party. He's not through upsetting us, yet. It may be on drilling in ANWAR or in some neoliberal economic decision, but something will burst the bubble that he's a pure left thinking politician, if there are any of us still holding that belief after FISA. I can't say what it is yet, but at least once he's going to set the NetRoots on fire.

6. Obama is going to do stupid, wasteful things to appease the immigration-crazed Lou Dobbs crowd. He'll spend a billion dollars on another electronic fence or something and we'll throw up our arms saying, "WTF?" This particular example is meant to illustrate how the complexity of Obama's position as "President of the whole United States" which is going to get him in trouble with some kind of expensive, senseless pander.

I could go on, but you get the point. Obama is a progressive in the sense that he sees places that need to be fixed and he is going to fight to fix them. He wants a fairer government and a more balanced opportunity for the entire population of the country. He wants to assure strong diplomacy and a commitment to sensible, pragmatic governance. He also represents the interests of business and speaks optimistically about market economics. He isn't all that clear on gay rights and parrots the tired old, "I support civil unions" compromise that falls short of recognizing the issue as one of human rights and equality. He's often too diplomatic in his rhetoric and fails to take clear and firm stands against propagandists like Fox. We may not see a huge shift in the way the FCC operates, for example, and deregulation will likely go untouched.

I'm convinced that Barack Obama will be a good president. I'm convinced that he's the best person for the job right now. I'm convinced to vote for him and support him and work to see his vision of America through. I'm also convinced to challenge him. I'm convinced that he's going to piss me off. I'm convinced that the promise of a grassroots paradigm for American politics is still far enough away that we have untold battles ahead of us, and that some of those battles will put us in direct opposition to President Obama.

So, the next time you feel like I do when watching Obama speak, that his rhetoric is getting thin and drips with questions, remind yourself of Sour Patch Kids. Remind yourself that you're not going to be able to consume a bag of Obama everyday and that sometimes you're going to have to opt for what you know is better. Remind yourself that more often than not you're going to be satisfied by the experience, knowing what it is when you get into it. The truth is, Sour Patch Kids and Obama are both excellent choices on any given day and deserve a premium position in their respective categories. Just don't think they're something that they're not.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Twitter and Tweet

I've been lax about posting here in recent weeks due to my inordinately busy schedule. Thesis writing, countdown to baby#2, and moving house have all been on the agenda and I've had little time to devote to blogging. In a way, it's been a very good thing. I've accumulated information, participated in some discoveries about new media use, and social networks. I'll do my best to share these things with you over the coming summer months. Going forward, Communicative Action will be undergoing a transformation of sorts in order to account for the sensibilities I hope to project via this forum.

Several years ago, I ran a website called Ital Stew, dedicated to US Politics and such. It was a heavy duty project, owing mainly to the use of FrontPage to build and update. The advent of Blogger and the ease with which we can all communicate via the web eliminated the need for such cumbersome tools and I've found a nice niche doing various things via blog. Politics at Ital Stew was presented in a pseudo-newspaper form with a front page and several dedicated sections. I enjoyed running that site although no one ever looked at it, and there were few means by which to promote it broadly.

How things have changed in 3 or 4 short years. Politics and new media are a marriage made in heaven in some respects. The ability to operate and transmit across the web to millions of people is facilitated by various means in 2008, and the capacity to build networks of people invested in communication grows by the day. Over the course of those same 3 or 4 years, my interest in media environments has grown to equal or surpass my interest in politics and democracy. As a result, I find myself engaged in writing a thesis on that very subject. This blog, as an evolution of my own interest, will branch out officially to include discussion of media, communication, democracy, politics, and related matters. Truth be told, I've already dabbled in that variety of work here over the last 6 months or so, but the mix will become more balanced, and the variety of work will become broader and more inclusive of the thematic nuances that exist across the spectrum of my interest.

Anyone who's been here before will notice several things immediately. In the right margin (toolbar) I've added a FeedBurner RSS feed to replace the standard Blogger Atom feed. Clicking there will allow you to subscribe to Communicative Action. Below the RSS button is a Share This rotating icon, which allows you to share Communicative Action with your network of friends and associates via e-mail, social networking sites, and blogs. One of these days, I'll figure out how to embed that in each post. Continuing down, you'll see the search widget for Lijit, which allows you to travel across the internet to my various social media pages, including Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Reddit, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. It also allows you to search the entire body of sites for whatever you're interested in. Give it a whirl. There's a Technorati widget in the mix here, which allows you to share my blog via Technorati's service, and there's currently a fundraising widget that I made at, a progressive social network site, for Human Rights Watch. As usual, you'll find various links below all that mess.

During my transition, the site will undergo some construction periodically to make it a well oiled machine. In the meantime, I suggest you subscribe via FeedBurner and jump on Twitter to follow my micro-blogging adventures. Twitter is a preferred medium for quick updates on whatever I'm putting together at the moment. It's also a fascinating form of communication that will be getting bigger by the day. The title of this post is "Twitter and Tweet" to promote this facet of my new media arsenal. There's a Twitter feed in the right margin (toolbar) that updates whenever I do. As a final bit of promotion for this concept, I direct you to 10 Downing Street's micro-blog of the current G8 Summit in Hokkaido, Japan. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's people are blogging, tweeting, and flickring from Japan and it can all be followed here. The micro-blog that 10 Downing Street is employing for the G8 Summit will be an important model for Communicative Action going forward and I hope to eventually incorporate a flickr feed, YouTube feed, and other means of communication readily available to build a personal media empire. Keep on the lookout.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

1992 vs. 2008

It's easy to forget in this fast paced media environment how political elections were once covered. In fact, leaving out the election meme, it's easy to forget how television looked, period.

This YouTube clip features the 1992 Presidential Election coverage of CBS, featuring Dan Rather at the anchor desk. The things that stand out to me are:

* the simplicity of the set
* the calm tone
* the lack of slick graphic packages
* the reliance on journalists, rather than pundits
* the lack of music
* the lack of commercial interruption
* the amount of face time Rather gets

I consider all of these things a preferable style of coverage than we get today. That's not to say that the current style of coverage isn't improved in some respects. Appropriate set changes are great, especially when they involve a break from the studio, for example. Hits from the campaign trail are valuable ways to take the pulse of the electorate. The urgency and hyperactive presentation of modern political coverage may be a way to duplicate the immediacy of the internet. Just a theory, but when you really want to know something you often click between several sites, or hit refresh on your browser. TV drama may be a way to duplicate that sense, or it may simply be a technique for scaring viewers out of changing the channel.

The overproduced opens, bumps, and closes are hokey and John Stewart/Stephen Colbert do a fine job of mocking them. The good graphic additions have been those dedicated to data or to electoral maps. There are, however, too many flying pie charts and bar graphs of minutia that need to be cut.

The use of journalists for the primary coverage of events is something long since passed away. Pundits rule the airwaves now, so much so that anchors are often pundits themselves. The art of journalism is such a thing of the past that far too many Washington Correspondents are actually op-ed types who have an agenda. A lot of these people get cushy TV jobs and don't want to give them up. Who wants to do all the hard work behind the scenes without a by-line? Better yet, who wants to do all the heavy lifting in the field and have some hairsprayed goon get all the credit, especially when I can be a hairsprayed goon.

The point about music goes hand in hand with the graphic packages. The news used to avoid any music whatsoever to remove any subliminal, psychological tone that might skew perception in one way or the other. Now, music is integrated just for that purpose. Thanks Fox.

The commercials in the 1992 clip are simply 5 second taglines accompanying a corporate logo. Would that fly in 2008? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA!!! Right. The news are corporate logos already. They are brands in and of themselves. They spend more time promoting their own coverage than actually practicing any journalism. The advertisers rule the airwaves now. That cat's out of the bag. Remember that next time you're watching CNN cover environmental issues (you'll have to watch very carefully for the 2 minutes a day they want to promote "Planet in Peril") and the logo and tag for "Clean Coal" comes up.

Rather is one of those "last of the good ol' boys" anchors, who actually paid his dues in the field prior to becoming a talking head. Now we're so specialized that the anchor is little more than a traffic director who spins you around between pundit one, pundit two, graphic mashups, ads, and pundit three. Think Wolf Blitzer.

I'm including a clip from the 2008 Primary coverage to give a little contrast. See if what I wrote isn't accurate, and also think about how political news (elections in this case) are best presented. TV is an entertainment medium, so the answer is unquestionably 2008, but for the purpose of an informed democracy, I'd have to go against the ecological grain to say that it fails on too many levels. My reasoning? The points made above show how the information value of political coverage has been drowned in the entertainment value. That's the nature of the medium. The problem with leaving it at that is that drowning information for the sake of entertainment may work for the bottom line, and it may work according to the logic of television, but there is still room for journalism in entertainment. There is room for entertainment and information to work together successfully. One would argue that television can never be the most effective means of acquiring and integrating political information, but it can be better than it is now without sacrificing its own nature to the doldrums of 1992.

The internet has changed the way we cover news, and politics, just as it's changed the coverage of sports. They are all one and the same. The horse race wins out over the wonkish policy issues. Wonkishness on the internet works by integrating media forms. The long form text of the internet allows for detailed information to be communicated, while hyperlinks and video embeds give a more dynamic and entertaining vibe. The embedded YouTube clip, for example, is the sauce or the salt or the chocolate topping. It's the part of the information that you WANT. The text is the vitamins, minerals, protein,'s the information you NEED. Television has less opportunity to do this, but it can still make a better attempt.

Twittering a McCain FCC

Cross posted at DailyKos:

In a recent first, the Personal Democracy Forum held a "Twitter Debate" between Obama and McCain surrogates. The PdF is a really interesting collection of people from various backgrounds, who jointly hope to promote, understand, and evolve technology in democratic uses.

The moderator of this debate was none other that Wonkette Emeritus herself, Ana Marie Cox. The surrogates in question were RNC Director of Communications, Liz Mair and Michael Nelson, Clinton's Director for Technology Policy at the Federal Communications Commission, IBMer, and Visiting Professor of Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University.

First of all, this exercise was a fascinating use of new media. Twitter is a fairly untapped tool at this point, and the variety of applications that are being generated in support of it are adding to a new landscape of old media forms. The Tweetboard application that hosted the debate is little more than a glorified conference call, using chat style instant messaging as its code. The Lincoln-Douglas debates, which lasted for days are being played out over the course of days again via the PdF's Twitter experiment, although I think it's safe to say that the number of words communicated per second/minute/hour/day pale in comparison to the oral presentations of 1858.

For those of you interested in seeing this media technology in action, just follow the links above. Also, feel free to add me to your list of tweeters by clicking here.

Beyond the technology, one of the interesting things that's come up in the course of this communication was the name dropping that Ana Marie Cox engaged in when asked about potential FCC appointments by John McCain, were he to be elected president. The direct cut and paste (bold mine):

anamariecox: (Jun 21 20:12:00) Forgot "#pdfdebate" in my last q. Asked both @LizMair & @MikeNelson abt possible FCC chair. Will return 6ish for today's last round of q's.

LizMair: (Jun 21 21:33:43) @anamariecox Just a few big names for you, beyond C Fiorina: Meg Whitman, John Chambers, Chuck Fish.#pdfdebate

LizMair: (Jun 21 21:38:42) @anamariecox And I have to plug my boss, Cy Krohn (ex-Yahoo and Microsoft) who's RNC eCampaign Director :)#pdfdebate

Let's review the names for a moment to see who we're dealing with.

1. Carly Fiorina (from her Wikipedia page)

Her tenure as H-P's leader included a 50% drop in the company's stock price, and thousands of employee lay-offs (done to cut expenses quickly). She was fired by H-P's board of directors due to dissatisfaction with her performance, in February 2005.

Fiorina is also a contributor on the Fox Business Network.

Bad CEO-ing and then a job with Fox. Sounds like someone we'd be thrilled to see working at the FCC. Another reason to soundly reject John McCain as president.

2. Meg Whitman

Whitman, like Fiorina has been bandied about as a potential McCain VP. She joined the McCain campaign as Finance Co-Chair after serving with Romney in his failed bid for the nomination. She's been rumored as a political figure for some time, but only after leaving eBay to support Romney did this materialize. A number of very unpopular fee increases and some shady happenings with the auction mega-site left Whitman the target of a massive user boycott this past year, although it's been argued that the effect of the boycott on eBay's bottom line was negligible. The real critique of Whitman's performance was made by Silicon Alley Insider, Henry Blodget:

In the past few years, as eBay's core business has matured, Meg has overseen several decisions and non-decisions that were, at best, weak:

* Failing to move the eBay brand perception beyond "auctions"--a retailing concept that will forever appeal to only a small segment of the overall retailing market.

* Failing to focus on the core site interface, which for more than a decade has been considered a joke.

* Buying Skype, which never had any real strategic synergy with eBay (despite several years of management insistence to the contrary), which distracted eBay from its core business, and which ultimately disappointed.

* Failing to kill, buy, copy, or at least partner with Amazon, whose superior customer service and site has now become the gold standard for any consumer interested in an end-to-end research, buying, and fulfillment experience.

Kim Peterson at MSN's Money Blog also had this analysis of Whitman's recent tenure at eBay:

Putting politics aside, is it time for Whitman to step down? If you're an eBay shareholder, you might think so. The stock was abysmal in 2006 and continued to disappointment in 2007, staying mostly in the $30-$35 range when companies like Amazon saw shares go through the roof. (Ebay closed yesterday at $32.49.)

Ebay has seen huge growth and international expansion during Whitman's 10-year tenure as CEO. The company is in nearly 40 markets, and has about 250 million registered users. Ebay says it has 100 million listings on its site at any given time, with 6 million added each day.

The company is undoubtedly an auction powerhouse. The problem is that it has remained just that, despite numerous attempts to expand to new areas. Perhaps the biggest black mark on Whitman's time at eBay is the $2.6 billion acquisition of Internet calling company Skype in 2005. What an expensive mistake. Skype never meshed with eBay and should be spun off as soon as possible.

Ebay is trying other things, like introducing its own "Neighborhoods" social networking service, but so far that doesn't seem to have taken off either. (Check out eBay's sad, sad iPod neighborhood).

Whitman has more to crow about than Fiorina, but still leaves something to be desired as an FCC Chair.

3. John Chambers

Chambers, the chairman and chief executive of technology giant Cisco Systems Inc., was tapped to serve as the national co-chair and economic and technology adviser of McCain's presidential exploratory committee. He previously served on the education committee of President Bush's transition team and on a Bush admin advisory council on national infrastructure. He also worked on a trade policy committee under Bill Clinton.

The ties to Bush and infrastructure and education would seem to be an automatic two strikes for Chambers, as would be his role in trade under Clinton a check swing, but this interesting note from a March article at Networkworld may be something positive:

Chambers and Bostrom outlined Cisco's efforts to cut carbon emissions in the way it runs the company and also in the power consumption of its products. The company has what it calls the Eco Board, a group of employees charged with finding new ways to cut emissions. Chambers said the company cut its carbon footprint 20% and saved $150 million after it was challenged by the Clinton administration to do so.

Chambers said businesses seemed to be taking more concrete steps than government, but he agreed that leadership from the United States and China - two of the biggest polluter - would be a big step toward solving the problem. "In Silicon Valley we can make dreams come true," Chambers said, "but you can't do it without government leaders."

I have some questions about Chambers and his attitudes towards deregulation, since Cisco has taken great advantage of it in India to score a huge vertically integrated stake in their national IT infrastructure, but I also don't come across anything overtly dangerous in my quick research of his past statements. In fact, I like what he had to say back in 2001 about broadband penetration:

Korea has the highest broadband deployment in the world because it has subsidized a build-out to the tune of $7.5 billion over five years. John Chambers of Cisco says, "I'd like to see the administration and Congress, both the Democrats and Republicans, make this a major project, like putting a person on the moon. Let's give broadband to every American home by the end of the decade who wants it." Of course, such a program would be a boon to Chambers' company. But it might also help recharge the economy.

4. Chuck Fish

Fish is a member of the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, where the following bio excerpt can be found:

Chuck Fish is Vice President & Chief Patent Counsel of Time Warner Inc. He is a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was a national champion parliamentary debater and achieved two coveted Black N awards. After commissioning, he served on a destroyer and a Patrol Wing Staff in the Western Pacific until "President Reagan won the Cold War and we ran out of targets." He then attended Wayne State University Law School, graduating cum laude in 1992. While in Detroit at Wayne State he founded the Wayne Law Film Society and was active in the Federalist Society.

Hmmm....until, quote, President Reagan won the Cold War and we ran out of targets, unquote. That's not good. Also, active in the Federalist Society isn't a promising start. I see that Fish has worked on the Telecomm Immunity issue for the McCain campaign. Maybe he's had something valuable to contribute (although I suspect not):

"First, we need to be explicit we are not talking about granting indulgences," Fish said, clarifying that he meant forgiveness must be matched with repentance.

"There would need to be hearings to find out what actually happened and what harms actually occurred," Fish said, adding that immunity would need to be coupled with clear rules to make sure private records would be protected in future.

In the wake of that statement, the McCain campaign had to reassure their friends in the industry that they are still very much for complete and unequivocal amnesty. Julian Sanchez of ars technica summarizes the discussion held between Fish and Obama surrogate Daniel Weitzner, giving us this look into the future at a McCain administration:

Fish outlined the four core principles that would guide a McCain administration's approach to technology. First, ensuring the availability of risk capital in order to promote investment and innovation.

Second, creating a skilled work force, by means of education, but also tax and immigration policy. (On the latter front, Fish claimed that for each H1-B visa hire, 20 domestic jobs are created. I have only been able to find a study supporting the far more modest claim that H1-B visa requests are correlated with 5–7 new domestic jobs, which may simply indicate that expanding firms hire more workers, both local and foreign. Fish did not respond to an e-mail seeking a source for his claim.)

Third, Fish stressed the importance of a employing a light regulatory touch and respecting open markets. He noted that misregulation can impede innovation, and invoked what he called the "futility principle": There are some genuine problems that are only made worse by attempts to meliorate them.

Finally, he stressed McCain's "commitment to discovery," and noted that while we currently spend some 2.7% of GDP on research and development, "more can be done."

Just what I expected from a Time Warner VP. A strong commitment to deregulation, or non-interference in markets. Bah. Enough of him already.

5. Cyrus Krohn

From his Personal Democracy Forum bio:

Cyrus Krohn is Director of the Republican National Committee's eCampaign Division. Prior to joining the RNC, Krohn developed election websites & political advertising programs for Yahoo and Microsoft as well as launching, formerly owned by Microsoft.

Krohn has no shot at the Chair of the FCC and it's clear that Mair was just giving her boss some kudos, but the irony is that he's probably just as qualified to hold that position (if not more) than the people named above. He's the only one (that I can tell) that has a blog, several social networking profiles, and direct hands on experience with the web. The field here is unsurprisingly heavy with CEOs of major corporations, primarily fallen or lackluster CEOs and I'd have to say that only John Chambers seems remotely promising as a potential McCain administration FCC Chair. Ugh, just typing that is painful.

For the record, Mike Nelson took a pass on naming names for the Obama side. I give you the pertinent debate comments here:

MikeNelson: (Jun 21 21:48:19) I do policy, not personnel. The list of talented, senior people supporting Barack who COULD be FCC Chair is a long one. #pdfdebate

MikeNelson: (Jun 21 21:49:05) Here's the list of tech supporters from last November: #pdfdebate

MikeNelson: (Jun 21 21:50:24) The requirements for FCC appointees: 1) believe in open, transparent processes and 2) understand new and old media. #pdfdebate

Vague, but not altogether unexpected. One might look over the list of Obama supporters named in the link embedded in Nelson's 2nd comment, but there are far too many people to draw any serious conclusions. In the end, I'd expect Obama to pick a CEO of some kind for the post as well. I operate under no illusions that the FCC is going to be run by real communications thinkers anytime soon. I hope I'm surprised, but I'm not counting on it.

The PdF debate continues today. Look in via Twitter and the Tweetboards and post your comment below on what you see there, and what you think about the people floated for McCain FCC Chair.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

McCain: You....Tube? What's that?

Jonathan Alter speaks to Keith Olbermann about the impact of YouTube on the modern political John McCain's expense. Enjoy.

Friday, June 6, 2008

War is in His Blood

John McCain launched the 1st ad of the general election today, featuring an "I Hate War" theme. The problem is, his grandfather fought, his father fought, he fought, and now his son is fighting. In some ways this is honorable patriotic duty that should be commended. In other ways this is evidence that John McCain is blind to the idea that war is a last resort. Avoiding war is harder work and far more honorable a pursuit that fighting it. The people who hear honor in this ad will vote for him anyway. The people who know his record and want this war to end, and the fighting to stop should hear the hypocrisy in it.

I hear both, but I face reality knowing the hypocrisy of this war and that far too distant war in SouthEast Asia that were both fought on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised over the wealth and power of a few. John McCain would keep the military-industrial-complex churning away to suit his own "family business" sensibilities and that is something we can't allow to happen.

Worst. Speech. Ever.

The reaction to the McCain speech is priceless and dead on. The notable speakers in this clip are the people at Fox News, who should probably be touting the speech's brilliance, but who know just how awful it was.

There's some interesting advice for McCain's people at Politico today, which I generally agree with, but I think the only thing that's going to save McCain in 2008 is a combination of straight ticket Republican voters in the reddest of the red states, and racists. Oh, and maybe a handful of disgruntled and utterly stupid Hillary Clinton robots that will scuttle the Democratic Party and their own reproductive rights over a cult of personality. The question is, are there enough of any of these people to stave off the Obama tidal wave? I think not.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


First, McSame:

Then, Obama:

Can we vote today? This thing is over.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Story of the Decade

Leave it to Keith Olbermann to do the job. Scott McClennan is this generation's John Dean. This will go to Waxman's committee and impeachment of Cheney will be on the table. Keep yourself up to date on this story:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Real John McCain

I'm about to post a YouTube video produced be the people at The Real McCain, but I want to provide a short disclaimer about my own take on the video first. I think that everything in the video is true, but the presentation is very dangerous. The truth is there. It's well documented in lengthy expositions about who John McCain is, what he's done, what he's likely to do in the future, and the flip-flops he's had over the years on key issues important to the American people. That's not an issue to me. The disclaimer here is necessary because I believe that we rely on short, edited clips of media appearances to make the case far too often in 2008, and it does a disservice to the truth.

Truth is a highly subjective thing in many cases. Never more so than when we attempt to portray truth via fast impression, video/audio bites that appear to make the case, but don't do much more than scratch the surface of the truth at best. That is what you'll find in this YouTube clip. "Truthiness" vs. truth. I post it because I hope the truthiness presented in the clip will prompt people to investigate the reality of the so-called truth more carefully on their own. More truthiness is found at McCainPedia, produced by the DNC and only accessible for editing by the DNC. This is a tool which should prove quite useful at engaging the truth about John McCain far more accurately than the truthiness we get in the mainstream traditional media. No one gets at real truth in this day and age. Truth lies in deeper, lengthier investigation. Please do that on your own, if possible. In the meantime, here's a bit of truthiness that should counter the other truthiness you get via TV and newspapers.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is Hillary a Racist?

People have been writing a lot about Hillary Clinton's support among racist voters in Appalachia recently. My contention is that she is simply a political opportunist who needs whatever edge she can get to steal the nomination from Barack Obama. That's politics. It's ugly but when the most powerful job in the world is at stake, it gets ugly. The thing is, Clinton worked her entire life to uplift the condition of African-Americans by many accounts, and I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I abhor the racists that you can see in the clip embedded in my last post, and I think she should come out to reject their votes on principle, but it is what it is.

She's started to repeat certain talking points about her support from "hard working voters, white voters" and it's raised some eyebrows around the US. The media has been giving it to her pretty good over those remarks. So what do we make of these remarks:

Why does the gas station owner have to be Indian, and why does he have to have the name of the single greatest populist leader of the 20th century? Isn't that racist, or dangerously close to it? In fairness, I've been known to make fun of Apu on The Simpsons over the years. A good friend brought it to my attention that there may be something racist in that impression, or at the very least racially insensitive. I've done my best to change my ways, and hope that I'm a far more mature and sensitive person at 37 than I was at 27 or 17. Hillary Clinton HAS TO know better than this. It's a shame that she's sunk this low.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Old Kentucky Home

All you need to know about Hillary Clinton's big victory in Kentucky. We have a lot of work to do Americans. A lot of work.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The DNC's McCainPedia

All hail the new media revolution. The Democratic National Committee has launched a new research/framing tool for the 2008 Presidential Election called McCainPedia. It's a wiki-esque database of information about John McCain designed to frame his candidacy in a way that is friendly to the Democratic chances for victory. It's not open source, however, and should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, it shows why the Dems understand new media and the GOP is being left in the dustbin of history. Enjoy.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Branding the Candidate

A good e-friend of mine, and fine progressive writer/blogger, Nancy Scola put together a few pieces some time back about the branding of the Obama campaign and the sophisticated understanding of graphic art, fonts, and even the employment of folk art in building a movement. The pieces are excellent and show precisely how tight the Obama campaign is when compared to the Clinton and McCain efforts.

In the spirit of her work, I thought I'd put a few examples of the campaign art that's been out there this cycle and offer a few comments.

Mike Huckabee

It almost looks like the person who designed this sign had no sense of graphic arts at all. You get the vague Coca-Cola symbolism of the red and white flourish through the center of the sign, but the jumbled up letters that spell out "Huckabee" couldn't look worse. With all those different heights and crooks in the letters you have to kern out the font a bit more and let it breathe. Also, the yellow makes you feel like this sign has coffee and tobacco stained teeth or something. It's not clean, it doesn't evoke anything except local goober, and fails in almost every measurable way. He probably should have just put up a cross with the word "Mike" in the horizontal and "Huckabee" in the vertical and done away with the charade that he had a chance with anyone except Evangelicals.

Mitt Romney

This is actually a fairly well designed layout. It works on signs and it translates well to goods. The color scheme is standard, but the clever merging of the eagle and the banner in white and red make for a good flourish element that catches the eye without dominating the name. Romney definitely benefits from having a Roman looking name with large, wide letters that balance out nicely while projecting strength. The overall look of his signage is probably just what he wanted, corporate. He ran as a CEO-type candidate with the background to boldly fix the economy and the corporate branding style that he chose is bold, but safe. I guess it didn't work out for him in the end, but we might just see some variation on this theme again in 2012 after McCain is defeated.

Ron Paul

Wow. That's a lot of words in a small space. Too many, in fact. The main problem, as I see it, is the "PRESIDENT '08" line. All caps, smashed into a subordinate position between the only pertinent information you need. The brilliance of this sign, and perhaps the biggest reason Paul has remained in the race raising money and drawing votes is the website. He gets it. There was no chance for Paul to overcome the big name rivals in the campaign, or their money, but he found a way by using the internet. He understood the direction this whole act of democracy has taken and embraced it. The sign itself does nothing for me. It's mundane, uninspiring, and has no message save the internet....which is the key to it's genius. Too bad that's all he's had going for him as he's been largely drowned out. One interesting note, the star graphic in the middle is the same one the McCain campaign is using in their sign. See below:

Rudy Giuliani

This is one variation on the Rudy campaign's signage. The design actually fits the man. His first name in GIGANTIC letters with little space for anything else. I'm shocked that 9/11 isn't visible on the sign somewhere, although it might be subliminal. Despite the boring design and lack of elements other than his name, it accomplishes two things. It brands him as a familiar person (on a first name basis) and it gets the website out there. At least he understood that much. The problem is, no one saw this except Floridians since his people conveniently thought he could camp out down there and wait for something to happen.

John McCain

This is a bumper sticker for the McCain campaign. Oddly unpatriotic color scheme for a guy who is going to have to win this thing by making Obama look unpatriotic in contrast to his military service. I suppose this does evoke some kind of regal, naval imagery, but it also looks very slapped together. It looks like it took a couple of interns a day or two to settle on a font and a piece of clip art to throw in. It works if you hope to play up your Navy pilot background, but this election is about a lot more than that. This is a dynamic election and this says "status quo". In defense of the design, it's clean and the font is a very corporate, proud looking design. It has the requisite website URL, although it's unclear that any of McCain's supporters actually know how to use the "internets" since he is lagging FAR behind his Democratic rivals in cash on hand.

Joe Biden
I actually like this design a little. It's very traditional in the sense that the name is on top in big letters and the office and year are below. There's a little star for effect to punctuate the point of the campaign, but it stays simple. In the small format you see above, it's less effective since it doesn't have the opportunity to dominate anything in context. It fails in that it's a white background on a white field here. It looks fragile. In a different context, on a bolder, darker background it pops and brightens up the atmosphere. It's not a great piece of branding, but it can work. It has no URL though, and I'm not exactly sure what it says about Biden, who is an outspoken and tough nosed candidate.

Bill Richardson

Here's the Bill Richardson candidacy announcement photo. There are several strikes going against the man from the very start. His name is very long and it has to fit in this limited space. The design team does a good job of working the space issue out and finds room for both a flourish element and the URL. The problem is, the URL is ridiculously long and junks up the entire lower portion of the sign. The flourish is clip artish and makes the effort look amateurish. The blue field is probably an accurate account of the US flag, but looks a bit 1970s. He could have gone with a more updated look in the font choice, the artwork, and the branding via URL. Also worthy of mention is that his chin looks stronger with the goatee he wore after dropping out and added a kind of Washington outsider edge that would have worked to his benefit in the large field of candidates he faced.

Dennis Kucinich

Rather than put up a Kucinich sign here, I thought this piece of folk art would do better. It's an example of the new trend among Democratic voters and their candidates where individuals with skills in design put out artwork in support of their favored pol. It ALWAYS works better than the corporate looking stuff and appeals to a new breed of American accustomed to marketing trends and target advertising. I like this effort from PJ Chmiel a lot. Check out more of his Kucinich work at his website.

John Edwards
Oh John. Where to begin? I was a supporter at one time and I can appreciate the effort here. Modern font. Gradated star flourish. Simple layout. Then again, no URL, washed out colors, ambiguous white background. Grey? This is boring, uninspiring, uninspired, and just plain awful. You were running for the highest office in the land. You were running to be the leader of the free world. I know this is a departure and a bold step away from the controlled, corporate design of the other candidates, but it is blah. The Kucinich folk art is a bold move. This is a mess.

Hillary Clinton

Hmmm... Good use of the first name (see: Giuliani). Good flag flourish. URL is visible. Not bad. The serif font is a bit hokey, but it can be forgiven. It looks much worse for it's juxtaposition with the URL font, which is cleaner and more professional looking. This is a good, safe sign. It's corporate. It's establishment. It's patriotic. It's experience. Too bad this election is about change. It's about moving to the future. This sign says neither of those things. It's the sign of an establishment person, albeit it a competent and safe bet. It would seem that among the three main Democratic contenders, Clinton's is more expressive and effective regarding her message than John Edwards, but is far too "been there, done that" in comparison to Obama's design. Not to jump the gun, but the Obama signage and folk art are so inspiring and provide such a sense of newness, that this good sign loses its impact. In an attempt to jazz up the image, the Clinton people just released a piece of folk art.

I think this is a little sad actually. After mismanaging a campaign and its branding for 95% of the primary season, the Clinton people are rolling out a piece of folk art this contrived well beyond its expiration date. Folk art has to feel grassroots and it has to feel rebellious. Che Guevara art is the prime example of this. The Obama folk art has a kind of grassroots appeal that works with his message of "Yes. We. Can." The "we" aspect of the Obama campaign is what makes it amenable to a folk art element. This is just a lame attempt to show that "she can do it too" and smacks of regret. The red radials in this piece have been compared to Maoist layouts, something I'm sure the Clinton people aren't looking to do. The high contrast two-tone photo of Hillary is nice, but she looks nothing like that in 2008. Her hair hasn't been done that way in years. She's looking back to the left, which signifies the past. It's just a mess.

Barack Obama

This just feels right. I'm biased as a supporter, but the logo is original, patriotic, and serves to brand the entire campaign. It can be repeated in millions of iterations while maintaining its identity via the O and the flag. The font is light, but bold and the URL is visible without dominating the lower part of the sign. Great balance. It also works with a blue background in reverse.

This bit of signage, in addition to the "O" logo, is brilliant. The gotham font is forward looking and says "GQ" (since that's who commissioned it in the first place). It generates a message without using his name. It looks great in a crowd and reinforces the slogan of the campaign en masse. The URL is still visible.

To my knowledge, this is the first piece of folk art that was created for the campaign. It was put together by the "Obey" people of Andre the Giant fame. Sleek, clean, patriotic, and highly effective as a mural.

I like this one a lot too. It plays with contour the same way the first piece does, but in a much crisper way. The "Obey" people went soft, while this piece by The Mac goes a bit more sharp. He's looking forward to the future again in this piece, while you remember that Clinton was looking left to the past.

I found this piece by artist Rob Kelly while I was looking for the "Obey" piece and I like it a lot. Kelly's style eliminates contours and favors primary shapes and colors a lot.

I love that someone made Nike Air Obamas. That's folk art at its best. There are a lot of other less well known Obama pieces out there that are either local or less mass produced, but it's interesting how this phenomenon plays out alongside the very grassroots fundraising that has marked the Obama campaign. If you know of any other folk art pieces from any of the candidates above, pass them along. I love this stuff.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Fall of an Era

Since 1994 the Republican Party has held onto the reins of power in Washington and throughout the nation's governor's offices. Over the last 4 or 5 years the corruption and the mismanagement of the nation has swung the pendulum to the Left and the Democratic Party seems poised to wrest control of the whole enchilada from the Rigbt at long last in November.

The GOP has done such a poor job of actually governing the nation, that even staunch Republicans are voting Democrat in the current electoral season. The Republicans have lost 3 Congressional seats in the past two months in the reddest of the red strongholds thanks to organized and energized Democrats who have shined the light of reality in the faces of the Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Sean Hannity GOP. The problem with the Republican Party is the embrace of rhetoric and vitriol over competency. The Newt Gingrich engineered takeover of the government in 1994 was in large part a response to the Democrats lack of organization and message. The loudest voices in the room were Republicans, led by the new wing of pundits who permeated the mass media. The liberal bias, if it ever really existed, was transformed into an echo chamber of Republican, news-managed talking points. We've seen that throughout the Bush Administration. Lots of "on-message" rhetoric while Rome burns.

The following clip has been "diaried" twice on DailyKos today and both of the diaries sit atop the "recommended" list over there. It's so good and so illustrative of the kind of governance and the ideological noise that Republicans have employed for the last 14 years that I can't help but post it here. If there was ever any doubt that the noisy, vapid talking points of the GOP have played themselves out at this point in history, watch Chris Matthews DESTROY a right-wing radio wingnut on Hardball. This is going to be a very ugly year for the GOP:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Democrat Abroad Japan

Well, I'm back living in Japan and in my familiar role as Co-Chair of the Democrats Abroad Japan Communications Committee. For those of you who haven't checked out my podcasts, the link is in the right margin somewhere. I edit and help to hold things together in general. It's a great group of people, who dedicate their own time to promote a progressive agenda for the betterment of the American political system. The perspective that DAJ members, and the groups in a multitude of other foreign countries, share with the domestic crowd is invaluable, particularly with respect to foreign policy and health care.

I'm following the returns for the West Virginia primary via the internet and shaking my head at the silly game that the media is playing with the results. There's no suspense left in this primary and it's just a cat and mouse game between the media and the Clinton people as to when she's going to get it through her thick skull that she's lost. She's sending red-faced former president William Jefferson Lewinsky Clinton out to the remaining states to pretend there's something to be excited about for Hillary supporters and she's off to pretend she's a blue collar champion herself. Have fun dopes. I have tried to keep an even keel about the Clinton campaign, but I'm tired of the charade and the potential damage this is doing to our presidential chances in November. It's over. She has no mathematical path to the nomination, even if you hand her Florida and Michigan on a platter. She's $20 million in debt and growing. The Obama campaign has shifted to a general election strategy thanks in large part to the steady flow of superdelegates to his side, giving him the lead in that metric for the first time last week.

An interesting journal at DailKos a few days ago showed that the mainstream media meme in which Obama can't win white, working-class voters is false. It's a generational thing with roots in Appalachia. Look at the diary and tell me how wrong the media have been in dumbing down the metrics for the TV audience. It's pathetic. Watch Obama score a 20-point victory in lilly-white Oregon and let's talk then. It's on to Washington for Obama and Albany for Clinton. Let's be real.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Obama: The Presumptive Nominee

It's over. If you don't believe me, check out Tim Russert:

It turns out that Hillary Clinton loaned herself $6.4 million dollars again last month in order to continue, upping her personal investment in the campaign to $11.4 million. Even with that loan, it appears as though she's still in big debt. Obama, on the other hand, has something in the neighborhood of $50 million in the coffers with less than a million in debt.

That's the money. The path to the delegate lead is over as well. The loss in NC, combined with the narrowest of wins in IN, assures that Obama will end with the delegate lead after June 3rd. He can actually clinch the nomination after Oregon with a win and the superdelegate flood that is expected to come now. In fact, he can get 2025 on that day, or he can probably get the 2209 that Clinton has newly introduced as the magic number, which includes both Florida and Michigan. This is a blessing in disguise because Obama can clinch the 2209 with some help from his super friends, and then seat both delegations at the Democratic National Conference well in advance of that event, giving the Party enough time to heal any rifts that may exist.

Hillary sounded resigned to the fact that this thing is basically over when she spoke last night, in stark contrast to the Obama speech, which I thought was his best in almost 2 months. Looking at Chelsea, standing behind her mother, nearly in tears, told the story as did the red-faced, sullen Bill by her side. His from and puppy dog eyes betrayed his own emotion. Even Matt Drudge, the conservative blogger, posted a headline saying "The Nominee", featuring a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama walking hand in hand. The Huffington Post did something similar.

On to the general election campaign, John McCain is gearing up with a series of speeches designed to broaden his appeal. The conservative pundits are now talking about how great he matches up with Obama, and how the contrast works to his advantage. Provided the Clintons follow through on their promise to work hard for Obama (maybe in exchange for a VP slot going to a Clinton ally) McCain is absolute toast.

When these two men stand up next to one another to be compared, it's going to look ridiculous. I mean, RIDICULOUS. McCain's gaffes have gone largely unexamined by the media as Obama and Clinton have been fighting it out. Obama has been vetted in the media and the public has spoken. Most of the skeletons that have come out of his closet have come and gone, and he survived. Not only did he survive, he thrived. The GOP will probably have to abandon Reverend Wright as a main strategy, as the ad campaigns that were run to tie local pols with Obama/Wright ended up backfiring. Democrats in heavily Republican districts pulled off historical election victories. A few of those districts flipped for the first time in 30 years!! The tide is turning.

The Tony Rezko situation is likely to be a GOP attack point, but McCain's own Keating 5 scandal makes Rezko look like chump change by comparison. The media has seen the Obama dirt, and while they're unlikely to completely give up the focus on his skeletons, the added scrutiny of McCain's skeletons will, however, make this thing wide open. No one ever looked at Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky during the Democratic campaign, to her advantage, because we lived through it and it was played to death on TV for years. McCain has been a teflon candidate his whole career, but this is different. This is the presidency. He's going to be examined harshly. I guarantee it.

So, in the end, the general election started last night. McCain's decrepit, undead spirit will walk the Earth seeking support, while Obama's youthful energy and loaded coffers will be aimed at making this contrast so apparent as to force the most ardent Republicans avert their eyes. Away we go.