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.