Obama and the 'Image Thing'

At a fundamental level, elections hinge upon the most trusted intuitions voters have about their candidate's character. In most cases these intuitions are seldom aligned with the truth, as they are loosely based on external appearances and whatever the media chooses to put on its daily feed. Nevertheless, the labeling of a candidate that gains the most currency - in other words, the one that sticks - is the one that, given enough circumstantial evidence to support its tenuous correspondence with reality, will play a significant role in determining either victory or defeat for that candidate.

In the game of politics, the label that is used to pigeon hole one candidate may not necessarily work for another- but the principle of  perseverance until a fitting label sticks works almost every time. For people who get paid to breathe life into a viable caricature of the candidate from the opposition, their work at pointing out his gaffes and consistently highlighting the negatives may in time yield the desired results, and soon enough a candidate may find that the very strengths for which he is so admired by his followers have almost overnight become his greatest liabilities. A case in point that probably haunts many of Obama's advisors is the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry.

In hindsight one can almost pinpoint the time when the downward spiraling of John Kerry's campaign began to gain serious momentum. It was not long after diligent republican strategists had done their work of helping to make the eviscerating tag of the flip-flopping candidate frame the national conversation. The overriding perception of an endlessly vacillating candidate became a powerful tool in the hands of republican strategists to sway many undecided voters in the 2004 election. 

The fact that Kerry had not addressed emerging doubts in the consciousness of voters about the legitimacy of his military service also contributed to the imminent collapse of what was once considered a high-spirited campaign by many accounts, though in the end it became merely a peripheral concern of the voters.

This failure to stay one step ahead of the rumor mill and quickly defuse any allegations of misconduct or character weaknesses has served as a valuable lesson for the crafters of Obama's campaign strategy; a strategy that - not surprisingly - puts a premium on providing a timely response to negative publicity and unfounded characterizations from the opposition.

And it is not entirely unwise for Obama to heed the promptings of his trusted advisors to seize every opportunity to silence any potentially damaging rumors and squelch any unsolicited misrepresentations that may sometimes even come from loose cannons within his own contingency. But while he is being assured that this approach will only help to project an image of honesty and strength, the impression he is giving to presumptive voters is an altogether different one than that which his advisors have in mind.  

In other words, there is a distinct possibility that he may be actually perceived as a supremely selfish man; the consummate politician who is more preoccupied with safeguarding the luster of his public persona than with the support from those whom he will readily disown should they in any way become a hindrance to the fulfillment of his life long dream. Not a label that Obama would intentionally embrace.

And therein lies the supreme irony.  

Barack Obama, lionized by his peers as the silver tongue candidate, eulogized by his followers as the fresh and untainted spirit in Washington, but seemingly oblivious to the fickle nature of political winds, may actually be helping history repeat itself.

For John Kerry, failing to quickly neutralize his foes' negative spin on his record meant the end of his presidential bid, which is why Obama can't be blamed for choosing an entirely opposite course of action. But as he aggressively tries to do his best to avoid mimicking the unresponsive approach that eventually sealed his predecessor's fate, he may actually be setting the stage to face a strikingly similar finale.
At a fundamental level, elections hinge upon the most trusted intuitions voters have about their candidate's character. In most cases these intuitions are seldom aligned with the truth, as they are loosely based on external appearances and whatever the media chooses to put on its daily feed. Nevertheless, the labeling of a candidate that gains the most currency - in other words, the one that sticks - is the one that, given enough circumstantial evidence to support its tenuous correspondence with reality, will play a significant role in determining either victory or defeat for that candidate.

In the game of politics, the label that is used to pigeon hole one candidate may not necessarily work for another- but the principle of  perseverance until a fitting label sticks works almost every time. For people who get paid to breathe life into a viable caricature of the candidate from the opposition, their work at pointing out his gaffes and consistently highlighting the negatives may in time yield the desired results, and soon enough a candidate may find that the very strengths for which he is so admired by his followers have almost overnight become his greatest liabilities. A case in point that probably haunts many of Obama's advisors is the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry.

In hindsight one can almost pinpoint the time when the downward spiraling of John Kerry's campaign began to gain serious momentum. It was not long after diligent republican strategists had done their work of helping to make the eviscerating tag of the flip-flopping candidate frame the national conversation. The overriding perception of an endlessly vacillating candidate became a powerful tool in the hands of republican strategists to sway many undecided voters in the 2004 election. 

The fact that Kerry had not addressed emerging doubts in the consciousness of voters about the legitimacy of his military service also contributed to the imminent collapse of what was once considered a high-spirited campaign by many accounts, though in the end it became merely a peripheral concern of the voters.

This failure to stay one step ahead of the rumor mill and quickly defuse any allegations of misconduct or character weaknesses has served as a valuable lesson for the crafters of Obama's campaign strategy; a strategy that - not surprisingly - puts a premium on providing a timely response to negative publicity and unfounded characterizations from the opposition.

And it is not entirely unwise for Obama to heed the promptings of his trusted advisors to seize every opportunity to silence any potentially damaging rumors and squelch any unsolicited misrepresentations that may sometimes even come from loose cannons within his own contingency. But while he is being assured that this approach will only help to project an image of honesty and strength, the impression he is giving to presumptive voters is an altogether different one than that which his advisors have in mind.  

In other words, there is a distinct possibility that he may be actually perceived as a supremely selfish man; the consummate politician who is more preoccupied with safeguarding the luster of his public persona than with the support from those whom he will readily disown should they in any way become a hindrance to the fulfillment of his life long dream. Not a label that Obama would intentionally embrace.

And therein lies the supreme irony.  

Barack Obama, lionized by his peers as the silver tongue candidate, eulogized by his followers as the fresh and untainted spirit in Washington, but seemingly oblivious to the fickle nature of political winds, may actually be helping history repeat itself.

For John Kerry, failing to quickly neutralize his foes' negative spin on his record meant the end of his presidential bid, which is why Obama can't be blamed for choosing an entirely opposite course of action. But as he aggressively tries to do his best to avoid mimicking the unresponsive approach that eventually sealed his predecessor's fate, he may actually be setting the stage to face a strikingly similar finale.