Friday, June 13, 2008

Old Versus New Is the Real Narrative

After the fireworks of the Democratic primary, this week in politics appeared rather mundane and routine. Case in point: the battle over economics and tax code semantics, which as waged by both campaigns over the past several days, produces little more than yawns. Regarding this issue and this pitched battle, each party's well-trod talking points are, if not older than dirt, certainly not any younger. Even for activists on both sides, playing tit-for-tat with dueling tax systems and the labyrinthian language of said systems is a maddeningly dull fight that only someone with a master's degree in economics could relish.

What we all might be able to agree upon is that neither candidate--neither Obama, nor McCain, scored a slam dunk in this first round of head to head skirmishing.

When McCain has been criticized for being old and out of touch, this isn't a covert swipe at his age as much as it is that he often comes across as inarticulate and unrehearsed in a public forum. If Presidential politics are at least in part a public relations battle, McCain ultimately comes in at a distant second. Last night's Faux News pep rally town hall meeting was clearly scripted to benefit a candidate who often seems stilted and awkward despite trying desperately to appear otherwise, and who seems to need training wheels to make sure the man driving the Straight Talk Express stays between the yellow lines.

If possessing the common touch is a qualifying factor that we deem necessary for those who would seek the highest office in the land, then both candidates still have a ways to go before they reach it. Obama's eloquent speaking style at times still seems a touch coldly detached, though powerful in its scope and impact. By contrast, McCain often gives the impression of a man trying far too hard to come across to his audience as warmly personable, friendly, and funny. In reality, John McCain is a wise-cracking smart-ass whose real gift for humor is firmly within the realm of mean-spirited and sarcastic. If I were he, I'd let the real McCain shine through, no matter what poll numbers, staff directives, and punditry might indicate otherwise.

The true narrative in this go-round is how public perception dictates the conventional wisdom, and in this regard, McCain trails tremendously. The media, as a reflection of American society, loves the next big thing and appreciates an early clue towards its new direction. When Bill Clinton burst onto the scene sixteen years ago, he enjoyed the same kind of media honeymoon as benefits Obama today. Back then, in those ancient days of 1992, Baby Boomers had finally captured the Presidency, and the symbolism of a changing of the guard was an apt sentiment to describe the ethos of the times. A generation eager to romanticize its youth and mythologize its struggles had finally secured its deepest ambitions.

Now that the Baby Boomers are far closer to retirement than to middle age, Obama's rise perfectly encapsulates a completely different generational mindset. A resistance and outright hostility towards Baby Boomer complacency inertia is the rallying cry of this generation, who turn a skeptical eye towards its parents' generation and is quite eager to explode the myths and expose the harsh reality of its supposed triumphs.

Furthermore, the Obama campaign, particularly in its deft utilization of modern technological advances, namely internet grassroots organization, has found an audience never before available to any candidate. I am not nearly as thunder-struck as many are in Obama's ascent to candidacy. Progressives have always sought to seem on the cutting edge and the inevitability that one day the Democratic party would embrace a certain pronounced freshness and a new way of conducting business is, in my opinion at least, an inevitability rather than a quirk of fate.

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