THE PLANK FEBRUARY 4, 2008
For those who missed it over the weekend, here's another look at what is likely to be one of the more unusual politico-cultural artifacts of this highly unusual campaign:
In his earlier post, Noam asked whether "this helps Obama or hurts him." I think it's all but inconceivable it will hurt him. People who dislike the video (for any of several quite understandable reasons) are unlikely to be so annoyed that it sours them meaningfully on Obama. The vast majority of mass-market political pitches, after all, are shallow at best and most people who pay attention to politics give them a pass unless they're actively misleading or offensive.
But if the video's downside is limited, it's upside could, I think, be significant. (Lest you think I've lost my mind, I mean in a quasi-political-ad kind of way: This may have some small impact around the edges; it isn't going to change the essential character of the race.) It's all the things, good and bad, political ads rarely are: impressionistic, emotive, nonrational, an effort to convey mood rather than any meaningful content.
And that mood, I'm guessing, may resonate somewhat beyond its obviously youthful target demographic--at least insofar as alternative demographics are conversant in viral video. My first, visceral response was to the deliberate echo of King and Kennedy, of promises (real or imagined) cut tragically short--promises that maybe, the video seems to promise, just maybe, have only been deferred.
I had many complaints with David Brooks's recent column on Obama and generational politics--chief among them, the convenient omission of his own side of the seemingly neverending boomer war over Vietnam and successive conflicts: the Kristols and W.'s and Podhoretzes and Roves and Cheneys and Gingriches and (sometimes) Brookses without whom the Clintons and their defenders would never have developed their siege mentality in the first place.
But if I disagree with Brooks's political point-scoring, I tend to agree with his (and Andrew Sullivan's, and others') sense that Obama may offer a way out of a particular pattern of generational-partisan warfare. And he does it, as this video seems to recognize, by reaching back over the shoulders of the late-60s, to the slender men (yes, they were unfortunately all men) in slender ties promising a better America, rather than the generation that followed a few years later.
It's probably no coincidence that today I talked on the phone to my dad, who's 87 years old but in insultingly good shape. When I asked him about the upcoming primary in Connecticut, where he lives, he said he'd be voting for Obama and we bonded over our mutual enthusiasm. But when I told him that one rationale for me was that Obama had the potential to be a game-changer, a "Democratic Reagan," he stopped me short. "No," he corrected gently, "I think the candidate he resembles is John F. Kennedy." I could've made any number of booksmart rejoinders about the limits of Kennedy's impact as president. But when it comes to the "feel" of Obama's candidacy, the sense of latent possibility--the sentiment that, in its way, this video is tapping into--my dad was clearly right.
I'm obviously reading too much into what is, after all, a music video. But, if curious, have yourself a look. And be sure to check out the comments to Noam's item--especially a sincerely moving post by williamyard.