Politics As Usual in the ‘Change’ Campaign?

Cross-posted at BlogHer.com

Image control is nothing new in politics. Campaigns try and make candidates look more down to earth, more athletic, more like someone you’d have a beer with. They try and make them look less old, less harsh, even less intelligent.

This has been the way of political campaigns for as long as I’ve been voting and it’s been the way of the media to eat up each photo op and event and regurgitate it for the world to see.

Then came Senator Barack Obama and his constant theme of ‘change’ and ‘hope’ and the promise to do things differently.

I believe that message. I respect that message. I even buy that message coming from a politician. NOT an easy task for this former new reporter who’s instinct is to trust no one and question everything.

So maybe I am just buying into the spin. Maybe I am being used as a pawn in this image-conscience media game. Maybe I am naive and a sucker for blogging this…but my eyebrow raised once a few days ago and again this morning as some ‘image’ issues hit the news.

From Politico:

Two Muslim women at Barack Obama’s rally in Detroit on Monday were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women’s headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate.

From ABC News:

“Michelle Obama makes her debut appearance on ABC’s “The View” Wednesday as her husband, presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, fights for key women voters. Her appearance on a popular women’s daytime television program coincides with subtle attempts by the Obama campaign to soften her image and combat efforts by some conservatives and critics to paint her as an unpatriotic, angry, black woman.”

Two ‘image’ issues that would seem to directly conflict with the messages we hear from the Obama campaign, and arriving at my attention on the day the Senator announces he will forgo public financing for the the general election.

Taken one by one these issues come with explanations, as a voter, I totally understand. However put together, it made me raise my eyebrows and wonder if the image spins were occurring behind the scenes. If this was the scripted misstep and then inevitable backpeddling of politics as usual, with campaign strategists plotting how to get rid of the persistent rumors that the Senator is Muslim and the Fox News host discussing the image of ‘angry black women’ on television in relation to Michelle Obama.

On the ‘women wearing headscarves’ issue Sepia Mutiny writes, “I have no doubt that Obama is disappointed in his staffers over this but the buck has to stop at the top of the ticket. By forcefully refuting rumors that he is a ‘secret Muslim,’ I think he is beginning to overreact and hurt his reputation among the very people who believe in him to bring a change. I mean, how in the world do you expect to campaign in Detroit and NOT be associated with Muslim supporters?”

This discussion constantly drives me crazy for many reasons, not the least of which is “What the HECK is wrong with being MUSLIM???!” Of course we all know there is anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, particularly since 9-11. However most thinking people understand the difference between terrorism and organized religion of any faith.

Every time the Obama campaign has to denounce the rumor the Senator is secretly a Muslim, I always feel a twinge of sympathy pain for Muslim-Americans.

Rochelle Riley at the Detroit Free Press blog writes, “That his campaign apologized, as it should have, for the badly mishandled incident by campaign volunteers was not the bigger story.

The bigger story is that hateful extremists who used to exist on the fringe of society are now taking over and too much is being done to appease them instead of ignore them.

The Obama volunteers who didn’t want the women to provide fuel for rumors that Obama is a secret Muslim chose to let hate-mongers dictate their actions and hurt the women’s feelings. They made a mistake, as far as we know. (Of course, the Web would have you believe that they did it on purpose because they KNEW that these women were actually plants by Sen. John McCain’s campaign, an unlikely but possible scenario that seems all the more impossible when you read about their wonderful attitudes.)”

And in the broader picture, when putting all the incidents together, Shakespeare’s Sister writes, “To be quite honest, I don’t really have anything in particular to say about either of these items. They both strike me as completely predictable from a middle-of-the-road, mainstream, establishment Democrat, which is what Obama is (and always has been) and are therefore predictably sigh-inducing, at least from this non-partisan progressive.”

Again, even my eyebrow was raised seeing all these headlines at once-however just a *tiny* bit of reading into each made me quickly realize they were not the lack of change we expect. Moreover, they seemed to be the expectation of perfection, and the need to push a headline.

Should we expect the Obama campaign to be cautious about all things ‘image’ related whether it is legitimately a policy issue, like the public financing for the general election, or a trumped up spousal media circus? Of course.

As Michelle Obama said on the View, “You have to be really careful in what you say because everything you say is looked at and in many cases misconstrued.”


  1. It would be nice to think that there is a politician who doesn’t worry about image control, but I think that’s pie in the sky. I think for whatever “change” message Obama has, he must, out of necessity, take the image thing into account. If he doesn’t, the GOP will be all over it.

    I am sure that if those two women with the head scarves had been seated behind Obama, the GOP would have turned that image into an attack ad that we would see every day until November.

  2. I really hope that he makes a statement about this issue, but at the same time I agree with what PunditMom said. The GOP are just drooling over the chance to run him through the grinder. And while we understand that there there is nothing wrong with being Muslim, there are many who are still set in the same mindset from 9/11. It sucks that image has to matter so much, but the reality is that it still does.

  3. In this era of a desperate GOP and a media ready to make any item a compelling headline, certainly no one can live up to perfection.

    The way the press ate Howard Dean and his wife alive merely for her professional choices and his enthusiasm at his own rally as a sadly accurate example… saying nothing of the resultant cannibalism within the Democratic party itself.

    No question, in the few short years since Dean’s run, there are a whole lot more potholes out there and the Obamas know they have to watch their step. However, while I am an ardent supporter- from the relative safe and objectivity of home north of the border- I am disappointed to see him/his staffers pandering to what The Right, with the eager aid of the press, might potentially- perversely- discredit him with.
    Certainly, I realize the importance of perception, particularly in this polarized and paranoid political climate; and I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna, but in the spirit of ‘hope’ and ‘change’, perhaps working so bloody hard to create and maintain a fragile facade of perfection is more damaging than just stepping up and forgoing a little of the contrived image control. I’m just hoping they don’t shoot themselves in the foot skipping around trying not to offend.

  4. I wrote about the Fight the Smears page last week – specifically questioning why being mischaracterized as a Muslim is a “smear”. Yes, I know about the post-9/11 intolerance and its effect on the perception of all Muslims (real and alleged…heh) – but this still sticks in my craw.

  5. I think you were right on about.. well what level of perfection are we really to expect from Obama?

    I don’t think I’m following the election as closely as you are.. or are as emotionally invested.. From where I’m standing it’s pretty clear that Obama is an authentic kind of politician… the sort I can believe in more then others.. the sort I wish there were more of.

    My feeling is that politicians are pragmatic political animals.. They have to deal with the political realities as they are. Obama has impressed me with how… well over and over again I feel like there is the question of what’s good politics versus whats good government.. and my feeling is that a great leader.. tries to lead us towards the good government side.. even if its difficult politically… and whenever I see a politician behaving that way.. I become a fan. And I’ve found Obama doing that over and over again.

    To my way of thinking.. Obama is like.. a lot better then what I think we could reasonably expect from a politician.. and these few little things here and there.. they don’t really bother me all that much.. cause over all.. he’s still better then I feel I should expect.

    I should say that.. isn’t Obama’s money coming from a lot of smaller donors anyway? Kinda like Dean? So my feeling is.. that those kinda donations don’t have the same ethical baggage as.. the conventional thing.. I mean the conservative shtick about money being speech almost seems to hold water in this sorta context.

    I don’t have a problem with image management as a part of a campaign.. I think its an important part of communications and.. well state craft.. so I mean you better be good at it..

    So to image manage a rally or a whatever.. it doesn’t really bother me all that much… though there are limits.. But frankly.. considering the amount of BS of trying to paint Obama as a radical Muslim that’s been going on.. I can sympathize with why they’d want avoid adding fuel to that fire..

    At the same time.. I think this election is probably more about authenticity then any election I can remember.. I imagine part of that is.. a reaction to having Bush.. the way we tend to elect candidates that are different from the last president.. plus there might be something to the increasing influence of social media.. where authenticity is more important then ever to brands..

    So in this context.. the BS about Muslims and terror and trying to link obama to it.. to this kind of prejiduce system that the right is trying to use to manipulate voters.. I just imagine the efficacy of those tactics are wayning… at least for this election cycle.

    All of which is made more dramatic by.. well.. McCain. Here’s a guy who fought for election reform to hopefully improve the quality of the debate? Umm.. can he really rely on swift boat style campaigning? I mean.. I don’t know that that works too well with his brand… which has already taken enough of a hit since he started running..

    Still.. I supose its fare to say that.. reason doesn’t play as big a roll in how folks vote then we might like it to…so idk.

    But that’s my 2 cents anyway.

  6. The whole “not a Muslim” posturing reminds me of the witch scene for The Holy Grail (I’m not a witch, I’m not a witch!) or the Seinfeld episode “Not that there’s anything wrong with it”.

    It seems like there’s an unspoken hatred of Muslims that the bulk of the masses pretend to ignore with a “nudge nudge wink wink”.

  7. I was also struck by the news story about the two women in head scarves being removed from the photo opp. However, I almost believe that we’ve painted Obama into a corner, “the great [fill in the blank] hope,” the poster child for all that is right. Obama is as fallible a politician as any but what he represents is an opportunity to move forward, failings and all, rather than remain static as we’ve done for the past eight years.

    I was watching a rebroadcast of the Larry King show on Tim Russert last night. One of the most poignant comments of the evening was that Russert did not embrace the cynicism of Washington but rather, remained optimistically skeptical.

    Can we neutralize our expectations a bit, allow skepticism into the campaign, and realize that Obama is not the embodiment of perfection?

  8. Even more important can we focus on the issues and continue to ask both candidates how we will solve the energy crisis, our reputation for being bullies, and the housing crunch as it relates to interest rates? That and several other problems we need to see progress on.

    Thanks for printing how many of us feel this century. Here’s hoping by uniting as bloggers we make a difference. Who cares what anyone is wearing…

    Dorothy from grammology
    remember to call gram

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