Saturday, February 2, 2008

Giving Equal Time to Style and Substance

Jeffrey Feldman has a fascinating post on his Huffington Post blog this afternoon. He basically compared, through a pair of anecdotes, the respective styles of the Obama and Clinton campaigns in making him aware of Tuesday's primary. The two anecdotes are narratives about style, so I can imagine that there will be any number of self-righteous readers pouncing on his choosing to attend to such matters rather than all those substantive statements of policy that conventional wisdom says should be the basis for the decision we make. Nevertheless, I appreciate Feldman's exercise, because, however they may impact people, those policy statements are almost always couched in the language of the objective world, whereas the decisions we make are more likely to be made on the basis of what is happening in the social world. ("It's the economy, stupid" was not about the charts and tables we could read in The Wall Street Journal. It was about people dealing with cuts in pay and benefits if not with loss of a job entirely.) Thus, I feel it is worth citing the conclusion that Feldman drew from examining his two anecdotes:

The Obama approach is personal, but sloppy, growing, but rough edged, about participation, but at times alienating. An Obama presidency would likely bring all these characteristics to our national politics--the good and the not so good.

The Clinton campaign is personalized, but at times too formal, constant, but lacking in enthusiasm, capable of immense broadcast capability, but lacking a sense of citizen participation. A Clinton presidency would likely bring all thee characteristics to our national politics---the good and the not so good.

These are very clear and balanced choices exemplified in a small, but significant moments observed in my neighborhood, on my doorstep, and inside my home.

As voters, we should inform ourselves through the media and other resources, but we should also give value to our own experiences.

This weekend, I hope that more and more Americans will turn away from what they see on TV and think about what they have seen around them.

Endorsements are important, but the clear differences we find in our own experiences can be even more helpful.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the polls have been having such a hard time with the caucuses and primaries. Polling is nothing more than an application of statistics; and, regardless of the rich language that is often woven around both the structure of the poll and the presentation of the results, what goes on down in the "engine room" (to invoke Peter Grunberg's metaphor) is entirely objective. Nevertheless, every one of us lives in the subjective world of our own personality; and, unless we shut ourselves away like hermits, we live in the social world of one or more communities. Now we know that advertising is a powerful "engine" of its own when it comes to tweaking our subjective world; and that impact can spill over into the social world. However, most of us tend to lead a rich enough social life to ward off an excess of such manipulation; so going with the influence of the social world may actually have more to do with correcting for bias than with imposing it.

All this is little more than fancy social-theory-talk for my favorite quote from Tip O'Neill: "All politics is local." Newt Gingrich tried to refute this precept through the implementation of his Contract on [sorry, "with"] America, which deserves to be examined as a case study in principles of "social engineering." However, nothing lasts forever; and the American public seems to be recovering its own subjective and social awareness. All Feldman is saying is that there is nothing wrong with taking that awareness into the privacy of the voting booth. Not only do I agree with him, but I think his post is one of the most valuable things I have read prior to Super Tuesday!

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