Really, after the FISA flop, is this really in good taste? At best, IMO, it’s tacky; at worst, it’s politically shtupid.

That concern aside, what’s really been troubling me is the outright corporatization of the democratic process this primary season. No, I’m not talking about the behind-the-scenes by lobbyists and favour-trading and back-scratching and “free speech donations” between corporations and politicians to gain influence in Washington (though I hate that, too), but the growing trend to speak of politics in business-speak terms.

The first time I noticed this was back in March, when Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) was quoted as saying, “You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He’s just killed the Republican brand.

“Oh, Rep. Davis,” I giggled. “Only Republicans would see civics and politics in such a manner, and talk in such blatant marketing-speak!”

I was so young, then, and naive.

Not long after, I came across a friend’s blog (a personal one, which is why I’m not linking), who – while simultaneously admitting he wasn’t qualified to comment on the quality of either candidate, and was leaving it up to his political-junkie friends to duke it out – complimented Barack Obama, and his branding:

Barack Obama’s branding is really really good. Specifically, his website branding. It’s clean, very uncluttered, and visually pleasing. Hillary’s is quite good, about what you would expect, but Barack has definitely got some sugary web 2.0 (are we at 3.0 yet? I can’t keep track) goodness going on. Note the logo – the big O. Very simple, but nice. Note the my.barackobama.com, which smacks of .mac account level fandom. I don’t really have the interest to sign up and see what it’s all about, but from the outside, it’s genius: a barack dashboard. He has created his own social network! What’s next – a widget for vista/OSX of an “obameter” or a “barameter”?

Again, the political-junkie and civics nerd in me sneered – great marketing and graphic design does not a great leader make. The thing about Barack Obama’s website that jumped out at me the most was that, (at that time) he had no section on women and women’s issues, and the kind of blind spot that overlooked the needs of about 52% of the population.  That, to me, indicated far more about Barack’s candidacy that the “clean, uncluttered” nature of the site. “What about his policies,” I cried (internally). “What is he going to do?”

To my great dismay, this sort of talk didn’t abate as the primaries went on; in fact, it got worse. After Barack “won” the primary, a post by zuzu at Shakesville asked Obama’s supporters why Clinton’s supporters should vote for him in the general, and a well-meaning commenter responded:

To all of the substantive points I raised, I will finally add Obama’s brilliance in marketing.

He has managed to associate his brand so indelibly with “hope”, “change” and “inspiration” that his opponents and naysayers are forced to criticize those words and concepts, which rarely works out well. Regardless of whether he actually does represent hope change and inspiration (I personally believe he does), don’t we want our Democratic presidential candidate to be a hella good marketer?

I had a visceral reaction to reading this – I hadn’t been lurking at The Great Orange Cheeto or any other pro-Obama site, and hadn’t actually seen people arguing that this sort of thing was a positive; before I could respond, however, Shaker kidlacan was on it:

“perverse as it probably sounds, for me, the quality of obama that last of your posts highlights is the thing putting me off him the most. i’d give anything to have a break from the marketing. it sets my teeth on edge. i’ve been wishing since january that his website would tell me the sorts of things you’ve told me, in your posts, and shut up with the Hope and Change and Hope and ooh web 2.0 lookit! already. it’s a relief to me to hear reasons for supporting him which haven’t got anything to do with ‘the zeitgeist.’ “

Jerseyboy quickly followed up with:

“I agree…Zoe has enunicated succinctly what we never get on TV from him, from his supporters in general or from his website…the marketing stuff is a monstrous turnoff for me…we dealt with that garbage from Bush and Co. for nearly eight years…I hated it from the right, I don’t want to see it from the left…it’s nauseating from any part of the political spectrum.”

There’s been a lot of pop-psychology running around the media and the ‘net about the tensions between whom supports whom, via age (Boomers vs. Echo-Boomers/”Generation Y“), the “waves” of feminism (second vs. third), and classes (Creative vs. Working), and geography (urban vs. Appalachia).  I’m personally starting to see another thread of preference (which surely intertwines with each and every one of these divisions),  that is,  which kind of “consumer” each voter is: those who enjoy “buying into” concepts, and those who don’t like being “marketed” every. last. thing., especially not democracy.

For example, I’ve often commented that while I’m part of the “demographic” that is supposed to be overwhelmingly pro-Obama (young, educated, urban latte-sipping liberal), I’ve pretty much rejected the entire kit’n’caboodle. This is perhaps in part because I identify more with second-wave feminism, which in turn may partly be because I both get along fabulously with my boomer-generation mother and because I don’t particularly share my generation’s resentment of the boomers.

But I’m also someone who’s reknowned as a “hard-sell.” I hate telemarketers. I hate going into stores and having salespeople flutter at me, because I know what I want, and I resent someone trying to sell me otherwise. I rarely buy something just because the commercial appealed to me, aesthetically or otherwise; I enjoyed the Joe Canada commercial back in 2000, but I never bought Canadian –  because I don’t enjoy the taste of beer.  I really liked the Pepsi/Britney campaigns of the same era, and could appreciate their zip and style, but … I prefer the taste of Coke, and that’s what I buy.   Right now, I’ll fully admit to being addicted to my Starbucks, but it’s not a status/brand thing to me – it’s that their hazelnut/cinnamon dolce/chai lattes are fooking delicious. The only time a commercial speaks to me, like, enough to part with any money, is when it happens to speak to me on a functional level, that the product that’s being sold to me will actually solve a problem I have or I truly enjoy it.

That Generation-Y link says the following about my generation:

They represent more than 70 million consumers in the United States. They earn a total annual income of about $211 billion, spend approximately $172 billion per year, and considerably influence many adult consumer buying choices. They also face a greater degree of direct corporate marketing than any other generation in history….

A 2008 survey by UK recruitment consultancy FreshMinds Talent in partnership with Management Today suggested that Generation Y are generally more ambitious, brand conscious and tend to move jobs more often than ever before.

I think my generation is definitely more brand-conscious than ever before, but I think there’s a bit of a dove-tailing effect: there’s a split between those who are marketing-skeptical (like myself) –  those who can recognize marketing tricks for what they are, and have fused it with the previous generation’s anti-capitalist sentiment – and those who have embraced corporate branding and marketing as an art, and make their judgements based on the brand, the marketing itself, who buy into the “logic” that the person who can manipulate the message the best is, ipso facto, the person who would lead best.

Which, to me is a logical non-sequitur, but it seems to follow to the latter kind of person, and (terrifyingly) that the latter seems to be far more prevalent. But what kind of “consumer” one is seems to both correlate with and explain the cross-section of voters that Clinton and Obama appeal to, respectively, across those urban/rural, generational, and class divides: those who are likely to appreciate and buy into gloss and glitter, and those who are wary about throwing their money and support behind something without there being a little substance to back it up.

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