Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why the Celebrity Attack Works

Sean at FiveThirtyEight asks why the "Obama is a celebrity" attack doesn't wither in the contradictory face of the "Obama is a closet ____" attack or vice versa.

How can someone being portrayed as "the biggest celebrity in the world" also be painted as radical and out of the mainstream? Either Obama is like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton: a fluffy, substanceless, mass-consumed but empty celebrity-for-celebrity’s sake, or he is an unfamiliar and dangerous other with a hidden anti-American agenda.

It’s hard to reconcile the two. By trumpeting Obama's popularity, McCain is calling him – by definition – a safe, easily digestible consumer product, broadly acceptable in the mainstream. Thus, McCain boxes himself into a corner when he wants to make the argument not to elect Obama because he’s so far outside the mainstream.
And Andrew Sullivan concurs:
When these kinds of attacks contradict each other, it's a good bet that both are being made not because the McCain camp actually thinks they're true, but because they're just trying to find anything to bring the guy down. You throw it all until something sticks. Just like the Clintons did. And that worked out great for the Clintons, didn't it?
But I don't see these two claims as contradictory at all; in fact, they're more damaging taken together than separately.

First there's what I'll call the negative unity of the two attacks. Both attack Obama not for what he is but what he is not: a regular hardworking traditional American with traditional hardworking regular American values, like John McCain, and like you, gentle television viewer.

Second, there's the positive unity. Americans don't freak out over celebrities who are vapid and digestible. They freak out over celebrities who are a total mess, who turn out (or are whispered) to be secret drug addicts, Scientologists, homosexuals, criminals, wife beaters, wife murderers, adulterers, or child abusers, who break each others' hearts to have affairs with each other or who believe in reincarnation or Kabbala or (yes) Scientology.

Remember that other nice young talented black man with a beautiful voice, phenomenal talents and positive message whom white America welcomed into their hearts?

John McCain isn't saying Obama is Britney Spears. John McCain is saying that Barack Obama is Michael Jackson.

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