Scene: Large Washington hotel room full of Democratic staffers.
Speaker: Savvy PR operative, speaking bluntly.
Message: People vote their prejudices, so public relations rule.
It's remarkable how many of us harbor the myth that elections engage core issues, policies, or programs -- once call "content." Dream on. Style wins elections, though curiously only one half of our political establishment honors this proposition. Simple question: why does Democratic publicity stink, outflanked, outpandered and outwitted by crude, Karl Rove-style schoolyard bullying? Name one snappy zinger from this White House that neutralized fake barrages from Birthers, racists, government-hating know nothings spewing out "death panels," or smears against a "food stamp president" with a "phony theology."
Name one memorable, post-inauguration line from President Obama that historians in fifty years will cite as capturing the spirit of the age. What, Joe Biden's line, "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive"? Why can't a leader competent at oratory not annihilate pernicious foes with snappy, cogent word bullets that stop liars in their tracks? Curious, no, from a candidate whose stylish campaigning brought him to victory?
To the degree content withers, surface soars, whether appearance, mannerisms, wedge issues or irrelevancies, like one's Sunday religion, gas prices, weather and natural disasters. That means the next president will be the hero of the most compelling election narrative. As cultural historian Neil Gabler said to Bill Moyers:
what we're really watching is not so much political debate, though it's called that, as we are watching a movie in which candidates are contending to be our protagonist-in-chief . . . the expectations are that our political leaders are going to operate the same way that movie heroes operate . . . that they'll essentially slash their way through problems and vanquish them at the end of the presidency, which in this case is the end of the national movie.
Interestingly, the movie format overlaps a sporting event format, thus the obsessive focus on who's ahead, who's catching up, then of course, the triumph of winning and the desolation of defeat: