Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard and Marc Armbinder of The Atlantic are flagging this story from Carnegie-Mellon University's school newspaper, which describes a campaign event featuring Michelle Obama:

...While the crowd was indeed diverse, some students at the event questioned the practices of Mrs. Obama's event coordinators, who handpicked the crowd sitting behind Mrs. Obama. The Tartan's correspondents observed one event coordinator say to another, "Get me more white people, we need more white people." To an Asian girl sitting in the back row, one coordinator said, "We're moving you, sorry. It's going to look so pretty, though."

"I didn't know they would say, 'We need a white person here," said attendee and senior psychology major Shayna Watson, who sat in the crowd behind Mrs. Obama. "I understood they would want a show of diversity, but to pick up people and to reseat them, I didn't know it would be so outright." ...

Maybe not a smart move -- but it's a mirror image of what the Bush people would have done. Stagecraft is practically the only thing the Bushies know how to do, as this story from the St. Petersburg Times about an October '04 campaign event makes clear. The relevant detail:

By 7:30 a.m., several hundred Bush supporters with blue tickets are crowded around the stage. They are a demographic mix: retirees, yuppies, a soldier, students, a mom with her daughter on her hip. Black people get prime seats behind the president.

There's also this from Newsweek in June '04:

Bush repeatedly staged events in schools during the 2000 campaign, where his handlers would almost always manage to position an African-American or Latino student to the side of the then-Texas governor.

(Emphasis mine.)


That Newsweek article, by Richard Wolffe, is called "Yes, Backdrops Do Matter." It chides John Kerry for not understanding how vitally important all this stagecraft is:

Yes, presidential campaigns are first and foremost about ideas, candidates and the nation's mood. But they're also about pictures, settings and image. A good picture is worth a hundred stump speeches, and a good TV ad is worth a thousand. Does that trivialize the serious work of electing a leader of the free world? Maybe. Is it part of how the real world learns its news and shapes its views? You bet.

...that's one of the enduring mysteries of the Kerry campaign. How an ultra-careful candidate could be so careless with the set-pieces of his own race. How a candidate who admires the original JFK could have learned so little about the visuals of the presidency. And how a man with so many handlers and advisers cannot see his campaign as the rest of the world might.

This was a critically important election that was a referendum on a ruinous war and absurd domestic policies -- but it really, really mattered whether Kerry staged his campaign events properly. According to Wolffe, knowing enough to move non-whites into the camera shot is how you get elected. It's how you become the Leader of the Free World.

Alas, he's right.

No comments: