The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Obama, Cultural Indicators, and the GOP


In the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt, a look at Obama tipping his hand on what he really wants out of the immigration debate out in Nevada, Massachusetts Democrats get ready to replace John Kerry, and then this bit of thinking about the GOP’s image . . .

Adding New Cultural Indicators to the Republican Brand Image

Since Election Night, the cry on the Right has been, “culture, culture, culture.” And we’re probably going to get a bunch of good ideas and a bunch of bad ideas coming out of this new focus.

I’ve talked in the past about Obama as a ubiquitous pop-cultural phenomenon, and looking back to Obama’s rise in 2007-2008, perhaps we ought to look closer at his coverage in the non-political media than in the political media. Because we’ve had a lot of black politicians before, a lot of liberal politicians before, and a lot of charismatic politicians before, but clearly Obama managed to achieve a level of public adoration (deification?) unique in modern political history.

In the end, maybe the institutions that we consider the MSM were less relevant to Obama’s rise than the glowing coverage of him in places like Rolling Stone, Us Weekly, Men’s Vogue, Fast Company, Men’s Health and so on. (We can put put Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, and the New Yorker in the quasi-political magazine category.)

Think about Obama’s embrace of Jay-Z and Beyoncé. There are a lot of Americans, particularly young Americans, who have no real interest in, say, how federal stimulus money gets spent. But they’re sure as heck interested in Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Almost every politician before Obama wouldn’t have touched Jay-Z with a ten-foot pole. One look at the lyrics of “Girls, Girls, Girls” (you’ve been warned, it depicts the rapper assessing and categorizing his harem by ethnic stereotype) and they would run screaming from any stage with Jay-Z. But Obama assessed, correctly, that the “cool” factor of having an association with Jay-Z would overwhelm any complaints about Obama’s de facto association with or approval of the seedier side of the life depicted by the hip-hop star.

So along comes Obama, and he’s worlds apart even from what we had seen nominated by the Democrats in recent cycles, like Al Gore and John Kerry. He’s black, he’s urban, he’s young, he’s only recently wealthy and tells tales of financial woes as recent as 2000. He can sound like a preacher when he needs to (listening to Jeremiah Wright all those years) but also is the kind of politician your average outspoken atheist could warmly embrace. As a result, you have large swaths of a not-usually-terribly-engaged, not-usually-terribly-interested voting public gravitating to him: African-Americans, obviously, but also young voters, urban voters . . . they look at him and see a cultural figure who reflects themselves, not merely a political figure.

What cultural markers is the Republican brand associated with? Two things come to mind, the aspects of life that Obama said rural Pennsylvanians cling to, guns and religion. And those are pretty good ones; the country is full of people who take religion seriously and there are a lot of people who enjoy their right to own a firearm, for reasons ranging from hunting to sport shooting to collecting to self-defense. But as we’ve seen, that’s not enough to get a majority of the popular vote or 270 electoral votes, and there are some pretty big swaths of the country – mostly the West Coast and Northeast – where those indicators either don’t help us or work against us.

So, thinking of new cultural traits the GOP could attempt to adopt as some of their trademarks, just off the top of my head…

Foodies? There are a lot of folks who are passionately interested in food, in a way they just weren’t a generation ago. (See Vic Matus’ great article from a while back on the rise of celebrity chefs.) Why can’t the GOP be the Foodie Party, the one that fights moronic dietary laws like Bloomberg’s ban on 32 ounce sodas, California’s idiotic foie gras ban, the ludicrous talk of the Food and Drug Administration putting even more stringent regulations on raw milk cheeses on top of the existing ones. (For Pete’s sake, slap a warning label on it letting people know about the risk of raw milk cheeses.) We ought to be standing up to the Nanny State, and making the case that grown adults who we entrust with a right to vote, a right to own a gun, and a right to speak their minds ought to have the right to eat whatever they want.

College-Age Drinkers: Propose lowering the drinking age to 18, on the argument that you’ll see less binge drinking on college campuses if 18, 19 and 20-year-olds can just go into a bar or restaurant and order a beer. If you’re really worried about lowering the drinking age across the board, make it legal for those between 18 and 21 to consume alcohol in a licensed establishment, so that a bartender or server could cut them off if there are signs of dangerous intoxication.

I guarantee this would make the College Republicans a heck of a lot more popular on campus. Speaking of which…

Wasteful college spending: Turn the highest-paid university presidents in America into the new villains of our economy, hiking tuition and letting standards slide while they take home ever-bigger paychecks and wildly generous payouts upon retirement. How soft are the Democrats on this issue? They ran the highest-paid university president in America (more than $3 million in a year) for Senate in Nebraska last year. At least the companies run by greedy CEOs are forced to compete in the marketplace; universities can keep going under bad management by sucking up government aid, forced tuition hikes, and alumni donations for a long while.

Isn’t it time to bring a salary cap to university administrators?

Tags: Barack Obama , Culture , Media


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