Like all, good, political hacks, I loved the last US Presidential campaign. One of the things that made it so fascinating last time was the way in which all of thee campaigns used the internet to both get their message across and to put across far more than would be usually taken up by the mainstream media.
These US election machines put us, here in the UK, to shame. For example, I was fascinated by some of the interviews that were carried on local and regional channels. Here there was non of the high octave critique that you will get on the nationwide, evening, shows. Rather, there was a chance to listen to a candidate talking – often for an hour – on their campaign and the issues that they were majoring on.
This time around things are even more intense and, of course, we have You Tube. Most of the candidates have their You Tube channels on which they post their adds, interviews and all kinds of extras. And then there is the content that’s been created by the public – new media commentaries on the campaigns if you like. Some of these set out to support, or praise, a candidate, while others aim to attack. Much of this latter content is fascinating as it takes the debate way outside of the comfort zone in which spin doctors are able to orchestrate campaigns.
It is easy to dismiss a lot of this stuff. But spending an hour or so on YouTube can be very revealing.
Barack Obama has set the campaign alight. He’s an exciting talent. On his channel there are pieces – interviews – with many of the ordinary folks who’ve been contributing funds to his campaign. Obama has been very successful in raising funds from small donators – no surprise really as his internet campaign is being masterminded by the same people who worked with Howard Dean last time round.
But as you stroll though Obama’s material you can’t help thinking that it is thin. Yes, he was against the war from the start and he deserves credit for that. But the campaign doesn’t go much beyond that, in substance at least.
Hillary Clinton is trying to present herself as the experienced, states-person. But there is something ‘flat’ about her presentation. She’s nowhere nearly as sure as herself as you might think. And her campaign also seems to be short on real substance. That being said though, YouTube gives you the opportunity to catch some really solid, and long, interviews with Hilary that you’d not otherwise have discovered.
YouTube also shows how Clinton is the political establishment candidate. Much of her internet strategy seems to be governed – and created – by people who are more at home with mainstream network media. The Clinton campaign hasn’ really realised – as yet – that people can watch this stuff every evening on mainstream TV if they want. Clinton has suffered from some dramatic external attacks – for example the spoof 1984 add which really hits home. But then she’s not beyond a bit of creative stuff herself. IU’m thinking here about the short video that she and Bill shot as a ‘tribute’ to the Sopranos. This was, supposedly, the Clinton’s paying tribute to a great cultural phenomenon of a TV series. But I wonder if this wasn’t simply a clever way of playing Bill into the equation without having to formally have him as part of her campaign. It was an interesting idea, but somehow it misses the point.
By far the best of the candidates on YouTube is John Edwards. He understands the medium well and he’s using it to put out a very strong message, one that is as strong on content as it is on presentation. Like Clinton, Edwards majors on health care. But Edwards’ programme seem far more detailed and substantive. All of the candidates were recently involved in the famous YouTube debate – which looked just the same kind of stuff to me. The questions were vetted by CNN. But it was what Edwards did after the debate that was interesting. He then added his own further comments from his hotel room – by video cam – answering quite a number of the questions that weren’t chosen by the CNN producers. Edwards was relaxed, communicating brilliantly and he provided that he really does understand this stuff. Recently, he was attacked for having a $400 dollar haircut. But his YouTude response (link below) was both clever and stylish. Whichever of his opponents started this story has certainly lost out. But then Edward’s is still the outsider and the mainstream media treat him so. Like Dean last time Edwards’ message is, perhaps, more significant than the campaign goal; but he’s campaigning far more astutely than ever Dean did.
Of course, there’s a long way to go in this campaign and the spin doctors have yet to get into top gear. But spend some time on YouTube and you find yourself freed from the constraints of traditional campaigning. Over a cup of coffee, in the comfort of your own home, you can browse through a mountain of contributions. I’m not sure the mainstream candidates – and their machines – have quite understood just how they are coming over to the YouTube user.
Somehow, watching this stuff, I’ve found myself coming to conclusions – about the candidates and the campaigns – that have been quite surprising.
Go take a look for yourself.