Friday, August 15, 2008

An August Surprise

NYSD readers may have seen some previous Guest Diaries written by Ned Brown. They have been mainly about the Presidential campaign. Ned is decidedly partisan as you may have noticed. We’re a little wary of political partisanship here at NYSD although we are partisan most times ourselves. However, we believe that it’s important to respect other people’s political opinions. Sometimes that means “tolerating” someone else’s opinion. But tolerance is a good thing, at least when it involves sensible people. I write all of this to preface Ned’s latest missive which reads like a mystery story with an excellent denouement. That means if you’re going to read it, start at the beginning and don’t peak at the end because you will have deprived yourself of the pleasure you’ve been set up for. Then, of course, there are many of you who wouldn’t care one way or the other. This intro will have saved you the trouble.

An August Surprise

Here we are in the doldrums of August. The summer Olympics are more than half complete. Michael Phelps is predictably on his way to winning the most gold medals in a single Olympics. So, what’s left to talk about at this weekend’s cocktail parties, charity events and dinners? Politics of course. At NYSD we like to create a bit of journalistic stir while providing some political insight and speculation. Let’s talk about a vice-presidential pick- specifically, Barack Obama’s.

The question about politics I am most often asked is, Could it still be Hillary Clinton?” Unfortunately for Hillary’s supporters, I think not. To her credit, she brings formidable assets, and she proved from the New Hampshire primary onward that she can be a superb campaigner. I personally feel that as a candidate she was far superior to the campaign organization behind her. The current Atlantic Monthly article by Joshua Green on HRC’s campaign memos seems to affirm my observation. Second, there never seemed to be a serious effort by the Obama team to vet her financials, and particularly those of the Clinton Library.
Gov. Tim Kaine. Joe Biden.
OK, so who will be Obama’s choice? The most often mentioned names are Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Senators Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Joe Biden (Delaware). I think none of the above.

Here’s why: they are all too predictable, and they do not bring enough to the ticket to guarantee a win in November let alone a landslide victory. So whom? Here is where we have a little fun, because I believe after Obama’s V.P, choice is announced, many in the mainstream press will look back and say. “Why didn’t we see the signs that were in front of us?” Here’s what I’ve observed about Obama over the past year:

His campaign is tremendously capable, disciplined and rational. They know their strengths and weaknesses.

Barack Obama has a flair for the theatrics.

Obama, as an accomplished street basketball competitor, knows how to lead with a head-fake, throw his adversary off guard, and move in the opposite direction.

Over the past week, Obama has been questioned by the political pundits for a number of moves he has made. Here are a few:

Obama allowed Bill and Hillary Clinton to speak at two nights of the Democratic Convention in prime-time leading the pundits to predict that the Clintons will make speeches about themselves, and thereby overshadow Obama and his running mate. The wags are saying that with Bill and the V.P. choice speaking on the same night, the latter will get buried.

Why would Obama plan a one week vacation when there were less than eighty days remaining before the election? My answer to that criticism is twofold: Obama feels confident in his V.P. choice, and he does not want to compete with the Olympics in the news with his choice.

Why hasn’t the Obama camp been more forceful this past week in their responses to the daily criticisms from the McCain campaign? My reaction is that none of these criticisms will be remembered in ten days.

Let’s go back to my earlier point about Obama and his team (notably his Chief Strategist, David Axelrod) being capable, rational and disciplined. For any of you marketing professionals out there, you know that for a product to be successful (and Obama while being a candidate is also a product) has to have two consumer benefits: functional and emotional. The functional benefit is the product’s utility and the rationale for the purchase.

In the presidential race, McCain trumps Obama with the functional benefit of “experience.” Conversely, Obama overshadows McCain on the emotional benefit scale. With a product purchase, emotional benefits are the driver to get the consumer to buy.

In politics, they are the driver to get people enthused, involved and mobilized to vote (and also give money). Some would say that Obama’s campaign is largely based on emotion, or as the McCain campaign likes to assert: all celebrity and little substance.

Barack Obama and his team need to accomplish several major goals over the next seventy days to win the election. First, they must put forth a ticket that puts to rest any doubt that an Obama Administration will be experienced, yet forward thinking, and oh yes; a large dose of strong ethics would go well after the last eight years. Second, Obama needs to present a ticket that the McCain campaign cannot match- either in terms of substance or excitement. Third, the Obama camp needs to quickly bring together the Democratic Party for the final sixty day push, and convince enough independents to vote for their ticket.

So where does that leave the vice-presidential selection, and why did Barack Obama take a week off at such a critical time? Either it was uncharacteristic hubris if Obama is choosing from the troika of Bayh, Biden or Kaine. Or more likely, he is feeling very confident about Obama/Gore ’08.
(Paul Sancya/AP)

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