Last night President Obama appeared for a full half hour on the Daily Show where he verbally jousted with host Jon Stewart and pretty much defended the record of his administration. For many who watched the show, Obama directly engaging a significant part of his base had been a long time coming. There were remnants of the hopeful feelings that so many experienced in 2008 during his historic campaign and for many that was a good thing.
It was good to hear President Obama being cheered and not jeered. It was good to see him have a conversation with a host like Stewart who resonates with a lot of the voting public who for the most part feel they been left out of the conversation. Stewart articulated a number of concerns that his audience had ranging from the issues of healthcare to how and why Obama and his administration went from ‘Hope and Change‘ to ‘Please Baby Gimme One More Chance‘ and he did it in away that was both funny but right on point. You can peep the Jon Stewart episode HERE:
With that being said, its hard to gauge if that will translate to votes in the 11th hour. Not sure if it’s too little too late. What needs to be underscored is the array of issues Obama’s appearance on the Daily Show brings up that go beyond the 2010 midterm elections. For starters, the hoopla around Obama coming on the Daily Show because it was the ‘first time in history‘ is not something to hang your hat on and beat your chest. It suggests that there’s been a serious neglect of the political relationship and continued courtship that was needed for the millions of young and first time voters who enthusiastically voted for him in ’08. Since he’s been president, we’ve seen Obama on all the morning network news show several times. We’ve seen him on shows like 60 Minutes. We’ve seen him go before the GOP House issues conference. We’ve even seen him on Fox News‘ Bret Baier where in many people’s minds he was disrespected both as a man and as president. This had not gone unnoticed by those who supported him. It made the man who came across as a smart, decisive hero to many, seem weak. Jon Stewart said it best, Obama has been ‘timid’.
President Obama more than most politicians clearly understands the importance of effective communicating. During his campaign he was everywhere. He was on the Steve Harvey radio show every week. He was on the Tom Joyner show. He sat down with MTV. He sat down with Jon Stewart. More importantly he was showing up on college campuses and large numbers of people on the campuses worked on his campaign. After the ’08 election all that seemed to disappear. Obama was a strong presence in those enclaves and quite frankly he needed to be. We needed to hear or see him those arenas articulating his position on policies, laying down challenges and marching orders and sharing his frustrations. We needed to hear him defending his policies and defending himself. We needed him to remind folks that they too needed to help with the heavy lifting and lay out some practical ways in which this could happen.
Now over the past year when I’ve had this conversation with people who are in Democratic circles it became clear there’s a huge disconnect. There’s a disconnect in many of them understanding that there were a lot of Barack Obama fans/voters who weren’t necessarily down for their local congressman, senator, mayor or whoever else was running even if they have a letter ‘D’ after their name. That’s been a hard pill for many to swallow and one that’s often met with defensive posturing that means absolutely nothing when we’ve had important races for mayoral and senate races all round the country with super low turnouts. from New York to Atlanta to Houston we’ve seen 20-26% come out and the wholesale absences of the throngs of new and first time voters who came out riding for Obama in 08. Where did they disappear to? Why did they not come out?
The excuses given are often drawn from the proverbial political consultant handbook which reads; We always have low turnout during elections where the president isn’t on the ticket. That excuse is usually accompanied by the often arrogantly stated ; “Well these young voters are lazy. They need to read the NY Times and Newsweek or watch CNN like I do if they wish to stay informed” Wrong answer folks. The response should’ve been: Lets figure out ways to better reach folks consistently through the mediums they enjoy.
In 2010 where folks tend to attach themselves to small or niche ‘information’ and ‘entertainment’ watering holes, to be dismissive of that fact and basically tell folks to ‘buck up’ as Vice President Joe Biden did the other day is why Dems are in trouble all over the country. It seems like some in leadership have forgotten that people are who they are and anyone who feels that a particular segment of the population can bring votes to the table needs to get up and meet them where they’re at. If they’re at NASCAR, church, concert or plopped on their couch watching the Daily Show, then innovative compelling ways need to be used to reach that audience. Every other business does that so why not the Democrats?
President Obama‘s appearance with Jon Stewart was a reminder that in 2010 it’s not enough to simply show up at the 11th hour trolling for votes. It’s about having an ongoing dialogue and relationship one that’s in place before, during and after an election cycle. This is branding 101. It’s pretty basic and like it or not we now live in a society where enhancing your presence in the minds of consumers and in this case voters is paramount. As Jay-Z famously said ‘I’m a business man, I’m a BUSINESS, man. So in short, yes, I can read about politics in the NY Times or Washington Post ? Sure I can ‘go on line and read about issues of the day at any number of sites. All the information we want is at the tip of our fingertips. However, for those who are truly in touch with their audiences the information is too much. It can be overwhelming and so direct engagement is even more important. If it was that simple and practical as surfing the web and coming away feeling empowered and connected then the topic of political engagement wouldn’t be topic. If it was that practical President Obama would not have found it necessary to go on the Jon Stewart Daily Show.
Again the bottom line is everything is political including how we choose to engage folks especially on the electoral. Some like their news, views and politics in the backdrop of other things, in this case of Stewart, comedy and entertainment. Others like it served with sports as the backdrop… ala Dave Zirin and his Edge of Sports column or any number of sports stations that also carry shows like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly.. Still others like it in gender based chat fests like the View. Lets hope folks step up their interaction game beyond the 2010 midterm elections.
Lastly, for those on the receiving end of information, its important to note that the end game for many in power is to keep you dis-empowered, uninformed, distracted and politically in the dark. This is done to keep folks from being wise to their games, susceptible to lies, doublespeak and blatant falsehoods. In other words politics is often slimy and many who do dirt don’t want an informed public to hold them accountable. The fact that corporate interests have such a strong hold in the political arena should be wake up call to all of us as we see the ways in which things play out.
It’s no accident that your local urban radio station which was calling its ‘The Obama’ station in ’08 hasn’t created a forum or show or even had a single discussion on important issues impacting your day to day lives. It’s no accident that some outlets decided to to have last minute voter registration drives only after money was spent on ads, not because they saw it as a service to the community. It’s no accident that we are hearing more about the shenanigans of actor Charlie Sheen in 5-10 minute chunks on the evening news and not who is running for mayor, city council or District Attorney in your own backyard. Commercial media is part of the corporate wave infusing itself with politics and as a result they as business have it in their interests to keep sizeable populations dumb downed so they be that pimped and exploited.
It’s also no accident that many politicians will avoid hard hitting investigative news shows like a Democracy Now, Mike Milloy Free Speech TV or Rachel Maddow for fear of being jammed up and made to address questions they’ve skirted..So yes, on many levels its up to each of us to keep ourselves informed and at the same time we will have to push and insist that folks who want your support come to where your at and not just during election time.
something to ponder
PS on a side note.. if you wish to find out about all the key elections in your state, city and neighborhood, here’s the link to an incredible voting guide. It breaks down all the races and includes all the candidates, not just Republicans and Democrats. They have the folks who are running under the Green Party, Peace and Freedom and many others. This is a great resource.. hope you find it useful http://www.votesmart.org/voteeasy/