Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama is Elitist ... and Other Stuff

What people know about political candidates is largely, if not completely, the product of the media they consume, filtered of course by their own biases and predispositions. After all, who among us gets to spend quality time with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain? Only people who live in New Hampshire in an election year.

In the last couple of days, after Obama's "bitter-guns-religion" remark about people in small towns, he's being labeled elitist. That's the news frame of the day and if it sticks, it'll do some damage. Democrats are often open to this frame, this attack, so it's interesting to see Clinton latch onto it as some way, any way, to get traction. Given the huge socio-demographic gap between their candidacies (Clinton appeals more to working class, Obama to upper class), this label just might be one he finds again and again to be a problem. Whether it's true or not doesn't matter. It's whether it "feels" true.

What people know, and I use "know" here in a larger sense than mere knowledge, is a gut feeling. A strong Democrat just "knows" Bush is a disaster. A strong Republican just "knows" the Clintons are evil. Sometimes we can elaborate these feelings, sometimes we cannot. And when there is an echo effect, when it rings true in some way, that can be damaging. Remember Dukakis bobble-heading in that tank? Kerry in the goofy hunting outfit? Bush mangling the Queen's English? All help us to "know" the person, even if we've never met them.

So knowing is more than a mere ability to correctly identify a candidate's policy stance. It's also knowing them as a person, even if we've never met them.

Framing matters.

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