May 25, 2013
Slouching Toward Washington
Posted on Apr 12, 2012
By Ebony Utley
“Branding Obamamessiah” was published near the beginning of the 2012 primaries, and it curiously ends with Obama’s 2008 election. Certainly, the strength of the book is its compendium of sources, but should it have taken four years to publish them? Where is the projection to the future? The book feels unfinished. It also appears to lack the salient marketing feature of relevance. Or so I thought before I went to the website. Brandingobamessiah.com includes everything the book lacks. From Twitter feeds and a Facebook friending opportunity to author biographical sketches, images, videos and recent blog posts about the 2012 campaign, Taylor reminds readers that branding was for products long before it was for presidents.
It is the 21st century, after all. Most Americans connected via social media acquiesce to some level of personal branding or identity management as an integral part of our lives. When we want to acquire friends, employment, fame or profits from selling our own products, our mediated representations of ourselves do not always reflect who we are in other areas of our lives. A man or woman running for the most venerated public office in the United States of America should most certainly not leave any aspect of his or her image to chance. But, as the final sentence of the epilogue asks, “Would Obamessiah be resurrected for the next election?” It is too soon to tell, but it doesn’t look good.
Taylor makes a rather convincing argument that Obama’s success was built on his being a neophyte. He had no national familiarity before his 2004 Democratic National Convention appearance. Quite strategically, he had no voting record to speak of as a senator because he voted “present” more than “yea” or “nay.” On the campaign trail, he had no previous political persona to overcome. And he made no clear promises. Today, Obama’s tabula rasa days are over. As president he has an indisputable record of decision making that has left many former believers feeling duped. It seems impossible that Obamessiah could be resurrected.
People frustrated with the decimation of state budgets, high unemployment, extremely high gas prices and the faint but constant beating of the drums of war—with Iran and against women’s bodies—may feel the messiah failed to deliver on his promises. It is essential, however, to remember two things. 1) Not everyone, including the black voters who Taylor alludes to as a monolithic block, believed Obama was a savior. And 2) Obama made no promises. Taylor observes, “Obama’s greatest political asset was his affable ambiguity. Devotees projected their own personal vision onto the candidate and required that he offer nothing back in detail to see if their notions matched his reality.” The machinations behind Team Obama and the 2008 campaign say more about the American people than they say about the president. Remember “Yes we can”? Frustrated citizenry must acknowledge responsibility as the “we” in making a man into a messiah.
2012 presents the nation with another opportunity to “change.” Let’s hope that this time voters will be less enamored by a personality and be savvier participants in the implications of policy. Instead of waiting for a messiah, what if U.S. citizens saved themselves? Protests that led to the reversal of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to divest from Planned Parenthood and Occupy movements are excellent examples of the potential for people to work with public leaders instead of waiting on their leaders to work for them. This is the lesson of “Branding Obamessiah.” It is easy to be disappointed when we buy into a leader. Perhaps in the future, we will invest more in ourselves. Yes, we can.
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