By Ben Cohen
Campaign politics is all about image. The candidates that do well are carefully tutored in how to speak, move, look, and think. They have an array of image consultants, pollsters, speaking coaches, speech
writers, campaign managers and media spinsters whose job it is to convince people that their candidate represents their interests.
Of course, this has nothing to do with what they are actually running for. George Bush was cast as a 'Compassionate Conservative', while the reality was anything other. After a vicious assault on the environment, the working poor, civil liberties and various third world countries, the reality is finally setting in. But Bush still managed to win two elections.
Bill Clinton was essentially a Republican running as a Democrat, but through carefully constructed marketing, he was portrayed as a man of the people, sympathetic to the poor, and there to fight for their rights. By playing the saxophone, Clinton was also marketed to African Americans as being 'One of them' and 'The first Black President' (a term coined by the author Toni Morrison).
When in office, Clinton destroyed welfare, put thousands of poor people onto the streets, tore up workers rights by signing up to NAFTA and passed through huge tax breaks to corporate America. African Americans were further disenfranchised by the economic system Clinton adhered to, yet the enduring image still defies the reality.
Today, his wife is in danger of losing the Democratic Primary, not because of policy, but because of image.
Hillary Clinton's team has marketed her as the natural heir to the
presidency, a tactic that is quickly beginning to come unstuck. The
team has doggedly cultivated a Thatcher-esque image of their candidate,
focusing on her poise, control and air of entitlement. They banked that
Democrats would want to install their own dynasty into the White House,
a tried and tested politician with the establishment behind her. The
tactic worked for months as Clinton soared in the polls, leading Obama
and Edwards in virtually every state.
However, the it has now begun to work against her. It is becoming
increasingly clear that Democrats do not believe Clinton is entitled to
the White House, and the carefully honed message and image is beginning
to look fake. 'Calculating', 'Phoney', and 'Dishonest' are the words
flying around the mainstream media, and Clinton's support is beginning
With her leads in Iowa and New Hampshire evaporating, the Clinton
team has gone into free fall, turning on each other and disagreeing on
their strategy. With recent attacks on Obama for taking drugs as a teenager and wanting to be president when he was in
kindergarten (apparently proof he was lying when he said he had only
recently decided to run), Clinton's campaign is looking desperate and fragile.
The new tactic is of course, to change her image.
The Clinton team is now 'softening'
her image, wheeling out her mother for campaign ads, and having Clinton
talk about how 'proud she is' of her family. On one new ad, she says:
"You know, as I travel around I see so many families who share the same
values I was brought up with. My mom taught me to stand up for myself
and to stand up for those who can't do it on their own. I'm proud to
live by those values. But what I'm most proud of is knowing who I've
passed them on to."
Again, talking about 'standing up for people' and 'shared values'
doesn't actually mean anything. The point is to change people's
perception, whether the reality coincides or not.
The new approach won't work because the seeds of doubt have already
been sown. Like the stock market, a bad rumour can crash a candidacy,
regardless of its legitimacy. Clinton does not deserve to be President
because of her policies, yet she may well lose the Democratic
nomination because of her tarnished image.
It is not a fair way to lose a presidency, but given her campaign
has relied on using image to win, she can only have herself to blame.
As Jesus told the apostle Peter, "For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."
A graduate in Politics and International Relations from the
University of Sussex, Ben Cohen is a boxing journalist for
Secondsout.com and Boxing Monthly. He is the founding Editor of The