Over the past two weeks we have seen Barack Obama and John McCain taking turns telling the nation their story. For a week in Denver, Obama and his fellow Democratic used the Democratic National Convention to reinforce his image as an agent of change. They also used it to present Americans a unified Democratic party prepared for November. As expected, the key character in Obama’s story performed on cue. Hillary and Bill Clinton showed their support for Obama while Michele Obama presented the image of a potential first lady. And in a finale typically only associated with rock stars, Obama eloquently delivered his acceptance speech.
Despite this well composed story, it appears that the elaborate “Mount Olympus” staging might have spoken louder than Obama’s message of change. Almost immediately after the Democratic National Convention it appeared that where would anywhere between a slight bump to no bump for Obama (1). The case seems to be different for McCain
McCain began his story in Dayton, Ohio by electrifying the Republican base with the announcement of Gov. Sarah Palin as his VP selection. Beginning slowly because of Hurricane Gustav, the Republican characters at the Republican National Convention in St.Paul also preformed on cue to help McCain tell his story of “Country First.” Lieberman, Giuliani, and ultimately Palin brilliantly developed the plot to McCain’s story. McCain concluded the story by relating how in a cold and lonely Vietnamese prison cell he fell in love with his country and all she represents.
Unlike Obama, it appears the setting did not outshine the message. As a result of his story, McCain gained a 4-point lead over Obama and an overall 11-point bump over his previous showings according to Monday’s Gallup Poll (2). The question that comes to mind is why?
According to many commentaries, the key may be McCain’s choice of Palin. An estimated audience of 38.4 million watched Obama’s acceptance speech on ten network stations. Palin’s audience was also about 37.2 million despite being aired on only 6 network stations (3). McCain has also been declared the winner for having the overall largest number of viewers at 38.9 million (4). Then when you factor in the 24 million that watched Joe Biden’s speech at the Convention, the Republican ticket topped the Democratic ticket for viewers by nearly 14 million.
Presidents in the past have developed very moral sounding slogans to encapsulate their policy objectives. FDR titled his social project the New Deal. LBJ playing off of this entitled his the Great Society. Most recently, President Bush attempted to repackage conservatism in his slogan of “Compassionate Conservatism” (5). This trait of “moral leadership” is not limited to sitting Presidents, but includes presidential candidates (6). Obama is currently using the rhetorical of Change to create a moral movement. McCain is using rhetorical of Country First to create his own moral movement. McCain is also promoting his and Palin’s images as mavericks to help lend even more strength to his movement of Country First.
Words are incredibly powerful in life. Solomon tells us that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21, KVJ). As powerful as words are, actions must accompany those words. McCain seeks to present an image of someone who is willing to buck established trends to put Country First. The unconventional choice of Sarah Palin may be confirming this to the voters. Obama’s selection of Biden may not be helping him in the same way. By selecting someone who is long established in Washington, it may be undermining his message as someone who is going to Change Washington. With each having told their stories, Obama and McCain have less than 60 days until they find out which story the America people will make a best-seller this fall.
1 – Youngman, S. (2008). Obama advisers expect little to no bump from Denver.
2 – Foxnews.com. (2008). McCain jumps ahead of Obama in latest poll.
3 – Associated Press. (2008). More than 40 million tune in to Palin’s speech: Both Palin and Obama reached about the same number of viewers.
4 – Serjeant, J. (2008). John McCain speech draws record TV ratings.
5 – Dunn, C. (2007). The seven laws of presidential leadership: An introduction to the American Presidency. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
6 – Dunn, C. (2008). Lecture. Delivered September 03, 2008 at Regent University.