Style and Substance in the 2008 US Election Campaign

The world let out a collective sigh of relief when American voters elected the liberal Democrat Barack Obama and his political veteran running mate Joe Biden by a majority that left no room for contention. The conservative John McCain was gracious in accepting the verdict. His lightening rod vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was restrained from making a swan-song concession speech, perhaps as a prelude to later regaining the national stage in her own right as a front runner to finally win instead of being runner-up as in the Miss Alaska pageant.

The irony of the 2008 US election campaign was the interplay of style and substance in a globally historic year for such dynamics. Just before Palin was tapped to suck the power from the resounding success of the Democratic Convention, Communist China went all out to lavishly host the Olympics seen across the world in record numbers because of modern global technology. Pollution in China was swept under the rug and tainted milk had not yet surfaced when the Chinese took the most gold medals amidst controversy over age of athletes, a single American broke the swimming world record and the internet buzzed with views on whether Gold or overall medals carried greater prestige.

In the two-month election campaign, style took a front seat over substance. The liberal Obama was put down by the conservative McCain as a celebrity, which backfired when “celebutard” Paris Hilton, as the New York Post calls her, put forward a credible claim of eligibility for Presidency of the United States in a video the heiress could well afford and no doubt enjoyed making and airing.

The down-home, small town Palin of the Republic Party, meanwhile, was lavishly decked out in Barbie doll outfits to woo commoners such as “Joe the plumber.” The intent of the Republican Party in taking that step remains to be settled in the on-going emerging media gossip about the Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue extravagance of a “Wasilla hillbilly looting” versus claims she was simply quickly acclimating to the national stage.

As all that went on, the globally astute Barack Obama sailed clear of charges that he was elitist, “different,” “un-American” and “palling around with terrorists.” Meanwhile, his wife Michelle steered clear of an early charge that she harbored a Black racist attitude, leveled when she expressed pride in America long before America’s verdict came in on having overcome racist roots.

Michelle Obama weathered that charge by listening to the American people and by backing her husband in the only way possible, by taking on the role that is the epitome of substance in the world. Whether modern or traditional, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, there is one pivotal role in the world and Michelle Obama, the Harvard Law School graduate, took it on. She stayed on target and focused on her role at a historic moment by being the mother of the children of the world’s leader.

As a result of Michelle Obama’s ability to assume her role in partnership with her husband Barack, style and substance merged in American culture to set a hopefully worldwide precedent. By now, Michelle Obama’s style is of utmost interest to media gossips and the American people at large, just as her husband’s policies are of utmost importance. That style, in turn, will lead to greater openness toward a substance that is undoubtedly there.

With all the crises facing a global world today, the new blend of style and substance is captivating, different and fun. It’s also reassuring and engaging, broad enough for a globally new world.

BOLA TANGKAS