Friday, February 8, 2008

Not-so-soft soap

There are those who believe politicians can be sold like washing-powder. Malcolm does not exclude himself from that group: he has observed the antics of the British Conservative Party too long. Any of such a mind should instantly turn to David Brooks, writing an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times.

Dr Retail starts by explaining a key difference:
...the essential competition in many consumer sectors is between commodity providers and experience providers, the companies that just deliver product and the companies that deliver a sensation, too. There’s Safeway, and then there is Whole Foods. There’s the PC, and then there’s the Mac.
Let us bear in mind which side of the divide Malcolm, a Macuser to the core, belongs.

Nevertheless, Malcolm, who has been cheering for Hillary for some time, does not fit Dr Retail's political profile:
Hillary Clinton is a classic commodity provider. She caters to the less-educated, less-pretentious consumer. As Ron Brownstein of The National Journal pointed out on Wednesday, she won the non-college-educated voters by 22 points in California, 32 points in Massachusetts and 54 points in Arkansas. She offers voters no frills, just commodities: tax credits, federal subsidies and scholarships. She’s got good programs at good prices.

Barack Obama is an experience provider. He attracts the educated consumer. In the last Pew Research national survey, he led among people with college degrees by 22 points. Educated people get all emotional when they shop and vote. They want an uplifting experience so they can persuade themselves that they’re not engaging in a grubby self-interested transaction. They fall for all that zero-carbon footprint, locally grown, community-enhancing Third Place hype. They want cultural signifiers that enrich their lives with meaning.
Nice! Yet, with more than a hint of underlying truth.

Dr Retail is not kind to Obama:

Obama offers to defeat cynicism with hope. Apparently he’s going to turn politics into a form of sharing. Have you noticed that he’s actually carried into his rallies by a flock of cherubs while the heavens open up with the Hallelujah Chorus? I wonder how he does that...

... Obama’s people are so taken with their messiah that soon they’ll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings. There’s a “Yes We Can” video floating around YouTube in which a bunch of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and the guy from the Black Eyed Peas are singing the words to an Obama speech in escalating states of righteousness and ecstasy. If that video doesn’t creep out normal working-class voters, then nothing will.

So Dr Retail predicts what happens next:

The next states on the primary calendar have tons of college-educated Obamaphile voters. Maryland is 5th among the 50 states, Virginia is 6th. But later on, we get the Hillary-friendly states. Ohio is 40th in college education. Pennsylvania is 32nd.

But it’ll still be tied after all that. The superdelegates will pick the nominee — the party honchos, the deal-makers, the donors, the machine. Swinging those people takes a level of cynicism even Dr. Retail can’t pretend to understand. That’s Tammany Hall. That’s the court at Versailles under Louis XIV.

Malcolm has committed some despicable plagiarism here: he did warn the passing reader to go to the fountainhead. He justifies himself by suggesting that, when one finds a piece of good writing, it should be celebrated. Dr Retail is a definite "find": he should be cherished. David Brooks (who also writes for the New Yorker*, and doesn't the acerbic wit show) should be proud of his creation: he has dissected with aplomb a phenomenon of our times.

Now, have you noticed that Cameron washes whiter than Brown?


* The New Yorker's current issue has an extended and important essay, by John Updike no less, on Flann O'Brien. It is also available on line. There is, therefore, peace in Redfellow Hovel while the Great One peruses it.

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