September 7, 2012
DNC Final: The Obamas, the Optics, and the Politics of Intimacy
This is not about me, it’s about you.
If the Obamas are about anything, they’re about breaking down the (perceptual) distance between themselves and the American people. They are way dialed in to what’s essential and also what’s popular. The are about doing what they can as often as they can to place themselves on the same level as citizens, and doing whatever they can to deemphasize a sense of hierarchy or exclusivity or elitism. Tonight in his acceptance speech, Obama extended this mentality to this election. He made it clear that the promise of hope and change are still alive, but it’s up to the citizenry to take ownership of these values and to exercise them communally, as civic action.
On the convention’s final night, it’s not surprising Michelle Obama and the vice-presidential party moved from an upper deck of the cable company arena down to the floor. It’s not surprising that the gathering was almost exclusively family as opposed to a larger selection of symbolic guests. It’s not surprising that Michelle and the families were situated that close to the stage, creating a sense of intimacy that not only countered the feeling of being in an arena but actually created the impression of a personal audience. And, it’s not surprising that Michelle Obama and Jill Biden were so close to the 50 veterans who came out on stage for a truly emotional and heartfelt tribute to American veterans — the two women being so closely involved with military families — that it seemed like a family reunion.
It’s also not surprising that, the morning following Michelle Obama’s speech, and then the morning after Bill Clinton spoke, photos remarkably similar in theme (the first, released by the White House, the second by Clinton’s State Department) dominated the news cycle. The first showed Barack Obama with his two daughters watching “the first Mom’s” speech on TV. The second showed Hillary Clinton thrilling over the speech by hubby Bill. Although you can’t see Michelle in the first picture, and Clinton’s at the office in the second, the arty photo from the White House, Obama with his daughters in his arms, is as warm and domestic as you could imagine, Michelle the object of their gaze and imaginations. And for Clinton’s part, you probably couldn’t get a more personal picture, what with the messy desk and the half-eaten tuna sandwich (take my word for it, I saw a high-res version) than if she was sitting there in her pajamas.
It’s not about him, it’s about us.
This bonding with us, the Obama’s bonding with each other, and the use of technology and screens to break down distance and eliminate separation is not something unique to Charlotte, by the way. As part of the grandest bonding opportunity that exists in the American political space, we saw the Obamas do something very similar in Denver. In what was little more than a reversal of Wednesday’s White House shot (like we were invited to look from the other side), we saw Michelle Obama and the two girls on stage after Michelle’s convention speech, right there with the nominee (along with everyone else) by way of the giant screen.
Personally, I felt the emphasis Obama’s speech placed on community, along with the agency ascribed to you and I, felt less earnest than rhetorical, what with the enormous sway special interests hold over elected officials, how much the class system remains firmly in place, especially at the extreme ends, and given the way cultural status today is worth more than gold. I’m not here to say, though, how much the imagery of connection, inclusivity and intimacy is genuine or perceptual strategy so much to say that, with the President and the First Lady writing me all the time and continually inviting me into their family circle, it sure feels like I know them and they know me, and that there’s hope in that.
(By the way, don’t forget to sign the anniversary card.)
(photo 1: Lynne Sladky/AP caption: President Barack Obama laughs with his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha after his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday..photo 2: Scott Olson/Getty Images caption: Attendees hold signs that say ‘Thank You’ as United States Navy Admiral John B. Nathman (retired) speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. photo 3: Win McNamee/Getty Images caption: Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. photo 4: Scott Olson/Getty Images photo 5: Pete Souza/White House photo 6: NICK MERRILL/AFP/GettyImages caption: This photo courtesy of the US Department of State shows US Secretary Hillary Clinton watching her husband former US President Bill Clinton’s nomination of President Obama during the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the residence of the US ambassador to Timor Leste, on September 5, 2012.photo 7: TANNEN MAURY/EPA caption: Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama appears live on a video screen as his daughters Malia (R) and Sasha (C) wave and wife Michelle watches at the 2008 Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado USA, 25 August 2008. The Democratic National Convention runs 25-28 August 2008 where it is expected that Illinois Senator Barack Obama will be nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate.)