Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Personal Ad Politics Or how Obama's Speech works

Steve M is worried that people won't hear Obama's speech and won't respond to it positively. I think they will: because Obama's speech is like a personal ad that promises to accept you, warts and all. None of you know this: I got Mr. Aimai out of the personals. I actually ran an ad, in a free newspaper (the Chicago Reader if you must know, you nosey-parkers!) and I got--88 responses. At a conservative estimate the Reader made 450.00 off my ad, since all those 88 guys called up a hotline to listen to me say something at 4.99 a minute (or whatever it was). I also got a great husband, by the way. But that isn't what this post is about.

Before I ran my ad I looked hard at the personals as a social phenomenon, and meditated on what would make me answer/not answer an ad. Most guy's ads said things like "I've got the car, I've got the job, I've got X desirable traits and now I need the completer accesory a woman who is this tall, this thin, this pretty, this whatever. Needless to say unless you were a woman who exactly fit this mold, you'd never call up these guys. Most of the women's ads were vague, attempting to set a mood or allude to things couples might do. Lots of guys might call up, but then again, it wasn't clear why you would call one woman as opposed to another. Most women felt obligated to describe themselves as conventionally thin.

And yet they had the same objective--to cast the net as widely as possible and to get the largest number of appropriate people to respond. I decided that what people want--and I think this was borne out by my experience after I ran the ad--was to *feel accepted* in advance by the person running the ad. Because only when you felt you might have some chance of meeting that person's expectations/desires would you feel free to risk calling them. After all responding to an ad, though a very non confrontational and risk free way of trying to get a date, does have its own pains and anxieties.

I see Obama's speech as doing exactly this to a largely white electorate. He doesn't have to make a plea for racial understanding to black america. He's got to make white america feel that he gets them, that he accepts them *warts and all* and that he's willing to see if it can work if they are. I think that for a great many white americans this is an opening they've been waiting for--even the hannity listeners in Humboldt's post below. Race and racism is the national itch that people ahve been afraid to scratch for fear of being called out as racist when they believe, in their hearts, they are just selfish jerks. Obama's saying "hey, sure you are a selfish jerk, and that's ok! I can work with that. Hell, I've got selfish jerks in my own family and that doesn't mean I don't still go to dinner with 'em." He's taken the worst sin in american life and made it merely venial.

I think he can go the distance with this speech and this attitude. If I were Rush limbaugh et al I'd be quaking in my boots because people want to be loved for who they are even more than they want to hear from Rush et al that they are screwed for being white.