Now that the 2012 Presidential campaign has started in earnest (sort of), we are beginning to see the first shots fired, via the medium of web video. We can start by taking a look at the Obama campaign’s launch video, “It Begins With Us:”
The video, which deploys a documentary style, is notable for several aspects: first, Obama barely appears in the video itself. He is seen only from a distance while Obama supporters discuss the importance of the grassroots campaign, of getting involved in helping Obama get re-elected (as one supporter explains, Obama “has a job to do,” so he won’t have time to campaign, unlike most Republican candidates). We see shots of campaign volunteers going door-to-door, accumulating signatures on clipboards, and contributing to the cause. The suggestion is that it’s “our” campaign, that our contributions are essential to Obama’s (and the country’s success). Shots of the heartland–Ed (from North Carolina) on his front porch, Gladys from Nevada at her kitchen table–attempt to ground Obama as the candidate of everyday people.
By comparison, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has a parody ad that mocks Obama’s campaign and seeks to parody the president’s (ostensibly self-proclaimed) reputation as a uniter:
As Nancy Scola at Tech President observes, the video is currently getting more play than the actual campaign announcement, and the NRSC is rewarding high-profile linkers on their website, inviting even more traffic to the video. It’s difficult to read the tea leaves when it comes to video views, especially given that parody videos often tend to attract more traffic than straight-forward, politically earnest videos, which indicates to me that Ben Smith of Politico is probably a little too hasty in his attempts to read into the distinctions between the two campaign cycles. I do think that the NRSC video works relatively well, especially for true believers, hammering him on the deficit and on his promises to create jobs (the concluding shot of Obama riding off on a unicorn while leaving a rainbow trail, in particular, mocks the Obama brand of utopianism). More powerfully, the video (however fairly) seems to imply that the political energy is now with the Tea Party, signified by marches and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Obama has united the country in anger about his policies, while millionaires and billionaires clink champagne glasses.
Finally, the video seems devoid of some of the worst excesses of Obama hatred. Unless I missed something, the ad avoids indulging the spurious attacks on Obama’s birth certificate, for example, which allows the ad to use the populism of the Tea Party without accepting all of its actual beliefs. Although it is primarily designed to reach conservatives, I think it may also have an eye on disaffected independent voters. More than anything, I think these videos point to the changing positions that the two parties now occupy. Obama, as an incumbent, may have a more challenging position rhetorically than the Republicans who can depict themselves as the insurgent party.