Sunday, September 4, 2011

Guest Post: Rorschach Politics

by Josh Rosa


“Over the last two and a half years, change turned out to be tougher than we expected.” – President Barack Obama

In 2008, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign used the slogan, “Change we can believe in.” It was often invoked in short-form: “Change,” alongside a second monosyllabic platform: “Hope.”

Without analyzing the success of Obama’s campaign, using the theme of change was a brilliant cornering of the market on what the American people wanted. People were fed up with the direction of the country. For six years, President Bush had averaged a 29 percent approval rating. Congress was similarly in the dumps. The country was engaged in two unpopular wars and teetering on the cusp of a third. Of course people wanted change.

But by claiming the theme of change as though it was Obama’s unique position, the campaign shrewdly cut his opponent, John McCain, out of the conversation about the country’s future. Why, if Obama is pro change, then his opponent is . . . anti-change? so went the subconscious organization of a binary choice.

The theme was also a spoonful of yogurt for an intellectually exhausted American public. It didn’t ask you to chew your facts or feelings on taxes, or immigration, or even the wars. It only asked you to decide whether you liked the status quo or wanted a change, without encumbering the choice with a definition of either option. Obama’s campaign became the ultimate Rorschach test. And an us-against-them electorate didn’t object to it.