In every election cycle we hear about how some politician will change America – for the worse. If elected, he will ….
And the whine is a bi-partisan whine.
What is often not mentioned, until well after the fact, is how politicians change the political process while on the campaign trail. It’s happened several times in our nation’s history:
- Martin Van Buren (while serving as Andrew Jackson’s campaign manager he introduced the organized political campaign strategy that is now used by every politician running for office)
- FDR with his “fireside chats”
- Harry S. Truman made the first paid TV ad
- Nixon and Kennedy engaged in the first live presidential debate on TV
This is just a short sketch. But Obama has succeeded all of these in several ways. The ways in which Obama has changed presidential politics forever are striking.
First, going back on his word, he has refused to use public money for his political campaign and is instead funding his race to the White House completely with private donations. This is significant because under campaign finance rules, if he does not accept public funding then he can spend as much as wants. There is no limit. It’s also significant in another, more important way.
Because Obama has no spending limit and because he has set campaign fundraising records, he can pay for advertising that no other candidate in history has been able to afford. Tonight’s 30-minute infomercial is the example that will set a precedence for how future politicians campaign and win elections.
Finally, Obama (and Ron Paul) has been very successful in leveraging the Internet in general, and social media in particular, to raise money as well as to distribute his message to voters. These three new developments will prove to be innovations that will become essential campaign tactics of the future.
History has shown that few innovations die after succeeding. They usually become the rule rather than the exception.
- Future presidential candidates will realize that, in order to win, they will need no ceiling on their spending limits. Due to the nature of capitalism and the role that money plays in politics, it is already widely recognized that candidates who spend the most money on campaigning are usually the ones who win, best ideas or not. Now, Barack Obama has nearly made it essential that future politicians, if they want to win a race for office, will have to reject public funds so that they can seek larger contributions from more people so that they can outspend their opponents. This will cause an economic imbalance in political power by shutting out lower and middle-class potentials who will not be able to prove to their parties that they have the influence, connections, and the financial clout going into the vetting process to attract a large number of bigger donations. The game will largely be played by wealthy aristocrats from here on out.
- Infomercials have long been the slick advertising collateral for real estate investment gurus and ginzu knives, but not politicians. Tonight’s history-making event is a significant development that will prove to be a necessary component to winning elections. Even if Obama loses the presidential race, the fact that he has raised enough money to pay $1 for three separate infomercial time slots is enough to challenge the next Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls to shoot for the stars, and I don’t mean that in an astronomical sense.
- New technologies have always given more power and influence to candidates. Whether it was the availability of railroads, the mass transportation of the 19th century, radio, or TV, new technologies have provided a means for political candidates to get their message out to more people more efficiently. The Internet has been instrumental in that development as well. If it weren’t Obama, it would have been someone else. The fact that Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul also set Internet fundraising records is no accident. The GOP likely made a huge error in rejecting Paul as its candidate for more than one reason, of which his ability to connect with young Internet users and mobilize Net citizens is one. He could have competed with Obama in this new medium where John McCain has failed to catch the slightest foothold. Future candidates for office will have a strategy within their overall campaign plan for Internet campaign messaging.
When John McCain called Barack Obama a celebrity, he was not far off. In the future, nearly all presidential candidates will be celebrities. No one else will be able to win.
Allen Taylor is an award-winning journalist and writes the daily News and Media Blog.