I had had my doubts about the Obama “infomercial” that was going to be broadcast on seven major stations last night. I didn’t trust Americans to be too happy about having their escapist sitcoms or the World Series pre-game show pre-empted by some black guy talking about his life. It had the potential to be so cloyingly self-serving, so presumptuous – it was risky.
And I still don’t know how your average American perceived it. I expect that it’s like much else; if you had already planned to vote for Obama, you still will, and if you didn’t, you still won’t. But if you had already been planning to vote for Obama – boy, can you feel really, really good about it.
Obama has a wonderful voice; perfectly suited to narration, and to conveying a sense of calm reassurance. “Hey,” it soothes, “I’ve got your back. Stick with me and everything is going to work out OK.” And it turns out that while the commercial had plenty of subtle reassurances that he is just like any other American – raised by a single mother with a strong work ethic who spent the last weeks of her life fighting with insurance companies over health care coverage – it was not at all heavy handed. In fact, the commercial was much more about letting people know that he understands the true dilemmas that are facing Americans.
Vignettes of four families were presented to make his point. In each case, because of some kind of all too typical circumstance, the families found themselves struggling to make ends meet and to hold on to what they had. An older couple in Ohio had owned their house outright, but had had to take out a mortgage on it when her medications became too expensive to afford with their retirement savings. The husband had to cut short his retirement and go back to work. The scene of him clipping his Wal-Mart badge onto his vest was poignant and, for me, thought-provoking.*
Each of these stories ripped at my heart, as they were surely designed to do, and their purpose was clear. The “left” is all too often painted by the Republicans as disconnected from the problems and the values of average Americans, which is, of course, ridiculous. The Republicans discovered the common man themselves only recently, and they’ve been trying to sell him a bill of goods ever since. These stories showed not only that Obama recognizes the average American and understands his or her problems, but that he has devoted real time to thinking about those problems and coming up with solutions. His goal was to show that he “gets” America – and he did.
*Thought-provoking because on one hand, to some Wal-Mart represents the worst example of a monolithic corporation that has insinuated itself into our communities and pushed out smaller businesses that can’t compete. On the other, it seems to have provided a lot of these post-retirement jobs for people who either need or want to keep working. But which came first? Is Wal-Mart a cause or a solution to the problem?