The Quality of airtime in the Campaign Season.
Since the 1960 debate between Nixon and Kennedy we have see the importance of how a campaign handles perception. Both Nixon and Adlai Stevenson before him betrayed the conventional wisdom of the newday of marketing. Ad men in 1952 made a succint and impactful case for Dwight Eisenhower with the “I Like Ike” catchphrase and jingle. Meanwhile, Stevenson bought 30 minutes of airtime to appeal, dryly, with his standard stump speech. No one watched those “infomercials” and due to other mischances to connect, Ike won handily.
Nixon, of course famously shunned the use of makeup on the first televised debate in 1960, while Kennedy had his own personal make-up and hair team. Kennedy won by a slim margin. That margin may have been the thousands of dead people that voted for him in the Chicago area thanks to Kennedy stalwhart Mayor Daley. Perhaps it was way a fresh faced Kennedy came accross on TV. Either way, It was clear that marketing and charsima on television were to become a mainstay of the electoral process.
This election cycle is no different. What experience Obama lacks in the legislature he makes up tenfold with chemistry and a telegenic personality. McCain also has learned lessons over the years, the many years, that give him experience in the art of perception. Unfortunately It isn’t about policy, as Adlai Stevenson hoped. Policy has become a minor feature compared to who has control of the “news cycle.”
The news cyle used to be a weekly concern and whoever got the best negative attack ad or lucked out with the best photo op by Friday afternoon would rule the weekend. That too has changed in the past 15 to 20 years with cable news. Cable news has ensured an almost constant back and forth game of new campaign promises or rebuttals and newly released personal photos or relationships. It has influenced how voters view the candidates because of immediate impact of polls and ratings. We can see the reaction and see all kinds of pundits rate the validity of the latest campaign video. We are barraged with all of these images and messages that would have been impossible to diseminate through papers or on the radio.
The constant news cycle also means that producers are always scrambling to find the dirt on all potential candidates. That may also change the makeup of people willing to put themselves up for public office. Gary Hart was a victim of the intense scrutiny when a picture of him with a woman other than his wife showed up on the news. Kennedy, with all of his infidelities would have been screwed.