48 years ago, there was a national Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Those who heard it on the radio believed that Nixon won. Those who saw it on TV hailed Kennedy as the winner. Kennedy then became the last sitting U.S. Senator to win an election until this year.
Now here I am on Election Day morning wondering if things haven’t changed much at all since then. This year, as in the past, the candidate who played better to the camera is victorious. Image wins. Style beats substance. Cool beats cucumber. And it’s largely due to the media-driven culture we live in.


Seriously, I love great movies, lots of TV channel choices and plenty of options at the bookstore. I love pictures with short captions rather than long articles. I love the media side of our culture and appreciate much that’s good about it. But in a highly subtle and nuanced way, I do wonder if my love of image and entertainment makes me more a part of the problem and if it affects my vote today more than it should.
Consider that in this election, one candidate looks young, fresh, new…an agent of change. The other looks old, traditional…a relic of the past. Yet it was the latter who brought change to the actual campaign process. He had a member of the opposing caucus speak at his convention. He was the first Republican ever to choose a woman as his Vice-Presidential candidate. He kept his pledge to live by the American campaign reform guidelines by accepting the planned public funding. He engaged in town hall style meetings from early, early on.
In the end, though, we’ll have a President who won this election in the same traditional way that every President has won since 1960: by out-imaging the other guy! Seriously, ever since Kennedy out-imaged Nixon in that 1960 debate, we’ve been electing Presidents that way ever since. Johnson over Goldwater. A revived Nixon over Goldwater, then McGovern. Jimmy “The walking toothpaste commercial” Carter over the stoic Ford. Actor Reagan a maligned Carter and then invisible Mondale. Bush I over stale Dukakis. Sax-playing Clinton over old Bush and then older Dole. 2000 was the Boring Bowl and took over a month to decide. Square Bush then beat even-more-square Kerry. And now better prompter reader has dominated the town hall guy who just looks really old. The Rock Star has beaten the Old Fart, and we’re electing our least experienced executive leader in over a century.
I’m not taking anything away from Mr. Obama’s campaign–he ran a stronger, classier and more strategic campaign. And I hope he makes a great President. I really do. But for today, he’s won because while the Right believes they’re Right and the Left believes they’re wrong, it’s the Middle that decides and, beneath it all, Obama was just more cool.

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