Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is "Audacity" Their Code Word for "Uppity"?

The GOP has now launched Barack Obama Audacity Watch, which the New York Times says is designed to portray him as "out of touch" with groups that include "white working-class voters" and a celebrity on the order of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. As I pointed out recently, the word "watch" is always a signal of a particular kind of critical vigilance, but what is interesting is the way that the word "audacity," which is used by Obama in the title of his book The Audacity of Hope, is appropriated by Republican strategists as a negative term. What is particularly interesting is how branding associated with American patriotism or with the functions of particular offices becomes a particular area of concern for the website. Obama Watch includes links to stories like "Obama Replaces American Flag With Obama Logo" or provides this embedded segment from Comedy Central about Obama's appropriation of the presidential seal. In the Virtualpolitik book I talk about "institutional branding" and government media and how the Bush administration has been known to claim intellectual property rights over the visual icons of the Executive Branch, so their is clearly an understanding of the power of trademark and copyright associated with tradition already in place at the White House.

If I were a Republican media strategist, however, I would be careful. Even if McCain is certain to garner only a tiny proportion of the African-American vote, too much of their anti-"audacity" rhetoric could be interpreted as a critique of his "uppityness" in ways that may alienate moderates on social issues who admire the image of progress and racial diversity that the very existence of the Obama campaign represents to even those with no plans to vote for him.

As to the Obama-as-celebrity videos being made by the RNC and the McCain campaign, here are two examples of the genre:

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