Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC?


An article in the New York Times asks that question. As an Obama supporter and a Mac user, the headline caught my eye. I was a bit disappointed because Noam Cohen, the author of the article, limited his comparison to the web sites of the two candidates.

Mr. Obama’s site is more harmonious, with plenty of white space and a soft blue palette. Its task bar is reminiscent of the one used at Apple’s iTunes site. It signals in myriad ways that it was designed with a younger, more tech-savvy audience in mind – using branding techniques similar to the ones that have made the iPod so popular.


Mrs. Clinton’s site uses a more traditional color scheme of dark blue, has sharper lines dividing content and employs cookie-cutter icons next to its buttons for volunteering, and the like.

I started thinking about Super Tuesday and my experience at the Canyon County caucus. Four years ago the caucus was held in the Hispanic Center and the 220 attendees were generally quiet and (PC) businesslike. I would guess the average age to be 40-50.

This Tuesday’s crowd was not only larger (1,636), but different in a number of important ways. It was certainly much more ethnically diverse. Those who claim Obama doesn’t appeal to Hispanic voters didn’t see the group in the Nampa Civic Center.

I am not sure what the average was, but the age range was amazing. It was wonderful to watch seniors and young, first time voters, demonstrate what participatory democracy looks like. I talked to Araceli Gomez, a young history teacher from Wilder High School. She had conducted a mock caucus at her school during the day and brought a school bus full of her students to participate in the real thing.

I sat next to three young women who are students at The College of Idaho. They had come, excited about Barack Obama, but not really sure what a caucus was all about. They peppered me with thoughtful questions all evening. One, a young woman who plans on becoming a history teacher, was particularly impressed with the Wilder students and plans on doing the same with her students once she starts teaching. I asked them if they thought Idaho should move away from a caucus system and adopt a primary where they could vote without all the chaos. “What chaos?”, they said, “This is fun!”

My wife and I stood in line behind three high school students. The Hispanic boy was showing his iPhone to the two girls, one Hispanic and the other Anglo. They played with the touch screen, looked at “My Space” and called mutual friends to tell them where they were and what they were doing. While I stood in line with nothing to do, they laughed and chatted and made the waiting rather festive.

So, I guess it makes sense to say that Barack Obama attracts a “younger more tech-savy audience.” The question is, why? I think it is deeper than superficial appearance. If the “Obama is a Mac” analogy follows, then we might be wise to consider some of the lessons we can learn from the success of Apple. Every time Apple released a new product conventional wisdom claimed the initial success was a fad and would soon fade. Sure it looked cool, but it was all about appearance.

What conventional wisdom failed to understand was that Apple’s success is not just about “branding.” With Apple, form follows function. The loyal Apple users (some call them a cult) understand that Apple products work. Sure, Apple products appeal to tech-savy young people who want to be on the cutting edge of technological change, but they also appeal to those like my 92 year-old mother who uses a Mac because it is so user-friendly. Not only do Apple products work, but customer service is the best in the industry. An Apple store is a joy to visit and the Apple website is intuitive and easy to use.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the “Obama phenomenon” in the same way conventional wisdom dismissed the “Mac phenomenon.” Idaho Democratic Party State Chair described Tuesday’s caucus as “…the cool thing to do.” In an editorial this morning, the Statesman said,

Cool has a way of coming and going, of shifting form more rapidly than the Idaho political terrain is given to change. Sen. Barack Obama, the runaway winner in Idaho’s caucuses, cashed in on the commodity of cool.

I don’t believe that the majority of Obama supporters showed up at the caucuses simply because it was the “cool” thing to do. The Obama supporters I talked to are less interested in superficial appearances than they are in the deeper issues Obama addresses.

While the pundits are still viewing him through the lens of identity politics, Obama supporters (particularly the young ones) seem to view that as a non-issue. The fact that he is an African American man is less important than the message of change, unity and hope that resonates deeply with them.

My greatest fear is that the final delegate count is so close Clinton gets the nomination based upon the votes of the Super Delegates (who represent the old guard DNC loyalists) at the national convention. If that happens, I can see the young Obama supporters like the ones at the caucuses becoming disillusioned and the party losing a tremendous opportunity to revitalize its core.

Two more thoughts—

1) If Hillary is a PC and Barack a Mac, what is McCain? Maybe, an IBM running Windows 98?

2) An Apple iPhone is cool, not is a faddish sense, but in a Marshall McLuhan sense.

UPDATE– I should have anticipated this– There appears to be another way in which Mac fans and Obama supporters are similar– THERE ARE BOTH FOLLOWING A CULT!

The PC establishment just doesn’t get it. Jack Tapper, the clueless “ABC News Senior Correspondent” here, Kathleen Geier at Talking Points Memo and Time Magazine‘s Joe “even more clueless than Tapper” Klein are all worried about this.

Tapper ends his blog with,

The Holy Season of Lent is upon us. Can Obama worshippers try to give up their Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities for a few weeks? At least until Easter, or the Pennsylvania primary, whichever comes first…

Geier says,

Excuse me, but this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign.

And Klein, who has always creeped me out, says,

And yet there was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism – “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” – of the Super Tuesday speech and the recent turn of the Obama campaign. “This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different. It’s different not because of me. It’s different because of you.” That is not just maddeningly vague but also disingenuous: the campaign is entirely about Obama and his ability to inspire. Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause – other than an amorphous desire for change – the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.

I’m sorry, but what “This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different. It’s different not because of me. It is different because of you.” reminds me of is something I heard as a kid, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

The Kennedy presidency was the last time young people were inspired to public service. I wonder if the prospect of that happening again is what is really worrying the PC political establishment? In any event, I imagine we have just heard the opening salvos of the “Obama Cult” story line. The not-too-subtle attempts to compare Obama with Manson (their Helter-Skelter cultish qualities) or Jim Jones (are Obama supporters drinking kool-aide?) are just beginning.

And, unfortunately, the story line is likely to echo Klein’s dishonest claim that Obama message is all about change without “focusing on any specific issue or cause.” I might believe that charge if I hadn’t watched the debates or if I hadn’t been in Taco Bell Arena Saturday.


One comment

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