By Patricia Wilson-Smith
I had an interesting conversation with a friend today.
We were discussing Senator Obama’s ‘hype-factor’; how he seems to have the market cornered on pure [blank] appeal – you can literally plug sex, mass, whip, broad, cross-over, or almost any other kind of appeal into the blank and accurately describe the man.
My friend mentioned that he hoped that Senator Obama could turn the ‘hype’ into votes. I agreed, of course, but it immediately occured to me that his statement revealed a series of interesting dilemmas, especially for BWFO.
Dilemma #1 – if you’re a single black woman, and you’ve started or joined an organization called “Black Women for Obama”, you are clearly in danger of getting the “Humph – you just like him ’cause he cute” remarks from friends, family, and the occassional total stranger. I’m certain that there is a partial truth in that, I mean, heck, I’m not blind, and as far as I know, neither are any of the current members of BWFO. I see what the man looks like – for the love of pete, look at him!
(Pause to glance at GQ cover)
He is very attractive, there’s no doubt about it, so to those people I say – “Duh!”
Yes – it’s hard for even a serious (clear throat) writer like myself to deny that Senator Obama is a cutie, but the fact is, even a slightly over-sexed, work-a-holic, love-starved, Internet junkie like me can keep my admiration for the Senator at bay, if for no other reason than out of respect for Mrs. Obama…
That was a cry for help if I’ve ever heard one. Let’s move on.
…and because not doing so is darned inappropriate if one expects to be taken seriously.
Dilemma #2 – it’s no secret that Senator Obama has a special appeal for the masses. References to the Senator have shown up in rap lyrics, on t-shirts, in music videos, and on college campuses all around the country. People from all walks of life have been mesmerized by his easy-going manner, and ability to connect with a crowd, and most recently he has been described in debate performances as ‘genuine’, and ‘more likable’ than the rest of the Democratic field . He oozes likability. The stories of his rock-star receptions at the events he attends are legendary by now. It’s an inconvenient truth- the man has star power.
Dilemma #3 – who couldn’t help but tear up a bit when they see blacks and whites standing side by side, joyously waving “Obama ’08” banners as if their lives depended on it. I’m old enough to remember when a black politician of any kind was a complete novelty, and when the very notion of a black President of the United States was so far fetched that most people never even discussed the possibility. We are far from completely united in terms of race relations in this country, of course, but the images of Senator Obama being surrounded by people of all kinds, or being happily received by folks in towns both big and small, urban and rural, white and black, give me all of the cause in the world to hope, and inspires more than it’s share of hype.
So then what of the ‘hype’ factor? If it’s hard for me to contain the obvious crush I have on the Senator, is it possible that my friend is right, and that all of the hoopla, all of the media attention, all of the fervor that Senator Obama’s campaign has generated is just hype?
Nah – here’s my take. I also think John Edwards is a cutie. He is – I can admit that. When he does that thing with his hands when he’s really trying to make a point – yuuuuum-y. And Rudy Guiliani certainly does have his share of Internet groupies, though I’m guessing a couple of them are probably already in line to be his next ex-wife. And the Hill-ster most definitely does have a broad base of appeal, if not across party lines, certainly across racial ones. She has Billy-boy to thank for that.
Then what is it? Why does the Senator invoke such a reaction in so many, and how can that reaction be translated into votes?
I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you why, and I’ll tell you how. Senator Obama helps people like GQ sell magazines not just because he’s gorgeous (and he is) – but because his message excites people. The idea of a different kind of government doing things a different way just excites people. His intelligence, his insightfulness, his wisdom, his sense of family, his diverse background, his humble beginnings, and yes, his mega-watt smile – all combine to create a personna that seems to symbolize everything that America is about.
So how then do we translate all of that into votes? Well, if you’re Patricia Wilson-Smith (and I just happen to be), you target the demographic that you are most familiar with, in my case black women, and you vow to do everything in your power to help that demographic see beyond the GQ magazine spreads, the 30 second sound bites, and the rap video shout outs to get to why Senator Obama, who is intelligent, insightful, wise, and all the rest, is uniquely qualified to lead this nation at a time when:
- the Bush Administration is using every Jedhi-mind trick in the book to sell us on the ‘successes’ in the Iraq War
- the rest of the world thinks we’ve lost our monkey-a%$# minds
- Our schools are falling into disrepair, and turning out fewer and fewer accomplished students
- Our healthcare system is failing way more of our citizens than it should be and
- the Black family, the stability and viability of our communities, and the very idea of opportunity for the masses is under attack
(Bullet pointed for emphasis, and to prove I’m good at formatting stuff)
In elections, there is no such a thing as over-exposure; getting the image and name of your candidate burned into the very psyches of the American voter is Job 1. So it should come as no surprise to any of us that the Senator would grace the cover of magazines, hang out with Jon Stewart (who wouldn’t want to – another yum cake) or crop up as a new icon of the Hip Hop generation. But it’s clearly not enough that everyone recognizes him – they have to get off their kiesters on election day and go and cast a vote for him. That’s where we at BWFO and Senator Obama’s other supporters come in.
Those of us who have committed to working on the Senator’s behalf are all busy organizing GOTV events, voter registration drives, house parties, and fund raisers, all designed to disseminate as much real and substantive information about the candidate as possible. We’ll let the news media and the national campaign choose his photo-ops; we’re working to make sure that everyone we can reach gets to know the Senator’s ideas.
And the national campaign is working hard to make sure that ordinary Americans like me all over the country are playing an active role in getting the message out – his is one of the first campaigns ever to make the every-day voter a crucial part of spreading the word, and the only one I’ve ever known to actively work at building a grass-roots machine that is meant to remain in place long after he’s taken up residence in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
And so there is a place in all of this for the ‘hype’ machine, right along side the ‘truth’ machine. We’ll use the truth machine to see to it that the realities of the issues plaguing the nation are put in front of American after American, until the day comes when it will be obvious to everyone, even those who know how cute I really think Senator Obama is, that it’s about so much more than that for me, and his legion of supporters. It’s about electing our greatest chance at a unified, transformed-for-the-better America. Period.
A final parting shot – if it was really only about cute, heck – Al Sharpton and that fly little comb back? Va-voom!