As the dust settles from the longest and most expensive election campaign in American history, we can now look back and reflect upon the carnage caused by the last two years of constant political intrigue.
For the first time in American history, more than $1 billion was spent by the candidates vying for the office of the world's most powerful person.
For the Obama campaign, Election 2008 was a marketing major's dream come true. Obama raised nearly twice as much money as his competitor.
In the final few months of the campaign, Obama was spending $6 for every $1 of McCain's. This doesn't even begin to include the incalculable value of free advertising Obama has received from a fawning media. McCain was hopelessly outmatched in trying to buy advertising airtime. For Obama's campaign, "spreading the wealth around" apparently doesn't extend to political fundraising.
Obama's fundraising statistics are, by any measure, impressive. But by and large, his resum is not. If you told someone five years ago that America's next president would be a senator with less than one full term in the Senate and an unremarkable career in "community organizing" in Chicago, they would have laughed at you. Yet, nevertheless, Obama quickly evolved into a serious contender in the election contest.
If you're a die-hard Obama supporter, you probably believe that his ascendency is due to his mystical power to bring change or hope or something. Call me cynical, but I would attribute his success not to a Moses-like ability to part the waters of the sea but to a highly successful and well-organized political marketing campaign.
At some point in the last year or so, the goalposts were lowered for Obama. He ceased to be measured by the traditional metrics of a candidate, such as his experience and his job performance. Instead of a thorough examination of his life, we've heard unspecific and fuzzy adages about vague intangibles like "temperament" and "coolness." Statements and actions that would end the career of most any other politician seemed to just deflect off of Obama. I dare say that if any Republican had spent the majority of his Christian life in the pews of a white-supremacist church, he wouldn't have come within a mile of his party's nomination.
How can we explain the unique shift in the electorate's expectations from a candidate? Again, it might be a result of his otherworldly powers of change. The real reason, though, is Obama's clever message. Obama's marketing was brilliant. He successfully became change. Attack Obama, and you attack change. Cite his associations with radical ex-terrorists, and you are an obstruction to change. And in a country tired of the years of Bush, change is a wildly popular theme.
With a flawless message and the overwhelming financial advantage, it's a wonder McCain even stayed competitive. It was only the few occasions where Obama tripped up and the cloak of his mesmerizing image was raised that kept McCain in the ballpark. Without Joe the Plumber and his fortuitous conversation with McCain's young opponent, McCain could well have been sunk a month out from the election.
We, as a nation, should carefully examine exactly what this entails for our future. Instead of the most effective and accomplished leaders, the nominees of both parties will be the ones most easily molded by political spin-masters.
With each additional dollar spent, the price tag of the presidency goes up. As it does, the best and brightest minds from both sides of the political spectrum will be drowned out by the best and most efficient fundraisers.
Barack Obama succeeded in buying the 2008 election. The very fact that such an untested and unexamined man can sit in that chair can only e attributed to shrewd political marketing. Obama's famed "New Kind of Politics" turned out to be a really slick version of the old kind, just with a much higher price tag. And the cost to America's political process may be even higher.