Obama’s Empty Symbolic Gestures

Has the media love affair with Obama ended? While they aren’t taking the harsh shots at him yet, they are quietly starting to take the “hmmm, we’re just wondering” type as of late. Case in point (sorry, long excerpt to start)

Obama Seal BrainslugLast fall, Barack Obama explained why he hadn’t been wearing an American flag pin on his lapel.

“I won’t wear that pin on my chest,” the presumptive Democratic nominee said. “Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”

What a difference a presidential campaign makes.

Obama, who suggested back then that the flag pin “became a substitute for I think true patriotism” after the Sept. 11 attacks, now regularly sports the patriotic symbol at campaign events.

He has given high profile speeches in symbolic locations, among them Unity, New Hampshire (on Democratic togetherness), Independence, Missouri (on patriotism) and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – also known as the city of brotherly love (on racial division).

He has peppered many of those speeches with references to symbolic moments from the American past – mentioning, for example, Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” address during his formal announcement of his presidential run. (Obama gave the speech at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln gave that very address.)

He even briefly employed a campaign seal that looked a lot like the official presidential seal, the symbolism of which was hard to miss.

For a candidate who took an early stance against what he seemed to characterize as an empty symbolic gesture, the heavy use of symbolism in Obama’s campaign has been particularly hard to ignore.

But, wait, if you order in the next 15 minutes, there’s more!

Greenberg argues that Obama “tends to emphasize the symbolic over policy detail” in his campaign – a tendency reflected by his reliance (especially early on) on vague notions of “hope” and “change.”

Bill Clinton used a lot of symbolism too, but he also ran with policy as his centerpiece,” said Greenberg. “[Former Clinton advisor] George Stephanopoulos argued that ‘specificity was the character issue,’ and they made that a focus. That’s not really what Obama is doing. It doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about policy, but he isn’t making it the central focus of his campaign.”

Can you imagine this showing up in a major Credentialed Media outlet just a month ago?

Symbolism is great, when it has something concrete to back it up.

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