Before Barrack Obama was formally named the Democratic Presidential Candidate recently, there was an alleged controversial electoral campaign ad by his then challenger Hillary Clinton that had swelled friction between the supporters of both camps (Daily Kos). The ad allegedly tampered the Obama’s video interview on MSNBC where the Democratic nominees are under a debate which took place in the City of Cleveland, Ohio. In the Clinton commercial, Obama’s capture was darker which was suspected to negatively sensationalize the answer of Obama which was “It is true we haven’t had oversight hearings on Afghanistan” (You Tube). The Clinton ad then went on to caption the video with “Obama was too busy to hold even one hearing on Afghanistan”. The reports and gossips came first week of March at the hype of accumulating wins in key primaries of the country such as Ohio and Texas. This paper will delve about the aspects of the manner its made, motivations in doing so and the implications of such action. In the analysis, the paper will use theoretical underpinnings such as Du Bois Theory of the color line problem to provide a discussion platform.
The Intentions of the Campaign
Coined by W.E.B Du Bois, the original definition of the color line problem refers to the discrimination applied to colored people particularly black which was started when the slavery ended in the United States (Bartleby). Later, he refined its scope to extend the color line problem on discrimination against belief, social status and other cultural attributes of people not just color. In his book, he highlighted the transformation of Cleveland City from a liberal place to a one that initiated and introduced the color line phenomenon among people. This led businesses and housing owners to refuse their services to dark customers as well as discourage the latter from purchase by increasing tag price only intended to darker colored people. The application of the term today was guaranteed through the work of Anna Quindlen regarding the topic and its continuing appearance in American society.
Using this literature, the Clinton ad intended to put Obama’s campaign in jeopardy by emphasizing that he is black. The color line problem poses threat on the integrity in terms of personality, skills and other virtues of a colored candidate in running the country. It serves as a reminder to American people particularly white citizens that installing a black leader is worth skepticism regarding effectiveness and leadership. Inferiority, lack of judgment, violence and persistence under poverty are discriminatory virtues that are injected to black people whenever the color line problem is highlighted. Being the first ever African American nominee from a major party, Obama is a history in the making which is posed to lead an internationally well-known white country. The color line propaganda was a means to force voters to re-think about their future, national identity and the era of black subordination. It serves a reminder albeit the majority of which are negative attributes of the colored people. Once implied, citizens and voters could subconsciously attach the negative impression against the candidate because of the color line standard.
Accuracy and Fairness
The camp of Clinton argued that the darker color quality in their commercial video of Obama compared to the original MSNBC interview had objective to de-highlight political adversaries (Daily Kos). The ad was also darker in its entirety and the case of a darker Obama is not an isolated and emphasized case. If the ad’s sole intention was to reduce the appetite of white-colored voters to Obama, the darker tone would be stressed only in the particular part when the camera was on Obama. This would have a stronger message to target audience. On the contrary, the darker quality applied to the entire ad may also mean prevention against raising eyebrows from critics and Obama supporters. The Clinton camp would take a safer but with same impact. The fact that Obama’s color was darkened can settle the underlying objective of their ad which was allegedly to instill color propaganda against the black candidate.
The debate caught on the video was conducted on Cleveland which is known to historically initiate the color line problem in the United States. The ad would have negative consequences for Obama. This possibility was seemingly known to Clinton camp that the ad was aggressively distributed to Texas but not on Ohio. On the former state, the fight for primary was very tight while on the latter Clinton had a comfortable lead (Washington Post). Looking on this, the ad had its target audience at hand which settled the issue of using color discrimination to undermine the campaign of Obama. In addition, the ad was also intended to highlight the inability of Obama to handle critical aspects of national security. This was another additional reduction in voter’s appeal against Obama. The purportedly lapses of Obama decisions was then incorporated on the idea that this part of the interview can be used to dramatize the lack of skills of Obama related to him being a colored individual.
Before taking a final answer if the ad is accurate and fair, it is important to know that it is motivated by political objectives. Its true intention is to impress the attributes of one party (Clinton) and depress the attributes of the other (Obama). Because of this, it is crucial to the analysis to freeze these motives momentarily. The ad is not accurate because it was edited from the original video which had caused friction on the color line problem. Editing a video automatically deter its accuracy especially if the process is applied without having in mind increasing the quality of the video. Darkening the tone of the video did result to convenient and reliable viewing rather than confusion and turmoil. It is neither fair because Clinton camp did not consider applying double standard of video editing as there is on black contender on one hand. The typical rule is to darken the tone of the opponent to reduce its appeal on voters. However, this rule proved very limited in the case of black candidates because there is historical and cultural issues involved.
Is It Effective?
As Clinton won over Texas as well as Ohio, the ad completed its objective (Politico). To some extent, the color line embedded in the ad had effectively moved voters towards history of the blacks. It was sensationalized by simultaneous application of color line and the inability of Obama to address crucial national security issues especially in Afghanistan. With this combination, voters were influenced that there was still an existing relationship between the leadership skills of an individual and his color. As the color line definition is extended, voters was likely also related education, family background, ethnicity and other minority characteristic to their consistency of leading a person to contribution or harm in the society. This made the ad more effective due to the available comparison that holds the link between color and skills.
The ad and its underlying goal are not new in the political arena. Every political candidate wants to win and they will use their resources and charisma to this end. The ad of Clinton, although created controversy, was another picture added to a collection of albums that were composed in the long history of United States Presidential Election. It had made its mark in the contemporary times because she confronted a peculiar history-in-the-making black candidate Obama.
Daily Kos, Retrieved July 24, 2008 <http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/3/3/14550/75567/858/467989>
Politico, Retrieved July 24, 2008 <http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0308/8824.html>
Washington Post, Retrieved July 24, 2008 <http://blog.washingtonpost.com/thefix/2008/03/penn_credits_3_am_ad_with_mome.html>
You Tube, Retrieved July 24, 2008 <http://youtube.com/watch?v=w85RHMUIuv8>