About a month ago, the NYTimes ran an article Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC? that analyzed the style of each candidate’s website as appealing to the target demographic of each computing brand. While just about every metaphor, comparison, and metric possible has been used to characterize this race, as it seems that most news organizations have given up on the current administration for potential ones, this comparison of computer personalities was particularly interesting for me. Sure, it is just another way to talk about the candidates as commodities appealing to markets, but beyond that, it signals a condition in which candidates are characterized as technology. This leads then to the question, if we were going to use tech metaphors to describe Obama and Clinton, would they both be computers?
After reading this David Brooks article today, I think perhaps not.
In this article Brooks compares two speeches given at the same event in November that he says defined the Democratic race. Clinton focused on partisan struggles, fighting for justice, influence, and representation; working to give a voice to the voiceless. Obama, on the other hand, spoke of standing up for yourself, which leads to other standing with you. In Brooks’ analysis, this left Hillary in the old school and Barack in the new. We’ve heard that a lot. But what is interesting is that Brooks connects the new with Web 2.0.
Obama sketched out a different theory of social change than the one Clinton had implied earlier in the evening. Instead of relying on a president who fights for those who feel invisible, Obama, in the climactic passage of his speech, described how change bubbles from the bottom-up: “And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world!”
For people raised on Jane Jacobs, who emphasized how a spontaneous dynamic order could emerge from thousands of individual decisions, this is a persuasive way of seeing the world. For young people who have grown up on Facebook, YouTube, open-source software and an array of decentralized networks, this is a compelling theory of how change happens.
Brooks goes on:
But Obama sounded like a cross between a social activist and a flannel-shirted software C.E.O. — as a nonhierarchical, collaborative leader who can inspire autonomous individuals to cooperate for the sake of common concerns.
Where Clinton looks for centralized leader to struggle for the “betterment” of the marginalized, Obama is decentralized, nonhierarchical, into organizing around common concerns. From this characterization, Clinton isn’t a PC, she isn’t even a computer. She is television. Obama, he, of course, is the internet.
Flashy media-studies metaphors aside, I think this speaks to contemporary manifestations of power in the distributed network society. As a representative of Internet culture, Obama also represents Internet Power. Clinton, of course, Television power. This is the model we are most familiar with. Television power is top down, it is panoptic, it is Foucault. How much more obvious do you want than claims to be the voice for the voiceless? Internet power, however, works differently. It is decentralized, flexible, accomodating, Deleuzean. Clinton is discipline. Obama is control.
Control is the model of protocol, it is control, the model we are starting to theorize as the new manifestations of power arising from technological development. Control encourages your feedback, your grassroots organizing, your being yourself, you finding your own path, down the well-paved highway system. It is way beyond bi-partisen, which is perhaps why Obama calls himself ‘post-partisen’ [which sounds oddly like 'post-ideological']. It calls for you to stand for yourself, to proclaim your individual position, so it can be folded in with the rest, so you can stand as an individual as a part of the collective. It makes a virtue of flexibilty to become universally applicable. Next time you hear Obama speak, see whether or not this characterization fits. Broadly defined policies, focus on personality and individual activity, toward common goal, across socio-political positions.
The internet has long been hailed as progressive and liberal due to its flexibility. We are starting now to draw out the conservatism at the seams. It should be no surprise, then, that a candidate running on a platform of power in the distributed network, Obama isn’t really all that liberal. But, more interesting to me is the how popular Obama’s brand of politics has become, how he has energized the political process. I think it speaks to just how quickly and thoroughly control society ideology, for lack of a better term, has spread through US culture, how ready we are, especially the younger, tech-oriented generation, to assume its model of interactive management as refreshing, inspiring, liberal. Projecting far ahead, say Obama were elected president, riding a wave of dissatisfaction with the last government’s way of doing business. How very effective would this style of control be, with the ideal model of political action and change something akin to blogging? Where Bush was largely a Baudrillard/Virillio style candidate, information and disinformation look the say so I’ll tell you what you need to hear to do what I want; Obama’s would look much more Deleuzean, grassroots, interest group engagement collectivized into a smooth-surfaced desire for “change.” As Deleuze often notes, power/capital and schizophrenia have the same goal, deterritorialization. Or, should I say, post-partisenship?