With the showdown primaries on March 4 over and the outcome of at least the Democratic contest still to be finally decided, it is a good time to point out what the 2008 primary campaigns have already made clear about the future of American politics. After this year, the four basic elements of any campaign—Messenger, Message, Media and Money—will never be the same. Those candidates who have adjusted all four of these dials and tuned them to Millennial Generation sensibilities and behaviors have been the most successful candidates in both party’s primaries.
Millennials, those Americans born between 1982 and 2003, are the most diverse generation in American history. Forty percent of them are African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American or of some other mix of races and ethnicities. And twenty percent come from an immigrant family. A candidate like Barack Obama, whose bi-racial family and generational roots extend from slave owners in
Eighty percent of Millennials have done some sort of community service in high school. . Eighty-five percent believe that directly contributing something to the community is an important way to improve it. When Senator Obama traces his experience to his days as a community organizer in
Millennials have been taught since their parents first sat them down to watch Barney that the best way to approach problems is to find a solution that works for everyone in the group---since everyone is just as good and important as everyone else. The confrontational style of Baby Boomer candidates like Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney strikes them as rude, enough to earn them a time out until they learn how to play nice. By contrast, the unifying message of Barack Obama who suggests, somewhat naively to the ears of older voters, that his solution to the problems of
But McCain, like all of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates (with the possible exception of Fred Thompson), remained unable to embrace the social networking technologies that are the lifeblood of Millennials’ daily lives. . Having their children text friends sitting in the same car or “friending” people they barely know on MySpace are common Millennial behaviors that drive parents crazy. But the two most important possessions of any Millennial are their cell phone and their laptop, devices that allow them to stay connected to the Net 24/7. That type of peer-to-peer communication is the center of Barack Obama's media strategy. It has been the key to the organizational strength that Obama has demonstrated in caucuses across the country. . Political pundits who still follow the news on the television news shows or in the newspapers don’t see the enormous volume of personal communication being generated on MyBarackObama.com, built on the same operating system as FaceBook, until the electoral results once again seem to stun them on any given Tuesday night. Having ceded the lead in peer-to peer-media to the Democrats, especially Obama, rather than almost totally relying on older technologies, like talk radio and slick television commercials, the Republicans risk losing as badly in 2008 as they did to an earlier master of a new communication media, FDR, with his soothing radio voice, in 1932.
The same online engine that is generating all of the offline, grass roots enthusiasm for Obama is also raising money for his campaign in unprecedented ways and in unimaginable amounts. With one million of his friends on his website, Obama has now raised more money from more people than any candidate in American political history. Obama's use of this new media with appeals for small donations almost drove the Clinton campaign into bankruptcy and is likely to create a similar untenable disadvantage for John McCain in the general election. Ironically, it was McCain who first demonstrated the power of the Net to raise a lot of money fast in his aborted 2000 campaign. But that was long before broadband and social networks being accessed continuously all day long became the way of life for so many young voters. Now McCain and his party are forced to attempt to shame Obama into using public financing in the general election. That may be the only way they can avoid the kind of monetary deficits that Democrats and the federal government have experienced in the past.
The outcome of the Democratic contest, let alone the general election campaign is not pre-ordained. Events over the next eight months can cause public opinion to change direction. . But the relative ease with which Barack Obama has woven a tightly knit strategy based on a new approach to what the profile of a Presidential candidate should look like; the fundamental appeal the candidate should make to the voters; the way that appeal should be communicated to all voters, but especially young ones; and the resources such an approach can bring to a campaign, makes his candidacy the most likely to succeed, with one possible exception. Hillary Clinton’s success in most large states so far suggests that this new alignment of the four Ms of American politics has yet to be fully tested in campaigns requiring more complex organizational efforts over a longer period of time. In