Obama, Salaries, and the Subconscious

On Thursday night, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama gave his nominating acceptance speech in front of 84,000 people at Invesco stadium in Denver. By most accounts, it was a spectacular speech, perhaps one of the best ever given at a national convention; the reviews came in a deluge over the next 24 hours.

One mini-review caught my eye: this tweet by Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.

I thought Obama’s speech was a B+, it had some A+ moments, but he did not sustain them and he didn’t close the sale

I really like Fred. He’s a sort of second-tier Internet celebrity, with a very popular blog and a devoted group of subscribers.

I get the sense that Fred’s a Republican, but not a wild-eyed one, and he’s mature enough to leave political proselytizing out of his very valuable venture capital blog. Every now and then he tweets something about politics, and this one struck me as being worth commenting on.

I see a few possibilities when analyzing Fred’s tweet:

1) He really, truly saw Obama’s speech as a B+. Fair enough, end of story.
2) He thought it was better, but consciously rated it lower.
3) He thought it was better, but subconsciously rated it lower.

Let’s explore #3, which is the possibility I’m really in for the purposes of this post. Remember Upton Sinclair’s famous phrase “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”? Well, Fred’s salary might stand in the way of him objectively assessing Obama’s performance. I think Fred’s pretty wealthy – every time I come across him on the Internet I think of a picture of the Monopoly Man – and I’m guessing he’s one of those upper-income earners who stands to lose the most (relatively, and in percentage terms) if an Obama presidency were to come to pass.

So was Fred’s reaction subconsciously shaped by this future loss? Pundits refer to this as “voting your pocketbook”, and it happens on both sides of the political spectrum and in every economic strata. So Fred would not be alone; we all do it – and not just about economic issues, but about anything and everything. The judgments we bring to the table are shaped not only by what the candidate says, but also by our own circumstances. It’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work, as applied to politics.

Perhaps another analogy would be Gretzky’s “skate to where the puck will be” concept: politicians’ candidacies shape public responses, and therefore they need to shape their platforms, policies, and promises (explicit AND implicit) to be where the public will respond best after all that recursive back-and-forth takes place.

I appreciate using Fred as an example in this post. Go read his blog for lots of fantastic information and opinions.

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1 Response to “Obama, Salaries, and the Subconscious”


  1. 1 Damon September 1, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Despite all the positive pundits pontificating, I agreed with Fred’s opinion at first. I thought it was a B+ speech. But after thinking about it for a while, I understood why I gave it relatively low marks: it was a B+ Obama speech. I think his “Yes We Can” and his response to the Reverend Wright debacle = what I like to call his “Resolving Race Relations Require that We Talk Like Adults and Actually Listen to Each Other” speech – were better. So, I think it was a fantastic speech.

    One problem he may encounter is setting expectations with regards to his speeches.


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