A brief history of online video and elections, 2004-2010

This week, YouTube announced their top videos of 2010.  In a post over at Pundit League, I followed up with my Top Five Political Videos of 2010.

My top five is far less scientific than YouTube’s, and for good reason: while YouTube’s list is a Casey Kasem-style countdown of the videos that had earned the most views, my list ranks videos based on significance.  In other words, I’m wasn’t trying to measure videos based on their impact on the campaign, but rather use the videos as a barometer of what went on in 2010.

In fact, online video offers a glimpse into the big story of every election cycle since 2004:

2004: This Land – Pre-YouTube, JibJab’sWoody Guthrie send-up featured President Bush and John Kerry neatly summarizing campaign themes.  Bush claimed Kerry looked like Frankenstein, Kerry said Bush was a right-wing nutjob.  That the close election turned as it did was evidence that Bush’s accusations rang truer with the electorate.

2006: Macaca – George Allen could very well have been the Republican candidate for President in 2008 if he hadn’t slipped up and unwittingly used a word that may or may not be an ethnic slur.  As it was, Allen became the symbol of a Republican establishment so cloistered and out of touch they could point to the one guy at a rally who was holding a video camera and say something offensive.

2008: Yes We Can – Between this independent video and Shepherd Fairey’s “Hope” illustration, the 2008 Obama was smart enough to seize on creative elements produced outside the campaign structure.  From early in the primary season, the Yes We Can video established the Obama candidacy as more than a simple election effort, but as a once-in a generation opportunity to change politics as usual.  More than any online network or social media outreach, the core theme of a new and different kind of politics growing up added excitement and motivation to Obama’s support.

2010: A Generational Choice / Rep. Bob Etheridge covers the Who – Marco Rubio captured the themes of tea party movement in his impassioned web commercial for his successful Senate bid.  And Bob Etheridge’s hilarious confrontation of an investigative student underscored the Democrats’ arrogance, comfort with power, and lack of connection with voters.

Notably, all videos on this list save Senator-elect Rubio’s “A Generational Choice” were produced outside of the “official” campaigns, coming from interested and passionate citizens; in fact, two captured politicians in  moments when they let their guard down.  Yet intentionally or not, each video captured an important element of the election cycle.  Elections aren’t (usually) won or lost based on a two-minute internet video; but video can act as a signpost and give some indication of how a campaign is going.

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