Every four years, a presidential election gives Americans a common purpose: to choose the leader who will best serve our interests as individuals and as members of society. Make that several societies. More and more, we live in Venn diagrams of intersecting cultural, occupational, and geographical communities. We may be urban homesteaders cultivating vegetable patches, or rural entrepreneurs building online empires. We may be single parents, or part of a cluster of spouses and exes, impoverished yet hopeful, prosperous yet despairing. We may have marital partners who are the same gender as us and children who are a different race from us. As any designer acquainted with the multidimensionality of human experience knows—and that would be all of you—Americans are increasingly un-simple. This state of affairs, as much as eight years of appalling mismanagement by the Bush Administration, is why I.D. is endorsing Barack Obama for president.
Unlike his opponent, Senator Obama has waged a political campaign rather than a branding campaign. He has for the most part abjured slickness and distortion in favor of reasoned and measured rhetoric and has used emotionally charged words like “change” and “hope” as preambles to cogent policy statements. He has not appropriated labels such as “maverick” and throttled the meaning out of them. Nor has he cynically chosen a vice-presidential equivalent of a point-of-purchase display, whose only real job is to help make the sale.
Senator Obama’s promise of change is, of course, the least original thing about him. Change has been the mantra of every Democrat trying to retake the White House after a long Republican tenure. We believe, however, that Obama can deliver on his assurance because change, as he acknowledges, isn’t just a battle cry; it’s the ground beneath our feet. The next U.S. president must find a solution to our dwindling energy resources, cool a superheated atmosphere, tend to our growing population of elderly, restore education as a priority, put our severely ailing economy back on its feet, resolve two wars, and repair our blighted international reputation. We believe Obama has the commitment, compassion, and imagination to do all of this. Given his progressive attitude toward technology and sensitivity to the Google generation, we also believe he will be more inclined than his opponent to avail himself of 21st-century resources and tools, including the expertise of designers, architects, and planners.
Einstein pointed out the futility of solving problems through whatever mode of thinking created the trouble in the first place. For all of his claims of independence from the Bush White House, Senator McCain does not appear philosophically removed enough to mend its damage. That one can still debate with members of McCain’s party—and even with his running mate—how much credence should be given to global warming and creationism is a bitter fact of his candidacy, as it is of our culture.
One could argue that the non-regulatory, soft-taxing Bush Administration has been good for design because it’s been good for business. The past eight years have seen the rise of innovation as a strategy to weave design into the development of products and services. Design may remain vital to business even in these troubled economic times, but we have our doubts. We’ve experienced too many recessions in which design has been quickly struck from corporate budgets to be confident that the hunger for innovation will survive a desperate round of cuts.
Nor is the corporate sector the only one to consider. Wherever there are cultural, educational, and environmental initiatives, there are opportunities for designers. We believe that Obama’s support of the arts bodes well for design. His promise, for instance, to increase funding for the beleaguered NEA—an agency that came close to death under Republican leadership—offers at least a shred of hope that he might also endorse a much-needed federally funded national design council.
Whether an Obama White House will be good for design professionals is still a matter of speculation and extrapolation. Obama’s values—thoughtfulness, lucidity, and humanity; an open commitment to a better-functioning world—are in alignment with design’s. George W. Bush proved that you can get elected but you can’t hide from the consequences of duplicity and contempt. Dick Cheney proved that being a maverick doesn’t always make for healthy governance. John McCain may not have learned these lessons, but we have. It’s time to toss out the failed models of 21st-century leadership and move on.
Note: This essay represents the point of view of I.D.’s editors, not necessarily that of its parent company, F+W Media, Inc.