During the Democratic primary, a popular analogy was casting hip, youthful Barack Obama as a Mac and establishment workhorse Hillary Clinton as a PC. The evaluation may have said as much about the effectiveness of Apple's sardonic commercials as anything about the candidates, and the computerized comparisons have vanished against John McCain, perhaps because the difference between Obama and the computer-illiterate septuagenarian is so lopsided ("Is McCain an abacus or an accountant's calculator?").
Lost in the mix is that Obama -- while having, as Joe Biden might say, the clean lines (in both chassis and programmatic language) of a Mac -- most closely resembles everyone's favorite search engine, cartographer, news alerter, and everything else: Google.
Obama has courted the Mountain View juggernaut, charming employees at the Googleplex with tech-savvy pronouncements and statements about the future of the Internet favorable to the company's mission, such as "I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality." Beyond fluency in computer jargon, though, Obama and Google share much in philosophy and presentation.
Google has gotten a great deal of mileage from its informal slogan, "Don't be evil." Consumers, wary of Microsoft's imperialism in the 90s, seem to trust Google implicitly despite its far-reaching access to personal information, Orwellian photographs of nearly every street in the country, and gargantuan growth that has, inevitably, trampled scores of competitors.
Few begrudge or distrust Obama's equally sudden rise to power. In a March USA Today/Gallup poll, 63% of Americans found him honest and trustworthy compared to 44% for Clinton (and 67% for McCain, who may have the word "candid" prefixed to his name as often as "maverick" in the press). Obama, too, is now strongly associated with a straightforward, trisyllabic message -- "Yes we can" -- although instead of imperatively employing a negative of a negative ("Don't be evil"), his is an optimistic, election-ready double positive.
Why do Americans believe Google and Obama, when countless corporations and politicians have also claimed to be on the good side before erupting in scandal and corruption? They're both outsiders who, at least by appearances, aren't threats to broker shadowy backroom deals with silver-haired secret society members. Google's co-founders -- one of whom is an immigrant -- are both computer nerds who created their startup as Stanford grad students in Computer Science, a far cry from an old boys' club. Little more needs saying about Obama's historic background as a major-party candidate.
Perhaps most remarkable, both are darlings of the left despite their capitalist platforms that, in Obama's case, are drawing accusations of centrism at best. Google racks up profits like pinball points and targets consumers from information as private as their emails, but makes sure its advertising remains relatively unobtrusive. Obama is an unabashed proponent of open markets provided they operate with transparency and under government stewardship, raised the most money of all candidates from Wall Street investment banks (more than doubling the donations from the biggest banks to McCain in the first quarter), and named as his economic policy director neoliberalist and Robert Rubin disciple Jason Furman--policies, actions, and partnerships far to the right of John Edwards and, possibly, even Hillary Clinton.
However, Obama's Googlesque packaging convinces us that he surely can't be evil; after all, during a break from taking their money in a speech at NASDAQ MarketSite, he chided Wall Streeters for not safeguarding the middle class and echoed FDR in calling for a "reappraisal of values." The aesthetics of his campaign are likewise unthreateningly pleasant. His much-admired logo has a font and cheerful coloring similar to Google's iconic one, along with a graphic of a rising sun that wouldn't be out of place on one of the cute holiday Google Doodles.
Compare that to McCain's Eisenhower-era logo: intimidating dark blue background, masculine sans serif font, a single star to underscore his military service. Obama's site is also a case study in modern web design, with depth-producing gradient shading and a simple, user-friendly layout, just as Google's homepage is a model of minimalist functionality. McCain's looks like it was created in 1998 and is cluttered with as many options and buttons as a fighter jet's console.
But Obama is most like Google in his anticipation and exploitation of new technology. He has left everyone else in his Internet fundraising dust, made early and productive alliances with social-networking sites like Facebook, and has capitalized like no other campaign on the organizational power of the web to organize and mobilize voters. It's not surprising he, and he alone, has been the beneficiary of the most high-profile viral videos on YouTube (a Google subsidiary, remember), notably the "Obama girl" and "Yes We Can" music videos. McCain's biggest web hit? 236.com's satirical "McCain Girls."
If you need further proof of McCain's 20th-century obsolescence, play his website's widely mocked "Pork Invaders" video game, which clones the classic 1978 hit "Space Invaders" and verges on self-parody. It's unclear what demographic McCain's team is attempting to target: nostalgic middle-aged voters who fondly recall pumping in endless quarters in the arcade, or those kids today who love any kind of shoot-'em-up and are totally bummed out, dude, by pork-barrel spending? Obama, and Google, would never reach so far back into the past; despite their strains of centrism, they are perpetually searching into the future, as Obama's other Google-styled catchphrase suggests: "We are the change that we seek."