Obama as Google, Clinton as MS

It’s 2008, the year of the U.S. presidential elections. But it seems that this year’s 2008 campaign cycle began four years ago, the day after the November 2004 elections.

At that time, in 2004, I wrote a New Perspective article entitled “2008’s primary colors,” in which I stated, “On the Democratic ticket are the possible candidacies of Hillary Clinton (U.S. senator, female), Bill Richardson (state governor, Hispanic), and Barack Obama (U.S. representative, multiethnic). The diversity of such candidates directly reflects the Democratic Party’s heavy reliance on women, Hispanics, blacks, and other so-called “minority” groups. Any nomination of any of these candidates at the presidential level would also be a first in U.S. history. Given the rich diversity of candidates, the question then becomes: Are America and the world ready for a U.S. president who is someone other than a white Caucasian male?

It seems that question may fully be put to the test come this November 2008.

True to form, the candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties are trying their best to distinguish themselves on issues like the Iraq war, healthcare, and immigration. But separate from their positions on specific issues, the question is: What is a unique analogy that the voting public can use to view each of the candidacies of senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain?

During my trip to the U.S. earlier this month, I was at Kodak Theater in Los Angeles to witness firsthand the Democratic Party debate between senators Obama and Clinton. And while I was listening to the two candidates, I could not help but think that the audience could be best served to see Obama as a startup candidate, much akin to Google, the world’s most prevalent search engine, while the Clinton candidacy could be seen as much akin to Microsoft, the world’s most dominant software company.

Up until a few years ago, no one had heard of a name like “Obama.” Then last year, the Obama campaign began. It was originally grassroots-oriented, starting from the bottom up (rather than top down). And in just one year, Obama is now viewed as not just a candidate, but a “phenomenon.” Part of this is attributed to the skills of his campaign staff, who have in recent weeks consistently outmaneuvered and outplayed the Clinton campaign, culminating in 11 straight primary victories.

Obama provides inspiring speeches and predicates his campaign in part on bringing a new way of doing things in Washington. His approach and style is notably crossing party, racial, and gender lines in the apparent spirit of fostering unity rather than the partisan politics and gridlock in which “good ideas go to die” in the nation’s capital, according to Obama. His supporters were originally young and highly educated but he has since transcended to a substantially broader base. Now Obama has become a household name and momentum and a fawning media are following his lead.

Similarly, Google was a startup built from the ground up, which no one had heard of until recent years. Google, like Obama, was both unique and unusual at the time. Both names were also new and hard to spell. For example, the proper spelling of Google is actually derived from “Googol” (which means 1 followed by a googol zeros). But that domain name (the one with the correct spelling) was already taken, so the Google founders chose the (incorrectly spelled) name that we all know today.

The Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are touted as being extremely intelligent, and were former Stanford Ph.D. students. Like many corporations, the company takes on the personality of its founders, which has led to the Googleplex (Google’s main headquarters in Mountain View, California) having an open, casual, and distinctly academic atmosphere.

Despite having to compete with giants such as Microsoft and IBM for talent, Google became successful, like Obama, in finding new ways of doing things by using the best minds they could attract, such as ranking user search results by the number of references to it (rather than the number of keyword matches), viewing locations by satellite using Google Earth, digitizing the world’s largest libraries, and much more, as we are all aware.

Much like with Obama, the original core of Google’s users were highly technical and highly educated, first being used by Stanford students and faculty, but spreading rapidly to the general public thereafter. With Google’s approach, much like with Obama, the result has been abundant revenue, a loyal client base (transcending gender, age, and race), supportive media coverage, and an ability to outmaneuver such preexisting heavyweights as Microsoft and IBM. In short, much like Obama, Google came from nowhere and has emerged on top.

As Obama is like Google, Clinton is like Microsoft. Despite its omnipresent brand name, Microsoft is still relatively young compared to many “blue chip” U.S. corporations, which have been around for decades (although older than Google). Microsoft also has taken on the likeness of its founder, Bill Gates. It is portrayed as seeing the computer world as a zero-sum game, in which its win must come at a competitor’s loss. It is aggressive, confident (arguably overly so), and has a strong strategic network that supports its software and related services all over the world.

But much like Clinton, Microsoft has recently often received more negative than positive scrutiny from the media and others. Its founder, much like Clinton, is portrayed as someone who seeks domination and will win at any cost. And much like both Clintons, it is portrayed that a victory for Microsoft may often come at the expense of the end users (or the Democratic Party, in the Clintons’ case as seen in the 1994 “Republican Revolution”). Ironically, the Clintons, much like Microsoft, were originally viewed as the fresh voice not too long ago when Microsoft, a brash young startup itself at the time, was poised to take down an industry behemoth, IBM. This is much like the young Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s, who were poised to confront the seemingly insurmountable political behemoth of the Bush family.

What a difference a day, or in this case, a couple of political cycles makes. And for this reason, Obama is Google and Clinton is Microsoft. And you guessed it, McCain is like IBM.

By Jasper S. Kim

Jasper S. Kim serves as faculty to both the Graduate School of International Studies and the faculty of law, Ewha Womans University, and as advisor to Tiger Capital Partners. — Ed.

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