I’m sure the Obama campaign has been swamped with advice since the conventions closed and McCain/Palin began surging in the polls. But what elevates my advice above the advice of others is that mine will work. This isn’t a long manifesto of political strategy, it’s simple bullet points that Barack Obama can post on his refrigerator and read every morning with his Cheerios.
1. Stop complimenting McCain and Palin - Senator Obama, as I’m sure you’ve realized, your campaign has the extremely annoying habit of preceding every attack on John McCain or Sarah Palin with some kind of compliment. (Somehow you must think this will allow you to attack without being polarizing, which is flat-out ridiculous.) For example, you’ll begin an attack on John McCain’s economic plan with, “John McCain is a war hero who deserves all of our admiration, however…” What?!?! Why would you basically place a five second ad in favor of your opponent right before you try to convince people not to vote for him? And I can’t count how many times Joe Biden has referred to McCain as a dear friend who he would do anything for. SAVE IT FOR THE HONEYMOON, JOE. This election isn’t Senate poker night, it’s war. And you do this with Palin too. “Sarah Palin is a historic step forward for women and a fantastic mother, however…” STOP IT!
The effect this has on voters is that they begin to think, “Yeah, I disagree with John McCain on Iraq and on tax cuts for the wealthy. Barack Obama’s got him there. But, you know, McCain is just such a nice, honorable guy. I like him. Even all the Democrats who disagree with him admit that he’s a national hero and an all-around great guy, so how bad a President could he really be?” Yeah, voters begin thinking this about 10 seconds before they walk into the booth and pull the lever for John McCain.
To put the foolishness of this in proper context, imagine any Republican in America beginning an attack on you like this: “Barack Obama is a bipartisan reformer with a record of change, however…”
2. Realize that you, Barack Obama, are the boxer not the ringside commentator - Stop responding to John McCain’s attacks with analysis of how and why it is misleading, as well as commentary on the current state of our politics and media, and what it all says about our culture within the historical context of mid-18th century England. Hit back!
This is what makes some Democrats nervous. Instead of hitting back with, say, a reference to McCain’s years-old crude comments about Chelsea Clinton (as one Dem suggested to me), he puts on his analyst hat and dissects the modern political-media process.
Of course, there is truth to what he said. It’s as plain as day to those of us who live this stuff and appreciate the finer points of the Drudge-cable news nexus.
But, to the broader world, he’s being accused of outright sexism and his response is a disquisition on why the charge is gaining traction.
In other words, Obama, after getting punched in the face, drops his gloves and begins explaining to the crowd why he doesn’t believe the punch was effective. It might get him a job as a talking head on Larry King Live, but it’s absolutely terrible, atrocious politics. Perhaps Obama is playing rope-a-dope and saving the heavy artillery for October, but by the time we get there, he may be out on his feet.
So to condense point number two into two simple words: HIT BACK! When John McCain accuses you of sexism, here’s your very simple, very effective response:
“I don’t think someone who called a teenage Chelsea Clinton ‘ugly,’ and who publicly referred to his wife Cindy using a four-letter word really wants to get into a debate about gender sensitivity.”
Bada-bing, bada-boom, just like that you’re on offense, McCain is on defense, the debate is now about whether John McCain is really the sexist, and voters begin swarming Google to find out exactly what John McCain called Cindy. Presidential politics is not checkers, Barack, it’s chess.
3. Reframe the Iraq War – McCain keeps scoring points on his support for the surge and on his assertion that America is now “winning” the Iraq War. Likewise, you, Senator Obama, continue getting asked questions like, “Why can’t you use the word ‘victory’?” and “Why can’t you just admit the surge worked?”
There are two very simple ways to rebut this idiocy, if it’s not already too late:
A) “We already won the Iraq War. We won back in 2003 when we defeated and disbanded the Iraqi Army. The Iraq War has been over for five years. We are now engaged in the Iraq Occupation. You can’t win an occupation, you can only either stay or leave.”
B) “If the surge worked, why are we still there?”
4. Stop going for lost votes (i.e. the racist and crazy vote) - This Sunday, you got into an in-depth discussion with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos over the Muslim smear. Again. Why, Senator, are you still getting into this argument? Drop it! The evidence of your Christian faith is overwhelming and has been so to even the least informed voter for well over a year. At this point, nearly two years into your presidential campaign, anyone who is still convinced that you are a Muslim will never ever be convinced otherwise. It’s fine to continue combatting this smear through Internet channels and grassroots efforts, but you, the candidate, should never dignify this type of garbage with a response again.
5. SIMPLIFY! SIMPLIFY! SIMPLIFY! - Stop getting stuck in the explanation weeds. You don’t have to explain every detail and correct every misconception about everything. Keep it simple, keep it simple, and search for ways to make it even simpler than that. If you’re confused about what this means, here’s an example.
Republicans win elections because they promise that they’ll cut your taxes while Democrats will raise them. It doesn’t get any simpler for voters than that, which is part of the reason why three of the last four presidents have been Republicans. So, Barack Obama, rather than proclaiming that “95% of the American people will receive a $1,000 tax break under my plan, a tax break that they will not receive under John McCain’s plan” (because combining fractions, whole numbers, and coherent sentences can become very confusing for voters) put it like this:
“I will cut your taxes, John McCain will not.”
And when the McCain campaign fires back that your plan will in fact raise taxes on the top 1%, respond with this:
“I will cut your taxes, John McCain will not.”
6. Compare and contrast Senator McCain to Candidate McCain – I can’t take credit for this at all. John Kerry first did it brilliantly two weeks ago in his convention speech. The premise is simple. John McCain had a to change a lot of his views in order to make himself more acceptable and in line with the Republican party’s strict ideology. He’s on record supporting a lot of things he now opposes, including bills that he himself authored and fought for a mere two years ago. As much as you need to link John McCain to George Bush (and for God’s sake, if you haven’t seen last week’s Daily Show report from the Republican National Convention, WATCH IT!), you need to contrast the mavericky Senator John McCain with the guy who also happens to be named John McCain, who has spent the last two years obediently bending over for the Republican party.
Speaking of which, Republicans seem to have forgotten how much they hated McCain’s immigration reform bill. Remind them.
7. Compare and contrast Governor Palin with Candidate Palin – This should be relatively easy since literally everything the Republicans have put forth about Sarah Palin’s public record has been the 180-degree opposite of the truth. This “No Maverick” ad was a good start, but I agree with a HuffPo blogger earlier this week who said to stop using the words “maverick” and “John McCain/Sarah Palin” in the same sentence altogether, even if it’s to say they’re not ones. Linking words in sentences tends to lead to mental associations. It’s how the Amercian public came to believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11, even though that was never explicitly said.
8. Insult Alaska – The state is lost. Once McCain picked Sarah Palin, he gained a 20-point advantage in her home state. And it’s only good for three electoral votes anyway. All of which should make you feel more than free to inform America what a sparsely-populated, inconsequential after-thought the state of Alaska is.
I mean, let’s face it, Alaska is practically another country. It’s closer in every measurable way to Canada than it is the lower 48. It’s basically some land we stole from Russia for shigs and gits. The major issues in Alaska, the issues that are Sarah Palin’s bread and butter– moose hunting, shooting wolves from helicopters, courting the Eskimo vote (seriously, those were all real issues for her)– are completely irrelevant to the American presidency. Likewise, Alaska has 670,000 people (equivalent to a city the size of Memphis, Tennessee), yet it receives billions in oil revenue every year. Which makes balancing Alaska’s budget about as difficult as balancing Warren Buffett’s checkbook.
Sarah Palin touts her “executive experience” as though anyone who ever managed the night shift at a Starbucks is more qualifed than Barack Obama (and ironically John McCain) to be president. But the truth is, the quantum leap from Governor of Alaska to President of the United States is like putting the owner of a small pet store in Detroit in charge of General Motors.
So to simplify, Democrats need to do everything possible to help America grasp how deep into the butt crack of nowhere Alaska really is, and more than that, how essentially meaningless Sarah Palin’s 20 months as governor of that state are. Forget the moose hunter vote, look down your nose as far as possible. Laugh if you must. The word “Alaska” should not leave Democratic lips without the tone of a snide scoff. Try it like this: “She’s the governor of (fleeting smile, rolled eyes, pause)…. Alaska.” See how easy that is?
If you’re still confused, James Carville has already demonstrated this tactic brilliantly by printing out this picture of the mayor’s office in Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska and holding it up for CNN’s cameras:
“Would you like fries with that legislation?”
9. Contrast Candidate McCain to Palin’s record – If John McCain cares so much about earmarks and pork barrel spending, why did he pick for his running mate the worst pork barreling earmark offending governor in America? If John McCain cares so much about Washington ethics, why did he pick a governor who is under investigation for ethics violations? If John McCain cares so much about climate change, why did he pick a governor who is an avowed global warming denier?
I think you get the idea.
10. When in doubt, think like a Republican – In other words, don’t let your high ideals and noble vision of America keep you from doing whatever the hell it takes to win. Understand that the American presidency is the most powerful office in history, and people quite literally kill for significantly less influential positions in other countries (and have throughout history). And I don’t have to tell you how high the stakes in this election are.
So here’s the bottom line: Republicans win, Democrats lose, and even the last Democratic president won by acting like a Republican. So don’t be afraid to make a few campaign promises you fully intend to break, don’t be afraid to throw a few interest groups under the bus, don’t be afraid to make half the country mad, and please don’t hesitate to throw a few sucker punches. Yes, it’s important to win the right way, but it’s even more important to win. So, hope, peace, love, and unity. But just in case we aren’t the ones we’ve been waiting for, then by any means necessary.