I have to hand it with Republicans. When it comes to a campaign playbook, they stick with what works. An election won is an election won, whether won fairly or through foul tactics. The last leg of the 2008 presidential campaign is shaping up to look a lot like the 2004 campaign, which is heavy on the negative advertising (generally because it works). This time the McCain campaign is running ads that are outright lies. They do not just stretch the truth; they actually lie. Perhaps the most egregious ad was this one where they claim Obama was in favor of sex education for kindergarteners, a lie debunked by many reporters and documented on FactCheck.org.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney have proven that scruples only matter to losers. McCain has this one last chance to be president. With Bush and Cheney blazing the way, he can feel comfortable tossing his alleged principles aside and just do what it takes to win. All is fair in love, war and politics, apparently, including lying these days.
Fortunately, the Obama campaign is doing better than the Kerry campaign did and generally is swift in responding to attack ads. The problem is that the Obama campaign is responding. It is reacting. This is a poor way to win a campaign because the campaign is always on the defensive, which makes it hard to get its message out. The School of Karl Rove has validated some crucial lessons: elections are often won by whichever side stays on the offense. Rarely is a football game won through an interception.
The McCain campaign is playing the campaign game like a dirty game of rugby where you repeatedly kick the legs out from under your opponent. It is hard to grab the ball when your opponent keeps making you land on your ass.
Unlike the pathetically desperate McCain campaign, the Obama campaign does not need to resort to lies to go on the offensive. Joe Biden understands what to do, as did Harry S Truman. Tell the voters the truth and the opposition will think it’s hell. It becomes a matter of knowing which truth-telling shells to lob, when to lob them and where to lob them. It is time to lob some artillery shells and fortunately I know when and where to lob them, and which ones to lob.
For the moment, Sarah Palin is the wind in the Republicans’ sail. McCain’s pick has been surprisingly effective in picking off more disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters than expected. It is likely that these voters have a good gut feeling about Sarah Palin, but do not know some unseemly facts about her limited record. If many voters like her because they have a good feeling about her, those feelings need to be replaced by reasonable doubts.
These swing voters need to know that she has a history of vindictiveness. Voters need to be educated about her repeated efforts to use her influence as governor to twist the arms of the Alaskan State Police to fire her former brother in law. They need to know of her repeated attempts while she was mayor to fire the Wasilla town librarian for stocking books she did not like, as well as to ban books from their library. They also need to know that while mayor the town had a policy of charging rape victims the cost of rape kits used after they were sexual assaulted, as she did nothing to change the policy. The campaign should create ads like this and play them repeatedly in swing states where Hillary voters predominate, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri.
After a week or so, they should air ads demonstrating not only that she has a cruel and vindictive side, but also promotes policies anathema to many Clinton supporters. She is obviously no supporter of abortion rights, not even in the case of rape or incest. She does not support national health insurance, a cause dear to many Clinton supporters. She does not believe global warming is real. These ads should enforce a meme that she is inconsistent and her positions are outside the mainstream. Talking Points Memo, for example, put together this video that clearly shows that Palin repeatedly supported the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska before being against it. There is no arguing with video.
Palin is hardly someone who opposed to taking federal money. In fact, she proved especially competent acquiring it. She gave money to DC lobbyists to make sure that Wasilla got far more than their share of the federal dole. As it is, Alaskans already receive more federal dollars per capita than any other state. While mayor of Wasilla, she pulled in more federal dollars per capita than any other town or city in the state. The ads should end with her image positioned next to President Bush’s. “Stubborn. Says one thing but does another. If Sarah Palin becomes president, will she too just be more of the same?”
Doubtless, there is much more in Palin’s record that could be brought out, but a couple weeks of clever and focused advertising using my strategy would remove any luster she currently enjoys.
The Obama campaign should then run videos that emphasize his correct judgment vs. McCain’s incorrect judgment. Show him courageously speaking out against the Iraq War when it was considered anti-American to do so. Relentlessly hammer in the point that McCain voted with President Bush 90% of the time. Show that Obama’s tax plan would reduce taxes for 95% of Americans while making the rich pay more. Hammer in that McCain’s plan would actually give more tax relief to the richest 1% than they currently enjoy. There should be two major closing themes. The first: voting for McCain and Palin is like giving George W. Bush a third term. The second: judgment matters and Obama has demonstrated the wiser judgment needed to be president.
Yo! Obama campaign! Anyone there listening?