Monday, September 15, 2008

Season of Mud

In an election year, the time between Labor Day and the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is Mud-Slinging Season. Both parties are in the spirit of the season.

The Democrats, traumatized by the Swiftboat campaign against Kerry in 2004, have been assuring their base since the primaries that they won't let it happen this year. This year, we hear over and over, they will give as well as they get. In reality they always have given as well as gotten, but as altruists their self-image is so wrapped up in the idea that they are nice, benevolent people that they evade their own mudslinging. Their moments of victimization at the hands of the beastly Republicans (Swiftboat! Swiftboat!) are seared into their memory, but they forget that they invented Borking.

Obama has been reeling since McCain chose Palin as his Vice-President -- and whether you like McCain or not (I do not), you have to admit that his choice was brilliant, simply because it stole the spotlight from The One. (Picking a VP has always been about helping a candidate win an election. JFK is reported to have loathed Johnson, but he needed Texas so LBJ was his man.)

So what do Democrats want Obama to do now? What else? Get dirty:

According to NBC and the New York Times, Democrats have put enormous pressure on Barack Obama to start hitting John McCain in a more personal manner and to get his momentum back in this race. Team Obama says that the “bed-wetting” will not knock them off their game plan, but according to Andrea Mitchell, that may change.

Obama has taken some mockery because he has announced three or four times that he will take off the gloves.

Wham! You do that again and the gloves are off. Wham! You must not have heard what I said. One more time and the gloves are coming off... Wham! Okay. Okay, that hurt. It is bare knuckle time, baby. Wham! You are about to ANGER ME. I shall doff these expensive gloves. And I am just crazy enough to do it. Wham! What the hell is wrong with y... Wham!

The geniuses at Obama Central came up with an ad criticizing McCain for not using email. (That is some bare-knuckle brawling, man.) It turns out that McCain can't type because of his injuries from being tortured. Obama's attack succeeded only in reminding people that McCain is a war hero and that Obama's campaign is too incompetent to use google. Over the weekend the Obama camp decided to attack McCain because he is old.

Mickey Kaus is unimpressed by Obama's negative campaigning against McCain's supposed lack of honesty.

The current lib blog-MSM-campaign tack--getting outraged by McCain's "lies"--is a total loser strategy. Why?

a) MSM outrage doesn't sway voters anymore. It didn't even back in 1988, when the press tried to make a stink about George H.W. Bush's use of "flag factories," etc. After this year's failed MSM Palin assault, it certainly won't work;

b) When Dems get outraged at unfairness they look weak. How can they stand up to Putin if they start whining when confronted with Steve Schmidt? McCain's camp can fake umbrage all it wants--the latest is that an Atlantic photographer took some nasty photos that the mag didn't run!--and nobody will accuse MCain of being weak. That's so unfair. A double standard. Dems can learn to live with it or complain about the unfairness for another 4 years. Their choice.

c) It's almost always impossible to prove that a Republican attack is a 100% lie. Either there's a germ of truth (Kerry did hype his wartime heroism at least a bit) or the truth is indeterminate (i.e., there's no way of knowing what Obama meant by "lipstick"--just because he and McCain used the word earlier doesn't mean he didn't think using it now, after Palin's speech, didn't add a witty resonance).

d) Lecturing the public on what's 'true" and what's a "lie" (when the truth isn't 100% clear) plays into some of the worst stereotypes about liberals--that they are preachy know-it-alls hiding their political motives behind a veneer of objectivity and respectability.

e) Inevitably the people being outraged on Obama's behalf will phrase their arguments in ways well-designed to appeal to their friends--and turn off the unconverted. ('This is just what they did to John Kerry and Michael Dukakis!' As if the public yearns for the lost Kerry and Dukakis Presidencies. 'Today's kindergarteners need some sex education. Just because Republicans are old fashioned ...' etc. Or 'These are Karl Rove tactics,' which signifies little to non-Dem voters except a partisan rancor they'd like to put behind them.)

As always with liberals, there is a weird disconnect from reality. All their huffing and puffing about going negative should not be necessary because they have the MSM to do their mud-slinging for them. For the last two weeks we have seen the most remarkable attempt, both extensive and intensive, at character assassination at least since Clarence Thomas or Dan Quayle. The media have been desperate to define Sarah Palin as stupid, inexperienced, strange and nasty. They have employed outright lies, such as that Trig Palin is not really Sarah's son, but her daughter's son. Leftist radio host Randi Rhodes has suggested that Palin molests teenage boys. It has been observed that in two days Palin underwent more investigation from the media than Obama has suffered in 18 months. Charlie Martin is keeping track of the rumors about Palin; he is up to 71 now.

The left side of the blogosphere believes its mission is to sling the mud that is beneath Obama to sling. Andrew Sullivan hyperventilates:

I intend to be relentless for the next six weeks, morning, noon and night, weeks and weekdays, exposing the lies of the McCain-Palin campaign and showing their unfitness - in terms of competence, decency, intelligence, and experience - to become president and vice-president of the US. I will be making arguments and presenting facts in ways I do not expect and do not want Obama himself to engage him.

But these last two weeks - and this absurd, insulting pick for veep - has roused me. As I know it has roused many. McCain needs to be more than defeated. He needs to be exposed as the dishonest, despicable, desperate and dishonorable cynic he has become.

Let's hope he wiped the foam from his mouth when he finished writing that.

(Sullivan, just to provide context, happily publicized the unfounded rumor about Trig Palin's parentage. When the rumor became a joke because of pictures of Sarah Palin in full pregnancy, and testimonies from eye witnesses in Alaska, Sullivan was still demanding that the McCain campaign prove the arbitrary lie was not true.)

McCain has slammed Obama with some effective ads. He belittled Obama as a celebrity, likening him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. He mocked Obama's messianic pretensions. He attacked Obama for wanting to teach sex education to kindergartners. He hit Obama about his use of the phrase "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," which ad managed to dominate two or three news cycles.

McCain's ads have been effective at defining Obama because Obama is an oddly undefined man. There is something shadowy and obscure about him. Who really is Obama? Charles Krauthammer has observed,

Eerily missing at the Democratic convention this year were people of stature who were seriously involved at some point in Obama's life standing up to say: I know Barack Obama. I've been with Barack Obama. We've toiled/endured together. You can trust him. I do.

An undefined man is vulnerable to hostile definition. By contrast, earlier this year the Obama campaign quietly trotted out a series of prominent Democrats to belittle McCain's military service. (Another smear campaign Democrats evade as they keep telling themselves, "We're the nice guys! We're the nice guys!") This campaign failed because voters know who John McCain is. Democrat sniping at his military experience was a loser that only reflexive, anti-American leftists could entertain as a good idea.

I would submit that Republican negative campaigns have been quite effective for over three decades now. This is not, as Democrats believe, because Republicans are naturally mean-spirited and Democrats are these wide-eyed Bambis who must force themselves to attack their fellow man. It is because Democrats cannot be honest with the American people about their socialism; if they were, the party would go the way of the Whigs in two weeks. This sets them up like bowling pins to be knocked down by a few ads pointing to the facts of a candidate's liberalism.

John McCain promised "to take the high road," then immediately went negative against Obama. Despite protestations of high-mindedness on both sides, they both have gone negative, as candidates have since the birth of the Republic. They do it because it works. When mud-slinging stops working, then the slinging of mud will stop.

Neither side can afford to run just positive ads because both parties are essentially the same: they are welfare state parties. They are two gangs fighting over power so they can spend the taxpayers' money the way their pressure groups want it spent. Neither party stands for real political values such as individual rights and liberty. Neither side has ideals worth advertising.

When you have two parties dedicated to expanding government power in a country that once believed, long ago, in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then it is best to say as little as possible about your true intentions. It is much safer to attack the other party and keep the focus on them -- attack, attack, attack. Rush Limbaugh has made a career mocking liberals, but you'll notice he says little positive about Republicans these days. What is there to say? "The Republicans will destroy your freedom only half as much as the Democrats"? Not many votes in that message.


Bill Brown said...

Regarding Sarah Palin, Dennis Miller recently quipped that "she is deep, deep inside his melon, man."

Mike said...

Part and parcel to your spot-on analysis of the undefined Obama being forced to wear the filthy suits the opposition is offering is what I've been saying since the week of the VP picks: Obama is not playing his game. McCain took control of the game and is calling the shots, and Obama is just reacting. Action is intrinsically better than reaction in any competition where there is asymmetry between the competitors and spectators. Accordingly, game theory supports your character analysis. If Obama wants to win, he has to start playing his game and his game only... and he might not have been able to, having in effect sacrificed his queen for a rook with the Biden pick.

Myrhaf said...

If Obama does not turn the polls around fast, we're looking at a landslide. The Dems have not lost Pennsylvania since 1988; the race is tied there. In New York Obama is only 5% ahead. Minnesota is tied. The Dems went into this race talking about a 50-state strategy. Now they will be lucky to win what Kerry won in 2004.

Seneca the Younger said...

Thanks for the link!

I do think you're spot-on here: the silly viciousness has been escalating on both sides for several campaigns. It may have been just bad luck that the escalation passed some tipping point with the astroturfing of Palin rumors that the backlash seems to be hitting Obama most; on the other hand, it may have been (it seems to me to have been) that the panic led people who should know better, like Andrew Sullivan, to run with things that were ludicrously untrue, like the "Trig is not Sarah's baby" one.

You might also have a look at my piece on McCain's OODA loop at American Thinker.

Rachel said...

I'm sorry if I'm missing something obvious but I'm just not sure what to make of what you are saying. Your post is an analysis of the nature and purpose of mudslinging and you provide further demonstration (in addition to all the other evidence that has been presented) that neither party has anything to offer anyone, but since we already knew that I guess I'm at a loss to know what to do with your analysis. What is the ought that follows from your conclusion?

True, it looks like Palin may be the death-blow to Obama's bid, but what does that mean for someone who is trying to decide how to vote so as to best fight for the chance to bring freedom to this country?

Would it perhaps be the wisest course of action for those who conclude, based in part on your excellent analysis, that the race is pretty much concluded to make it known that although McCain seems to be a shoe-in for the next president that he won because he is a superior campaigner and to try to convince people that he is still a great evil for this country?

Is there any value in continuing to try to decide who is the lesser evil?

Kyle Haight said...

My own practical action is quite simple. I live in California, which is a very left-leaning state. Under any scenario in which California's electoral college votes are in play for McCain, he wouldn't need them. My actual vote for President is therefore irrelevant and I am thus not faced with the need to pick one candidate under the other.

I plan to go to the polls, vote the down-ticket races, bond measures and initiatives, and leave the slot for President blank. I don't support either of these men. Either one will be a disaster.

I dedicate my time to identifying what it is about each of them that makes them bad, in the hopes of helping build opposition to the policies the winner will try to institute and in having superior choices in a future election.

Those who live in battleground states do not have the luxury I possess, of being able to rationally dismiss my vote as meaningless.

Dismuke said...

"Is there any value in continuing to try to decide who is the lesser evil?"

Sure there is - the same value one gets from discussing any speculative question over something important.

Ultimately, it IS a speculative question. One of the two is ultimately going to win the election - and, as a result, we are going to have no way of knowing what might have happened had the other been elected and whether it was more or less evil.

Who was the lesser evil in Bush vs Algore and Bush vs Kerry? The horrible failures of the Bush administration make it very tempting in hindsight for one to say Bush. But, of course, we have no way of knowing what sorts of nightmares we will have all lived through (hopefully!) had either of them won instead. If things had been different things would be different.

It is, however, worthwhile talking about such things - even about past elections. It is worthwhile as an intellectual exercise because, if it is done so properly, it allows one to focus on and better understand fundamental principles. Furthermore, this is not the last election or circumstance where we will be given a choice of two evils and asked to decide between them. If nothing else, such a discussion about past and current choices better prepares one for similar unsavory choices in the future.

"Would it perhaps be the wisest course of action for those who conclude, based in part on your excellent analysis, that the race is pretty much concluded to make it known that although McCain seems to be a shoe-in for the next president that he won because he is a superior campaigner"

I don't think there is any evidence that McCain is a superior campaigner. McCain is a mediocrity who would have a difficult time in most years. If McCain wins it is because of people's utter distaste for Obama and all that his crowd stands for. Civilized people are disgusted and repulsed by the nihilism of the Left and by the Left's thugish, Stalinst tactics and its utterly blighted sense-of-life. They are disgusted by terrorist such as Ayres and people who stand on the American flag such as Ayres - who, at the same time he spits at the US flag, boasts how he burned his hand and broke a finger years ago to save a North Vietnamese flag from being burned by a counter-protester. When Republicans win elections, it usually has nothing to do with any virtue or competence on their part and more to do with the fact that they are the only grown-ups left standing after people see the perpetually whining and tantrum throwing, pampered and condescending snobbish children and hippies on the Left for what they are. And as long as there are Stalinist hippies out there and the unabashedly biased and grotesquely unjust Walter Duranty media out there for people to be disgusted and outraged by, there really isn't a whole lot of pressure on the Republican party to get its act together or purge the more offensive parts of its ranks. As is the case this year, people will end up unifying AGAINST a candidate more than FOR a candidate.

Rachel said...

Thanks, Kyle and Dismuke.

Dismuke, would you disagree, then, with Myrhaf's characterization of McCain's choice of Palin as brilliant?

Myrhaf said...

I don't think you can conclude who to vote for from this post. It is just about mud-slinging, which happens in every election.

When I called the Palin pick brilliant, I'm not endorsing McCain/Palin, I'm only saying that on its own terms the pick worked for McCain. It worked better than any VP pick I've ever seen. This is the gold standard of VP picks, the one by which all others will be judged from now on.

I'll make a formal endorsement some time in October -- not that the world is breathlessly awaiting the Myrhaf endorsement.

Dismuke said...

"Dismuke, would you disagree, then, with Myrhaf's characterization of McCain's choice of Palin as brilliant?

No. I agree that it is a pretty brilliant pick. But the reason it was brilliant is that it gives people who would normally vote Republican a reason for doing so in a year where a great many of them would have simply stayed home out of either ambivalence our outright disgust towards McCain. But it is brilliant ONLY to the degree that it minimizes McCain's profound weaknesses as a candidate.
The people that McCain has won over by the Palin pick aren't going to be enough to put McCain over the top to win the election. It is just that without them there is no way he can win.

The people who are ultimately going to decide the election in the swing states are NOT the people in the record breaking crowds to see Palin or the crowds we saw months ago for Obama where people were conveniently fainting in full view of cameras operated by Obama's cheerleaders in the Walter Duranty media. We pretty much already know how people in both crowds are going to vote. And many of the people in the Obama crowds won't even vote at all because they will be too hung over, not want to get up early to vote, are too clueless to know how to vote or because they were at the rally merely because it was the cool place to be seen.

Most of people who are going to decide this election are not even especially political. And they will not vote for a candidate as much as they will vote AGAINST one.

The last presidential election I can recall where people voted FOR a candidate was in 1984 when Reagan was re-elected. MAYBE one could say that 1996 was a vote for Clinton - but there he was up against the absolutely most weak and pathetic candidate the Republican Party could possibly have mustered up. In '88 they voted AGAINST Dukakis. In '92 AGAINST Bush Sr. In 2000 and '04 they voted AGAINST Algore and Kerry-Who-Served-In-Vietnam.

Ultimately this election will be decided either by people voting AGAINST Obama or AGAINST McCain.

The more that gets out to the general public about Obama past the professional gatekeepers and filters of the Walter Duranty media, the more he is going to turn people off. The reason is because Obama is a total Peter Keating type zero who has been nothing more than a puppet propped up and given scripts by profoundly evil and disgusting Stalinists such as Ayres and many, many others. The biggest enemy of Obama is the truth - because if people know about just what he is, there is NO WAY he can win. The only way Obama can win the election is for him and his cheerleaders in the Walter Duranty media to try and change the subject and slime McCain and Palin to such a degree that people will vote AGAINST McCain. And the way that the Left wins an argument that it otherwise cannot win is by talking LOUDER and FASTER than everyone else to the point that nobody else can get a word in edgewise until a certain percentage of the population becomes sick and tired of the whole matter and goes along with the Leftists in the hope that, by doing so, the Leftists will just SHUT UP. It is like the long-suffering hen-picked husband who eventually gives in to his wife's irrational whims and demands on the premise that will be the ONLY way he will get somepeace, if only for a few minutes. Sometimes this works for them - it is how the Cindy Sheehans and Michael Moores of the world turned public support against the war despite the fact that most Americans find both creatures to be thoroughly repulsive. Sure, Bush's weakness played a part - but all of his weakness were just as out in the open when he was riding high in the polls. People became "war weary" not because of the casualties in Iraq which were actually quite low when one considers the context of other military endeavors of a similar size. People became "war weary" from watching a bunch of nihilistic children throwing a temper tantrum on the news night after night with the Walter Duranty reporters joining in. On the other hand, the same tactics sometimes backfire on the Left as well - for example, the Wellstone Memorial circus and the recent slime-fest against Palin.

Now that McCain has brought the Republican base back to the fold with the Palin pick, what he basically needs to do to win is avoid undercutting those who are trying to get out the real truth about Obama (McCain has a bizarre history of undercutting people who are on his side), dodge the stream of sh*t and mud that will be thrown at him and, above all, to just stand tall and look like a grown up. Considering the state of the Left today, it isn't that difficult to look like a grown up in comparison.

Rachel said...

Myrhaf, I'm not sure how I managed to imply that you were endorsing anyone. All I've read from you tells me that you think McCain is at a great advantage, right now, directly as a result of his choice of Palin. And, yes, I understood that this post is simply an analysis of mud-slinging.

Bill Brown said...

I'm sick of the practice of shouting down those you disagree with. The left is becoming increasingly thin-skinned and that is very worrisome. I've seen some trial balloons wafting up about a return to the Fairness Doctrine, which would be awful.