He hasn’t hopped on a sailboard or poked his tiny head out of a tank yet, but there are murmurs within the Democratic Party that Senator Obama is taking his campaign down the same six miles of bad road that John Kerry and Michael Dukakis traveled that brought them McGovernesque ignominy and sullied their dreams of a someday Presidential library and an international airport in their name. (Granted, the bowling incident was an unfortunate spectacle, but he’s proven himself a master of recovery, and neither Kerry nor Dukakis could sink a three-pointer like the brother from Illinois, much less figure out where the three-point line was).
Thom Hartman this morning on Portland’s KPOJ invoked the dreaded specter of Bob Shrum when he opined that the Obama message was getting lost in a ruminative stew of expounded nuance that can only baffle the segment of the electorate that takes their politics like they take their alcohol–short and neat in a tiny glass, or in a red, white, and blue can without a lot of confusing foreign writing on it. Bob Shrum is a name that should strike terror in the hearts of the Democratic hopeful. The 1990s Buffalo Bills were better at closing the deal than veteran Presidential campaign operative Shrum–at least they only blew three chances at stabbing their flag into the summit.
The GOP, for all their branding and image issues this year, are already proving again why they are masters at bringing the oversimplified and easily-digestible. It’s no accident that Ruffles doesn’t try and sell us potato chips by citing Venn diagrams of Pocatello soil analyses, the delicate mix of Mediterranean sea salts, and the superior pH of the hybridized russet. They know the only question is, “Do they taste good with beer?”
Of course, it’s a sad comment on our collective attention span when our democracy has to be reduced to monosyllabic sound bites, but for decades our democracy has been bulging with more sad comments than an Animal Planet documentary on orphaned shelter kittens with eye bandages.
You don’t bring a Gandhi reader to a barfight. Obama has lost the alacrity that made him such a formidable primary candidate. In case they lost the laminated bullet card, it goes like this: You hear, you nod, you punch back hard. You don’t answer a hypothetical about Kitty Dukakis being raped and murdered with a dispassionate intellectual discussion about your principled opposition to the death penalty, and, as Barack Obama should and surely does know, one previous Democratic Presidential nominee learned that lesson the hard way.
Maybe it’s the summer heat, maybe it’s the intoxicating pageantry and fawning crowds he experienced along the primary trail and in his whirlwind tour of Europe and the Middle East. Whatever the case, Senator Obama has vexed his supporters by offering eloquent verbal essays to John McCain’s many recent attacks where he needs an independent clause, and a period. Period.
Fortunately, Senator Obama’s supporters are rolling up their sleeves, grabbing a pool stick, and going to work on the opposition while the Senator is gazing at the rafters and drafting a verbal thesis to rebut the soundbite deregations of Senator McCain and his minions.
The AFL-CIO didn’t stake their claim in the American political landscape through nuance and labored explanation. They have a history of persuasion that has been limited to friendly, pointed exhortation followed by an axe handle if necessary. That’s just a metaphor in this example–no one wants to see an axe handle raised in the threat of anyone, with the possible exception of Karl Rove–but the point stands, in that they don’t dance around it–they get to it, with unmistakable clarity. That’s why they’ve stepped up this week with a mailer of 600,000 fliers to union voters in four swing states positively refuting all of the smears that McCain and his surrogate 527s have waged against the presumptive Democratic nominee: Barack Obama is an American and a patriot, and not a radical muslim. The fliers show the candidate taking his Senatorial oath on a Bible and not a Quran as the Republican bomb-throwers have alleged in their many viral emails. We’re a visual people, and a picture can debunk a thousand smears .
Obama would do well to take a page from his union supporters. This is going to be an ugly campaign and the opposition is going to bring the stupid. Talk back to them and call bullshit on them in their own dumbed-down language.
This is the Presidency, not, as the old saw goes, rocket surgery. The Obama campaign would do well to remember they’re going for the Presidency here, and not a Nobel Prize. The last man in Obama’s position of Nobel Prize caliber did indeed win it–but long after he’d lost the Presidency.