Monday, November 10, 2008

Lessons Learned

Latest Newspaper Column:

Folks, you know I'm a politics junkie, but even I'm glad the election is done.

Of course, I'm glad it ended up the way it did, with Sen. Barack Obama decisively winning both the popular vote and the electoral college, in numbers greater than any president in a century -- numbers, I might add, that only the looniest of the loony, the real tinfoil-hat crowd, could attribute to "election theft." This multi-state drubbing can't be explained by a few dodgy ACORN registrations.

So what have we learned in two years?

One thing we can learn from Sen. John McCain's defeat is that you've got to have more of a message than "I'm not the other guy." Sen. John Kerry made that mistake in 2004, when his campaign theme was, essentially, "I'm not Bush." There were enough people appalled by Bush at the time (and I was one of them) that Kerry almost made it. But you don't win like that.

Like Kerry, McCain could never seem to stay on one clear message other than "Not Obama." Even that message was all over the map: Obama's an elitist. He's a celebrity. He isn't patriotic. He's a socialist. He's a "redistributionist." As my son noted, whichever candidate's ads you were watching, they were probably talking about Obama.

It's true that Obama ran a lot of ads pointing out that McCain's policies were going to be a continuation of George W. Bush's. Some called those "attack ads," but since what message McCain did manage to articulate was basically "make Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy permanent and keep Bush's war in Iraq going," you can't call them unfair.

Plus, Obama managed to keep his criticism consistent. Let's do an experiment: What percentage of the time did McCain vote with Bush? If the number that popped into your head was "95 percent" you begin to see the effectiveness of a consistent message.

But Obama also ran plenty of ads about policies he'd pursue: middle-class tax cuts, closing tax loopholes for companies that send jobs overseas, developing clean and renewable energy, etc. In the final week, Obama ran an infomercial that was seen by millions. One anonymous online commenter pointed out it didn't mention McCain once. "Could McCain have gone a full 30 minutes without mentioning Obama?" the commenter asked. Judging from McCain's ads, the answer was "no."

Another thing that John McCain could have learned from John Kerry is that in the 21st century, no one really cares about what you did in the 1960s, at least not enough to influence their vote. Kerry tried to run on his service in Vietnam, and I have to admit I cringed when he opened his convention acceptance speech with that line, "Lt. Kerry reporting for duty".

McCain mentioned that he'd been a POW so often that he turned it into joke fodder by bringing it up every time he was questioned on something. Everyone gave McCain respect for his service (certainly more than the Republicans ever gave Kerry), but in the end, they weren't going to make him president just for that.

We also learned that no one really cares what some guy you had a nodding acquaintance with did in the 1960s, no matter how rotten it was. McCain did everything he could to hang washed-up Sixties radicalBill Ayers around Obama's neck, and almost 64 million people shrugged and went, "So?"

(And while I'm sure there'll now be a flood of letters to this paper from bitter dead-enders trying to "prove" some tighter Obama/Ayers connection, just remember: No. One. Cares. )

Oh, and people apparently don't much care about some crazy thing your preacher said, no matter how many times you bring it up. Preachers say crazy stuff. No one cares.

All in all, the biggest loser in this election was the divisive Karl Rovian politics in which one candidate seeks to paint the other candidate, and by extension his or her supporters, as not just wrong, but scary, not "really American," even traitorous.

Or, as Elizabeth Dole tried to do, by painting Kay Hagan, a Sunday School teacher and Presbyterian Church elder as "godless," even having a strident female voice behind her picture crying out "There is no God!" as if Hagan herself was saying it. Dole got her head handed to her on Election Day, and rightly so.

All that said, I did think McCain's concession speech was quite gracious and classy. After all the mudslinging he'd been doing, however, it was kind of like the end of "Return of the Jedi," when
Darth Vader renounces the Dark Side, turns back into Anakin and asks Luke to take his helmet off so he can see him one last time.

In closing, I've been thinking a lot about a line in Kurt Vonnegut's classic novel "Timequake." In the book, people are just coming out of a massive disaster that's left its victims depressed and apathetic after seven years of suffering.

"You've been sick," the book's main character tells people, "but now you're well, and there's work to do."

Let's get to work.


Louise Ure said...

In the spirit of that Vonnegut quote, here's the montage video that got to me like none of the others I've seen since election day. And those others were pretty great, too.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, instead of backing up, retooling, and getting back on message, the first thing I hear out of the GOP is John Boehner being a crybaby over Obama's choice of Chief of Staff.

Of course, I also want to bitch slap Harry Reid every time he opens his mouth, too.

becky hutchison said...

Louise, that video is wonderful. Thanks for the link!

John McFetridge said...

Listening to John McCain's very gracious speech (and ignoring the booing) I actually wondered for a moment if HE'D voted for Obama.

becky hutchison said...

If McCain had shown that side of himself during the campaign, it might have been a closer election. He sounded a lot more like his 2004self.

TesoriTrovati said...

I have just recently found your journal and I have to say that I am very impressed by your writing. I have searched a long time to find someone who can call it like it is, make the point so eloquently yet twist that knife just a bit deeper. I will pass this post on to my husband who for the first time since I have known him voted for a Democrat for President...becuase Obama is an honorable, hardworking man who believes in this country and has the plans to get us back on track to being respected in this world once again. That and he says that McCain has completely lost it. Endless attack ads, batshit crazy allegations and the fact that he picked a quite obviously unprepared individual to be his running mate solely due to chromosomes. I am a woman, I wear lipstick, and I am a baseball and ballet mom...but I am offended that even McCain would have stooped so low as to think that my husband would be blinded by her good looks and I would feel compelled to vote them in because of that "X" chromosome. As if.
Anyway...I digress...thanks for your insight!

TesoriTrovati said...

Oh, and as for the "gracious" exit speech. I think it had a completely hollow ring to it. And with McCainiacs still yelling crazy things in the crowd and McCain still not stopping them...well it doesn't seem very classy to me. I am glad that his words were not divisive, but I had a hard time believing his sincerity.

JD Rhoades said...

Welcome, TesoriTrovatiJewelry, and thanks! Can I call you TTJ from here on in?

Anonymous said...

After so many years of professional campaign organizers it is amazing how poorly run some Presidential campaigns are.

After the despicable treatment of Kerry's service in 2004 the beatification of McCain's service was so freaking two-faced.

Anonymous said...

BEIJING, Nov. 19, according to Xinhua Taiwan's "Today" reported that Chen Shui-bian's four-day fasting guard for medical treatment, including the Oriental Hospital and the Panchiao to spend a wow power leveling total of nearly 20,000 yuan (NT, the same below) medical wow powerleveling expenses, as His health insurance card to stay in Taipei Detention Center, must first serve their own expense, the medical expenses from his detention in custody of the gold deduction, but Chen Shui-bian's custody, only 16,000 yuan deposit, the deduction is not enough, said the detention center, not powerleveling part of the Will be asked to make up for the families or lawyers.

1 At about noon today, Chen power leveling Shui-bian ambulance ride to live for three days to leave the county medical Panchiao District Court, although the people left, but still have to pay money, including an ambulance referral to spend 800 yuan, into the ring adhere to the intensive care unit Fasting only saline water wow gold and glucose, a day to spend about 1500 yuan, plus medical expenses, hospital fees, in Panchiao hospital guard spent a total of three million yuan.

Chen Shui-bian from the 16 guard for medical treatment, 17, from Yadong to wow gold Itabashi Hospital, because of his health insurance card on the detention center, the first day of the Far Eastern Memorial Hospital linked to the emergency room, registration fees, inspection fees, medical expenses, ambulance It took on the cost of 9500 yuan. After World of Warcraft gold the transfer plus the cost of the nearly 20,000 guard of medical expenses, the Taipei Detention Center will take custody of people to deduct, in other words, Chen Shui-bian have to foot the bill themselves.

becky hutchison said...

Woah! Where did that come from?