Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

My Name is Dansac, And I’m a Chicken Little

Last week I wrote a post about John McCain’s ad strategy, essentially saying there was method to the madness and it was achieving its intended goal. Others have written diaries in similar vein, essentially calling for Obama to start going on offense and frustration at the defensive nature of the campaign.

Then came the backlash to our “concern,” over at DailyKos in particular, with highly recommended diaries mocking us as “bedwetters” and hitting those who critique Obama as essentially presumptuous for proclaiming to know more about campaigning than the Obama campaign.

Fair enough, if I am to be deemed a chicken little, so be it, I’m not writing this because I’m sensitive. And indeed, there are many real chicken littles running rampant, some who freak out at the slighted thing and scream “We’re dooooomed!,” diaries worthy of the “OMG! ONOZ!” responses they get. But, there is another side to this story…

A chicken little screams “The sky is falling!” but has no real substantive evidence to reach that conclusion. They run around yelling and flailing, but offer little in the way of constructive analysis. There are others who are not chicken littles, who substantively arrive at their sense of worry, and now is a good time to question whether or not we do service to the Democrats we aim to elect by mocking and dismissing legitimate input.

Here is my opinion: Barack Obama is the best candidate we’ve had in decades. He’s a truly brilliant politician who as inspired me more than any other ever has, and I believe he can be a truly great President. I also believe he can lose this election, and despite a lot of highly positive developments that cannot be dismissed, this summer has been a huge missed opportunity for him. Why?

Because what is the major “branding” to come out of the summer thus far? Two choices:

1) John McCain = Bush’s 3rd term and is completely out-of-touch and clueless on the economy. His campaign is filled with corrupt lobbyists and his chief economic adviser thinks our troubles are all in our head.

2) Barack Obama is presumptuous, inexperienced, a popular celebrity who’s not ready to lead and changes his positions on issues in order to get elected. Oh, and if you say any of those things, he’ll call you a racist, something you should feel resentful about (reminder: he’s black).

The answer to those who don’t spend as much time on the blogosphere, who casually pay attention to the news, the fabled low-information voters, is #2. That’s the big thing they’re going to remember from this summer. So is it too late for Obama? Of course not. But it was a missed opportunity, in my opinion.

Saying so, and offering one’s opinion on how to correct this problem, is a legitimate way to contribute to the purpose of this site and site’s like DailyKos: “To help Democrats get elected.” If you think it’s presumptuous for bloggers to offer advice to the Obama campaign, if you think it’s counter-productive, or if you believe that blogger is wrong and the Obama campaign has been playing this thing correctly, here’s a few things you can do: skip the post, read the post and disagree with the writer, or write your own post on DailyKos or elsewhere explaining your position. Disagreements are the stuff of which life is made, and certainly democracy.

Or you can mock and dismiss all criticisms as silly chicken-little behavior. Hey, it’s a free site.

But consider, if you do, what effect that can have. As silly as it sounds, it can intimidate those who have well-reasoned, productive criticisms to make from posting them. It can turn the liberal blogosphere not from a place that is intended to help Democrats get elected (something which sometimes requires criticism), but into a place that makes us feel better about ourselves and convinces us that the rest of the nation sees the election as we do, and that everything is fine and we’re going to have a landslide, if only we’d just be quiet and trust in the Obama campaign to do as they do.

Part of helping Democrats get elected comes with criticizing tactics that we, even as lowly bloggers who don’t do this for a living, think are mistaken. After so many years of doing almost nothing but criticizing Democrats and their strategists on how they campaign, why we are discouraged from doing so to Barack Obama is beyond me.

Here are a few points I’ve often read in return, and my responses to them:

1) Obama’s campaign is the best we’ve seen in a generation – a well-oiled machine that beat the Clintons – Yes, but it’s not perfect. The one thing the Obama camp has never been good at is controlling the media narrative and framing the election. Barack tapped into a hunger for change and it carried him strongly through the early part of the primaries, and then it settled into a routine in which the demographics of states essentially determined the outcome – but the latter part of the primaries (in which Obama lost more than he won), Clinton framed the election more strongly than Obama did and controlled the narrative.

2) His ground game is the best grass-roots operation we’ve ever seen – I’m thrilled about it, this WILL make a difference. But, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a ground game can help at the margins in tight races. The macro-factors and the macro-narrative are what ultimately wins an election. Ground game is essential, but a proper media strategy and framing of the overall narrative will do more to move votes. Remember Texas? In the days leading up to that campaign, we read about the amazing ground operation that Obama had compared to the pitiful one Clinton had. We were so convinced about the outcome, it wasn’t even funny. And you know what? It was true: Obama’s ground game WAS much, much better than Clinton’s. And he lost.

3) I know Republicans who will vote for him, I’ve been registering voters, what about cell-phone polls, young people will turn out, he gets huge crowds, etc – All true, and all good things, but not one of them proves he will win this election. I hope everyone understands the danger of anecdotal evidence.

4) Obama is doing the right thing in not attacking McCain – he is waiting for the right time and then he’ll hit him. – When, pray tell, is the right time? In 2004, after weeks of waiting to respond on the Swiftboats, Kerry responded. Posts left and right, including a front-pager by Kos, called it a brilliant maneuver, waiting until the right moment to respond. I think we all know how wrong we were. If 2004 taught us anything, it should be that there is no “right moment” to attack. You always attack.

5) But Obama isn’t Kerry, and 2008 isn’t 2004 – Absolutely true. Obama isn’t Kerry. He’s more appealing, he’s a better politician, and is operating in a more Dem-friendly environment. He’s also young, black, and named Barack Obama, which, we all know, isn’t necessarily a great thing to certain parts of the country.

6) John McCain is a terrible candidate. Yes he is – and I think once people see him at the debates and elsewhere, that will make an impact.

7) There is a backlash, the press is turning on McCain – he losed Gergen and Klein. Bush wasn’t loved by columnists either. Who gives a crap about these guys?

My fearless predicition: the entire Republican convention will be a bash-Obama-fest. The Democratic convention will be a “we are ready for change” love-fest. And that dynamic worries the hell out of me. I genuinely believe that Obama needs to change the framing of this election ASAP, and his responses should no longer be, “John McCain is a hero running a dishonorable campaign, but I’m going to talk about the issues,” they should be “Given that John McCain wants to continue George Bush’s administration into a third term and knows so little about the economy, no wonder he’s resorting to these techniques.”

I genuinely believe that the media and advertising strategy he is following is not helping him win.

Am I wrong? It happens all the time, just ask my wife. Disagree with me. Tell me I’m wrong, and why I’m wrong. But I believe this strongly, and I’m going to keep saying so. Most of my diaries will be positive, and my goal isn’t to get anyone down. But there are many of us (I’m not presumptuous enough to think this is just about me), who will have constructive criticism, and I hope we all continue to write it.

If we mock and dismiss those who do so, we’ll succeed not in helping the Obama campaign, but in turning site like the DailyKos into a self-congratulatory site in which we insulate ourselves from the truly scary possibility that this election isn’t the sure-thing we all thought it would be.

But before that’s what we become, imagine the words President-elect John McCain and Barack Obama giving an eloquent concession speech.


August 3, 2008 - Posted by | Media Strategy | , , , ,


  1. 1) Why can’t Democrats hold our convention second? It sucks that Republicans have the last word…

    2) I agree with everything you said.

    Comment by jenontheshore | August 3, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks Jen – stay tuned, DailyKos version goes live tomorrow morning. Should be interesting.

    Comment by dansac | August 3, 2008 | Reply

  3. Wow! A few weeks ago I wrote to your site with the complaint that all you were doing was talking about why Obama will win.

    You assured me that there would be criticism. You were not kidding. Your post gives words to what I felt for the last several weeks.

    Unfortunately, Jenontheshore the party not in the White house traditionally goes first. I thought this really helped Bush in 88 and his son in 04. Clinton was far ahead in 96 so it
    did not matter much. Still, it eould be nice to have the advantage. I like that they have it right before the GOP, though.

    Comment by Paul Sickel in MKE | August 4, 2008 | Reply

  4. Judging by this post at HufPo, you are not alone in you concern.

    What do you suggest that we can do, I am being serious, to recognize the problem is one thing, but how can we at our level of influence, mitigate your concerns?

    Comment by Small d dem | August 4, 2008 | Reply

  5. A great article:

    The McCain Strategy Is Vintage Karl Rove, the Media Loves It, and the Obama Camp Is Not Taking It Seriously Enough

    “The Obama Camp seems not to grasp fully what is going on. Responding in logical, measured terms that rationally pushes back on McCain’s ads, they are missing the emotional side of the attacks that is the determining factor in 98% of decisionmaking, and, thus, voting.

    Using mockery McCain is trying to undermine, at the level of emotions, Obama’s charisma and the passions his candidacy stirs both in the US and around the world. Obama ought to begin by reminding people, “these are the same people, using the same tactics, that brought us George W Bush, and look what a disaster he is.”


    OBAMA – President 2008

    Comment by SharonAustinTX | August 4, 2008 | Reply

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