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Obama's Campaign Doesn't Understand the Narrative of a Schoolyard Bully

10/10/2008 05:12 am 05:12:02 | Updated May 25, 2011

Joe Biden forgot the lesson his mother taught him as a child. He recalled how, "when I got knocked down by guys bigger than me -- and this is the God's truth -- she sent me back out and said, 'Bloody their nose so you can walk down the street the next day.' And that's what I did."

Tony Soprano's psychiatrist gave pretty much the same sage advice. "People sense you're weak, they see an opportunity," Dr. Melfi told Tony, who wanted to stop and smell the roses after his near death experience. She suggested he do something to show he remains a decisive leader.

"Tony arrives at the pork store and sees the crew sunning themselves and playing basketball. Tony sizes up the crew, seemingly to try to determine whom is the most physically impressive. He chooses his young, muscular bodyguard, Perry. Tony tries to bait him into a confrontation but Perry does not respond, knowing exactly what will happen if he beats up Tony. With his crew looking on, Tony sucker punches his bodyguard, starting a one-sided fight that ends with Perry bleeding on the floor and Tony walking away seemingly unscathed."

Mission accomplished.

Everyone understands and responds to the emotional dynamic of a schoolyard bully. If you think it's something we all left behind with high school, you haven't been paying attention. Or, more likely, you haven't been watching Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, or reality shows that invite us to revel in the humiliation of others. You don't understand the appeal of professional wrestling or talk radio or why Howard Stern is considered "King of All Media." And more importantly, you don't understand why these shows remain enormously popular. Or why the Republican message still works.

Or why Joe Biden's early response fell far too short.

"They were like the kids, you know, when you went to school and you were very proud of the new belt you had and the shoes you had. And there was always one kid in the class who said, 'Oh, are they your brother's?' Remember that kid? That's what this reminded me of. 'Oh, I love that dress, is that your mother's?' You know what I'm talking about."

I sure do. But then you have to ask the next question. Do the other kids in the playground line up behind the bully or the object of the bully's scorn? No doubt, Dr. Lakoff could expatiate more eloquently on the emotional and linguistic dynamics of the bullying narrative, but time is running out. So here's my pitch to the Obama campaign.

The way to respond to a Republican is to talk like a Republican. You need to use stock phrases that insinuate your disrespect and contempt for the other side.

Here are the stock Republican phrases that Democrats should repeat over and over:

"He's running from his record..."
"He can't deal with ...(a) the facts, (b) the truth"
"Out of one side of his mouth he says.... out of the other side of his mouth he says..."
"He has a problem telling the whole truth..."
"His memory gets fuzzy when...."
"He needs to learn to focus..."
"Put up or shut up..."
"He's rewriting history..."
"He has a little amnesia..."

And to digress a bit, they should frame every comment on economic policy with, "I'm not like John McCain. My grandfather didn't own an oil company..."

If you want a role model, check out how Keith Olbermann does it. Olbermann gets the dynamic, because his background is in sports.