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Joseph Romm

Joseph Romm

Posted: September 9, 2008 07:27 PM

Rebranding Slick Sarah, the Make-Believe Maverick


VP choice Sarah Palin keeps repeating her lie that she said "thanks but no thanks" to the "Bridge to Nowhere" -- even in the face of unusually strong and widespread media debunking and strong visual evidence to the contrary. When Fox News' Chris Wallace debunks your multiple lies, it's probably time, at the very least, to work up some new lies.
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Either Slick Sarah cynically believes that you can fool all the people all the time, much as Bush and McCain do, or Prevaricatin' Palin has actually come to believe her own lies, much as Bush and McCain do.

And, of course, Slick Sarah is an old-style lobbyist-hiring pol, who may well be the queen of pork. Slick Sarah and her lobbyists lined Alaskan pockets with U.S. taxpayer money to the tune of $4000 per citizen of Wasilla. But McCain "can't wait to introduce her to Washington." If she replicates that "success" on a national level as VP, that would be more than $1 trillion in earmarks.

Slick Sarah is all hat and no moose. She's the make-believe Maverick.

Her obsessive phoniness in the face of the facts, I think, opens the door to not just call her a liar, as the campaign has started to do, but to actually give her a defining nickname to describe what appears to be a fundamental character flaw.

This strategy would also give you an instant framing response to every new lie, like the absurd "lipstick on a pig smear," which I discuss at the end.

Memorable nicknames stick to your lips like lipstick. They invariably use one of the memorable rhetorical figures of speech -- alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhyming, metaphor, or pun. [Yes, that is a bit redundant: Almost all of the figures of speech were developed 25 centuries ago specifically to aid the memory of both the speaker and the listener.] For instance, "Sarah Barracuda" is metaphor and assonance/consonance combined. Very memorable.

So I float the alliterative Slick Sarah, which has the additional benefit of a simple metaphorical word that conjures up oil slicks. I'd love to hear your suggestions. All you really need is a thesaurus and an imagination. Prevaricatin' Palin?

As for "make-believe Maverick" (alliteration and consonance), yes, I did just write a post saying Obama shouldn't keep calling Slick Sarah a maverick in his ads. And he shouldn't. But there is another rhetorical strategy worth considering. If you think a label is seared to the flesh like a real brand, then an even better strategy is to piggyback on the existing label.

Karl Rove and George W. Bush, for instance, knew they couldn't escape the conservative label, so they used alliteration, assonance, and consonance to create the memorable phrase, "compassionate conservative" -- you know, the kind of guy who waterboards people, but only with bottled water.

In this case, the McCain campaign is spending millions of dollars on ads to link their names irrevocably to the word maverick -- and the media has been sold on this particular myth. So rather than trying to spend millions of dollars countering that brand (or, foolishly, simply saying they are "not mavericks"), the trick is to taint their brand with an equally memorable phrase. That way, when voters go into the polls, they not only remember the word Maverick associated with McCain/Palin, but also "make believe." This is the Rovian jujitsu strategy, turn strengths into weaknesses.

It would require a great deal of repetition through advertising, the candidates, and their surrogates. And, of course, the blogosphere. Needless to say, Democrats are not known for picking a message and staying on it.

By the way, for all those who worry that the focus should be on McCain, not Palin -- defining Palin as the make-believe maverick is a two-fer, since it simultaneously rebrands McCain, too. They are, after all, the original make-believe Mavericks. As a bonus, slick rhymes with maverick.

Finally, the Dems should drop all criticism of Slick Sarah's supposed lack of experience. It is off message and just blows back to voter concerns about Obama. Indeed, going after her for lack of experience actually helps her -- it makes her seem like she's Mrs. Smith goes to Washington. The right message is that Slick Sarah has too much experience, not too little. Palin's pseudo-strength is that she and McCain are selling themselves as atypical politicians, supposed reformers and mavericks. But Palin is already the earmark queen, a leader in lobbying, and apparently a pathological liar or supremely cynical pol -- or both.

Hence Slick Sarah, the make-believe Maverick.

LIPSTICK UPDATE: Once you have established that Sarah is slick and that she and McCain are make-believe mavericks pushing the "old politics" -- then you have an automatic response to the next lie from the Palin-McCain campaign, like the absurd smear that Obama was referring to Palin when he said of the McCain campaign's new change theme, "you can't put lipstick on a pig."

You say, "Slick Sarah strikes again with another false smear" and "the make-believe mavericks are once again practicing the old politics of smear." Yes, you could call Palin-McCain liars, but their Rove-designed strategy is to simply lie all the time, so if you constantly call them liars -- and I'm aware that the Obama/Biden team hasn't come close to reaching that tipping point -- it wears thin.

In any case, the "liar, liar" attack has its limits because people assume politicians lie and the media hates to repeat the word "liar." More important, "liar" has no rhetorical memorableness in it, like Slick Sarah or make-believe maverick. If you don't use the figures of speech, your messaging won't be memorable.

Of course, the LAST thing you want to do is defensively repeat their inane message and say "I'm not sexist" (see "Obama, Don't Call McCain a Maverick Five Times in Your Ad!")

The only winning strategy is to respond to every attack with another attack. If you aren't attacking, you're losing.

To read more from Joseph Romm, go here.