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Paul Abrams

Paul Abrams

Posted: August 3, 2008 08:00 PM

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


There is a plausible argument that no one has so negatively impacted the lives of the American people and the world as has Karl Rove. Not only did he elect an incompetent, not only did he misuse the White House to further his goal of a permanent Republican majority, but he has destroyed the American political dialogue.

The mainstream media, interested only in ratings, has lapped it up. What simpler and inexpensive way to cover a contest whose outcome has profound stakes for the entire world than to treat the nonsense as important. Fox "News," interested only in electing Republicans, has presented it as, to quote Rove himself about the outing of Valerie Plame, "fair game."

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."

In the Democratic primaries Obama used one very successful strategy of calling out the tactic, thus bringing it to peoples' consciousness, rather than leaving it buried in the emotional side of the brain. Hillary's "the sky is going to open" attempted mockery did not take hold, and she did not pursue it, in part because much of the primary electorate would not have tolerated it.

But, the McCain people do not care about much of the Democratic primary electorate. They want to undermine Obama, so their guy does not appear to be as lame as he actually is. Early in his career Rove and his people promoted death in the form of cigarettes. Then it was Bush. Now, it's McCain. They do not stop on their own, you have to stop them by making the price they pay too painful to continue.

Remember the Rove tactic: find your opponent's strength, and attack it. The Rove protégés running the McCain campaign (doubtless with help from Karl Rove) have analyzed Obama's major strength to be his ability to create a movement with passion. Not only can such passion become infectious, it also has the ability to change politics post-election by going over the heads of lobbyists and the DC-insiders to apply enormous people pressure on Members of Congress. The first Earth Day was a good example: 20 million people participated, 7 of the first 'dirty-dozen' pro-polluters were then defeated, and then the new Congress passed, and Richard Nixon (!) signed, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Environmental Protection Act, just to name-drop a few.

Barack Obama can do the same for healthcare, for energy, and for a host of other important endeavors to clean up the mess created by Karl Rove's marionette. That, and a new Justice Department exposing the lies and crimes of this un-American regime, represent an enormous threat to the radical rightwing movement that, incidentally, was spawned as a reaction to the success of Earth Day.

What the McCain campaign is doing is vintage Rove. It is difficult to attack directly for being charismatic, and so they have taken to mockery, Hillary's "sky is going to open" taken to new heights. The same John McCain who kowtowed to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- different from the John McCain who called them agents of intolerance -- has signed onto this strategy -- different from the John McCain who promised a respectful campaign (the respectful folks were dishonorably discharged).

McCain's mother's characterization of the ads as "stupid" notwithstanding, it will be a terrible mistake for the Obama Campaign to treat it as such, about as "stupid" as the Kerry Campaign strategists deciding they had "answered" the swiftboats in the spring of '04, and thus did not need to respond when they were resurrected in the fall campaign.

Although we would all prefer talking about more substantive matters, most Americans agree with the Democratic Party's positions anyhow. Only by smearing the policy issues (e.g., if you want universal healthcare, you must be for socialism), or undermining the messenger, has the rightwing been able to overcome the natural affinity for Democratic policies.

Successfully parrying the Rovian tactic of undermining Obama's charisma, therefore, needs to be an important point of Obama's campaign strategy. Using the opening provided to counterattack, to make them pay for their tactic, is part of the strategy.

The key is to take it seriously, and that means, REPEAT. And, when the McCain campaign shuts up, keep REPEATING it.

Parry: This is easy. Use themes such as "for the last 8 years, Bush -- with McCain's support -- have lost the respect of our allies. Won't it be great, and powerful, to regain that respect, so the US does not have to go it alone?" (footage of Obama in Europe, speaking to crowds, huddling with leaders). "For the last 8 years, Americans have been ashamed of its leaders. Won't it be great to have a leader again, that has won the respect of both world leaders and the people they represent?" (similar footage). End with more footage of Obama speaking to large crowds: "This is the support we had after 9/11, and then Bush -- with McCain's support--squandered it. To John McCain, it is a big joke, something to mock, and he's spending millions of dollars to belittle me. This time, when you vote, vote as if your whole world depended on it. Because it does."

Counterattack #1: "There's a good reason John McCain does not draw large, enthusiastic crowds...he has nothing to say that George Bush has not been saying, and he does not know what he is talking about when he does".....Show an empty stadium; trot out some of the DNC footage of McCain praising the economic situation. Add to it his gaffes (including Joe Lieberman whispering in his ear), and his statement about the Iraq-Pakistan border..... and his vote for the Iraq War....and then, hit him on his experience, "John McCain claims to have experience, but has it been useful: he didn't know you were hurting economically, he didn't even understand who the enemy is in Iraq, he still has not apologized to the American people for promoting and voting for the war in Iraq"....."why listen to someone who has nothing to say" (still of empty stadium)..

Counterattack #2: Call out Karl Rove, and the McCain people who are Rove's disciples, by calling them, "the people who brought us George W Bush"...talk directly about how their brand of politics has crippled the country from addressing real problems that real people need addressed. End with a picture of McCain along with Rove and the disciples, and the phrase, "John McCain, brought to you by the same people who brought you George Bush".

And, REPEAT.

If the stupidity of McCain's ads lulls Obama's campaign into believing they need not take them seriously, there is a Massachusetts Senator who may have some experience to suggest otherwise.