THE BLOG
10/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Obama Counter-Programs The RNC, And Hurricanes Sarah And Gustav

Former McCain and Schwarzenegger chief strategist Mike Murphy and former Reagan chief speechwriter Peggy Noonan say what they really think about the Palin Pick.

What a bizarre week in presidential politics for Barack Obama to mount a counter-programming effort. He has the Republican National Convention and Hurricanes Gustav and Sarah. And it's going pretty well for him. Not that he has all that much to do with it.

Hurricane Gustav disrupted the flow of the Republican national convention. Hurricane Sarah distracted from the substance of the convention, though she has emerged as the new star of the right.

We may never know everything that Team Obama would have done to counter-program the RNC, absent the twin hurricanes. There's the TV spot for battleground states proclaiming that John McCain still means "no change," even with the rookie Alaska governor, whose principal claim to fame before 2007 is her mayoralty of a town of 6700, on the ticket.

Barack Obama's TV ad saying that the new McCain/Palin ticket means "No change" from eight years of Bush and Cheney.

There are the state-specific ads touting Joe Biden as a true son of Pennsylvania, and Obama as the champion of Michigan.

Joe Biden says he is a son of "Scranton," a pivot point in the fight for Pennsylvania.

There's the radio ad for battleground states making it clear that Obama and Biden are pro-choice, and McCain and Palin, like the hardline Republican platform, are against abortion in all circumstances.

Barack Obama, in this new ad for battleground Michigan, says he is the only candidate on the side of the average American.

Obama set up a war room in St. Paul to counter the Republican spin machine. Would it have tried to match the new Steve Schmidt-inspired operation blow-for-blow?

That has certainly not been the theory of the Obama campaign.

A number of commentators on the hard right have cited McCain's status as a former fighter pilot -- actually, he flew the A-4, not the F-4, so he was a fighter-bomber attack pilot and not a fighter pilot -- to account for the swift and combative nature of his campaign. They've cited the OODA loop, military jargon for Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action. That's a false view.

McCain's campaign was fairly slow until Schmidt, who ran the Bush/Cheney war room in 2004, took over. Schmidt, as Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who called the McCain campaign "a war room masquerading as a presidential campaign," says, comes out of the war room mentality.

But with the OODA loop, which is actually known as the Boyd Cycle, he brings something much more. OODA standing for Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action.

I introduced Schmidt, in 2006, to the Boyd Cycle. To the consternation of Schmidt's juniors in the Arnold Schwarzenegger re-election campaign, as Schmidt absorbed the very lengthy paper by retired Air Force Colonel John Boyd entitled "Patterns of Conflict" and made its principles a matter of required understanding in the Schwarzenegger campaign.

What Boyd, whose thinking played a major role in informing 1980s military reformers Gary Hart and Newt Gingrich, did is give a whole new take on the theory of conflict. For electoral politics, it means that you observe what your opponent is doing, orient yourself to it, decide what is the best course of action to defeat it, and then take that action.

Victory, as Colonel Boyd pointed out, after first noticing the pattern in studying footage of Korean War aerial dogfights, generally goes to the party which first understands what the enemy is doing and responds most swiftly and decisively. This, as Boyd pointed out in his long paper, is true in aerial dog fights and in lengthy wars involving multiple dimensions of conflict, throughout history.

Schmidt adapted this approach first in dealing with Schwarzenegger's hapless Democratic 2006 gubernatorial opponent, Phil Angelides. More recently, he used the approach to deconstruct Obama's greatest strength and turn it into a weakness, in the form of the "celebrity" ads which countered Obama's triumphant tour of the Middle East and Western Europe.

Of course, the Boyd Cycle can be used against McCain, as well. As I have pointed out, without previously referring to the Boyd Cycle per se.

The Obama campaign has employed an entirely different theory of conflict. Unlike Team McCain, they don't try to win every angle and turn of the media cycle. And they seldom get inside what their opponents are doing.

They might have started doing that this week. But we may never know, as Hurricanes Gustav and Sarah made it impossible to do so while still looking good for the public.

Bill O'Reilly started working on booking Barack Obama in January, as you see in this video of his fractious encounter with Obama's advance staff and Secret Service detail.

One thing that Obama is doing against the grain, for a change, is appearing on the Fox News program "The O'Reilly Factor" on Thursday night, the same night that John McCain gives his acceptance speech at the Republican national convention.

Here we see Bill O'Reilly trying to book that program, last January in New Hampshire. And, as O'Reilly shouts away, running into serious difficulty with Obama's advance staff and the Secret Service.

Here is the script to Obama's radio ad, which you can listen to here, now running in most of the battleground states, addressing the threat posed by the McCain/Palin ticket to abortion rights.

OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama, candidate for president, and I approved this message.

VAL BARON: As a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood, I know abortion is one of most difficult decisions a woman will ever make. I'm Val Baron. Let me tell you - if Roe v Wade is overturned, the lives and health of women will be put at risk. That's why this election is so important. John McCain's out of touch with women today. McCain wants to take away our right to choose. That's what women need to understand. That's how high the stakes are.

ANNCR: As president, John McCain will make abortion illegal. McCain says quote, "I do not support Roe v. Wade. It should be overturned." And listen to McCain's answer on Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: "A constitutional amendment to ban all abortions. You're for that?"

McCAIN: "Yes, sir."

VAL BARON: We can't let John McCain take away our right to choose. We can't let him take us back.

ANNCR: Paid for by Obama for America.