03 September 2008
What lessons can the Democrats learn from the GOP smear machine?
Rather a nice Christmas card, don't you think? Actually, its part of a smear campaign run by one section of the Republican Party against another. The victim was Mitt Romney and the card was mailed under his name to GOP members in South Carolina last December. Let's take a look at it in more detail.
The picture shows a New England scene, just to remind everyone that Romney is a Yankee. The text of from the Book of Mormon, and that reminds them all that Mitt is of that strange creed himself. It comes with the words "Happy Holiday Season," instead "of Merry Christmas," which must have cheesed off the anti-PC element. Finally, any black Republicans would have just loved the bit about the Virgin Mary being "exceedingly fair and white".
John McCain has been on the receiving end of his own party's smear machine as well, most notably in 2000 when he felt the blast of the Bush version, as orchestrated by Karl Rove:
. . .Bush loyalists, maybe working for the campaign, maybe just representing its interests, claimed in parking-lot handouts and telephone "push polls" and whisper campaigns that McCain’s wife, Cindy, was a drug addict, that McCain might be mentally unstable from his captivity in Vietnam, and that the senator had fathered a black child with a prostitute. Callers push-polled members of a South Carolina right-to-life organization and other groups, asking if the black baby might influence their vote. . . The attacks were of a level and vitriol that even McCain, who was regularly beaten in captivity, could not ignore. He began to answer the slights, strayed off message about how he would lead the nation if he got the chance, and lost the war for South Carolina. . .All of these smears, and the Obama is a Muslim line that is being trotted out at the moment, have three things in common: they are simple to understand, they have just enough truth in them to be plausible and they are interesting. John and Cindy McCain did adopt a Bangladeshi baby in 1993, so at a push the Bush machine was correct to call her black. The prostitute bit was added later for extra colour, as it were. Cindy McCain did become addicted to the painkillers that had relieved her during an illness, so the "drug addict" smear had some wind behind it. This is the key to the success of the Republican smear machine; they take something and corrupt it, whilst keeping the whole narrative simple and interesting to the listener.
The Democrats don't do as well because they tend to make things horribly complicated. The Sarah Palin smear is a case in point. They created a wonderful scenario that could have been true, so it met one of the GOP criteria. The tale was intereresting, so it met a second test, but alas it failed the third. The smear was complicated, it relied on people having a level of concentration sufficient enough to plod their way through a now deleted posting that went on for over 1,000 words.
Even when the Democrats do manage to get the simplicity and plausibility factors right they still mange to mess things up on the interest front. So Palin's supposed links to the Alaska Independence Party and her wearing of a Pat Buchanan badge when the latter visited her state are simple enough to understand, as well as being plausible enough in their way, but it is the significance of the stories that will catch people out. Put another way, you can imagine a gang of truck drivers sat around drinking coffee and talking about John McCain and black prostitutes. It is hard to imagine them getting worked up about the constitutional ramifications of Sarah Palin and the AIP.
Most of the hits on this blog are now coming from people who are searching on terms like Sarah Palin Nude, Sarah Palin upskirt, Sarah Palin nipslip and Sarah Palin bikini. If the Democrats are serious about winning this race then they need to take a final leaf out of the Karl Rove play book and go with the flow on this one. Find the embarrassing photos that everyone believes are out there and publish them. Encourage people to believe what they want to believe, which in this case is that Sarah Palin is a bimbo. The fact that she isn't is neither here nor there: that's the narrative coming off the web, folks, and the hits prove it.
The Democrats won't do this, of course. What they will do is to stick with stories that are either too complicated, not plausible or just downright boring.