Death by Process Story

Every Democrat conscious during the 2000 election remembers the utter frustration and annoyance at the media focusing on process over policy - we didn't get comparisons of Gore's Social Security plans to those of Bush's; we got stories about whether Gore was changing his wardrobe to include more earthy tones.

We didn't get analysis on the inept performance of George Bush in the debates, we got a 'sigh count' for Al Gore.

Over the months - it mushroomed into all sorts of nonsense.  Gore was corrupt.  Gore was a serial exaggerator.  Gore invented the internet.

My friends - if I could borrow from your opponent - it's time for a little payback.

It's time to start 'Goreing' John McCain - and we can do it in a completely respectful, seemingly benign, and totally stealthy way.

This article from Time gives us the perfect opening, the foundation of introducing John McCain to "Political Death by Process Story".  

For all his mavericky street cred, John McCain has, in fact, proven himself to be utterly inept at running a campaign.  His initial push for the GOP nomination in 2007 was an abject failure - and he only found himself rescued into the nomination by the incompetence of his opposition.

McCain, meanwhile, is still formulating his general-election pitch and struggling to build his core team. He is also trying, for the second time in as many years, to create a campaign that can win on a big scale. His previous attempt to run as the institutional candidate, with a projected nine-figure budget, failed spectacularly last July and nearly forced him out of the GOP race.

We've seen -- 6 months late -- Senator McCain shocked, SHOCKED to find his staff rife with lobbyists and now trimming senior staff from an already understaffed and underwhelming campaign team.

We've seen McCain's staff show an utter neglect for the fine art of 'vetting'... Every candidate has the occasional vetting mistake - a surrogate or endorser with more explosive baggage (or a bigger mouth) than expected.   In John McCain's case - it seems the brigade he tabbed to protect his religious right flank was completely unvetted.

While there's plenty of hay to be made about the substance of a Hagee or a Gramm - the real hidden gem is in the process of how a Hagee endorsement was ever sought.... of how a Phil Gramm, a lobbyist for a bank knee deep in possible litigation and bad press over the mortgage crisis, became his chief financial adviser.

This, folks, is the opening.  It's the innocuous foot in the door that Team Bush used in 2000 to sink Gore.  Create the process doubt, add a little sunshine, and suddenly Mr. Straight Talk morphs into a liar:

 "He said, 'I want the strictest policy against lobbyists we can have, the strictest anybody's ever had.' And that was it."

Except it wasn't. McCain had been leaning on current and former lobbyists for months in part because he's never had a grass-roots fund-raising operation akin to Obama's.

He's incompetent:

Back in Washington, the anxiety level of Republicans is rising. "The McCain camp is now acting without much rhyme or reason," says a prominent consultant. "And it all goes to the top." Another Republican campaign strategist, in a thinly veiled reference to McCain, says, "Somebody is behaving impulsively is the point."

He's nothing but an angry old man:

But not all of McCain's problems can be laid at the feet of the incumbent. His penchant for sometimes impulsive action has, in one high-profile case, backfired on his campaign. Reports surfaced in early May that two campaign aides had worked a few years earlier representing the military junta in Burma. When he read the news, he was furious and ordered up a strict new policy against lobbyists on his team.

Think it's hitting below the belt to so cavalierly toss around themes like "liar", "incompetent", and "angry"?

Hey - me too... but then, I didn't write the piece in Time.  It's not my fault Michael Scherer implies these things about McCain - and I certainly wouldn't go there, but the disorganization, the continuous mistakes, the back-biting, the battles, the disgruntled ex-staffers - it sure is interesting, isn't it?

The perfect strategy for Obama and the Democrats - and I think, too, those of us in the blogosphere -- isn't to make the charges ourself.  Who's going to listen to us on that front except ourselves?

Rather, we highlight every staff shakeup... Why was so-and-so forced out?  Why did so-and-so have a job on the staff to begin with?

We scour the written/video/audio record for every trace of disagreement between John McCain and members of his campaign staff.  

We closely watch for changes in appearance - new ties, new jacket colors... changes in venue types... the silly, inane things that the press just LOVES to spend its time analyzing.  We're never going to contain the jackals - so we might as well feed them their preferred sustenance, preferably the McCain flavored version of it.

We couch our arguments to include process aspects, including them as interesting little bon mots to open our calls to talk radio, our LTEs, our conversations with friends, our e-mails.

We rocket stories of staff shakeups to Rec lists and internet popularity contests... from digg to DK to mydd to Yahoo.

The media is presenting us with the very same self-starter kit that the GOP used so effectively in 2000 against Al Gore.  

We might as well use it.

Tags: 2008 Presidential election, John McCain, strategy (all tags)



Remember, too

We have to have patience with the tactic.

Al Gore didn't go from 'earthy tones' to 'serial exaggerator' to 'corrupt liar' overnight.

Stick with it.  Build a crescendo of process stories - and before you know it, the press will take it upon itself to build the negative narrative all by its self.

by zonk 2008-05-29 09:25AM | 0 recs
I dunno

I'm not sure I like becoming the enemy I despise.

by Dracomicron 2008-05-29 09:41AM | 0 recs
Well, here's the thing...

The press is going to do it anyway.

I'd prefer they feed on the McCain campaign rather than the Obama campaign.

I personally don't care where they take the process stories - angry, dishonest, whatever - or let it just be a massive time waster for McCain, constantly throwing him off message.

I'm always a bit puzzled when folks of any partisan stripe talk about the liberal bias, the conservative bias, the Clinton bias, or the Obama bias...

I'm not saying there isn't some of that -- but ultimately, feed the press a process story and watch it grow like a monster.

It's afflicted everyone this cycle.

McCain made his 'comeback' in the shadows, after the press had nearly 'process storied' him out of the race in 2007.

Obama has had his process story cycles - I personally think it's what killed him in OH and TX (NAFTA/Goolsbee/the poor initial response).   I'm not saying he wins without it, but it didn't help that Sunday/Monday was all about process.

Clinton has had hers... Mark Penn... post 2/5 strategy... caucus disregard... money woes... loans.

The press will feast on process stories on their own - I'd rather give them the main course of McCain than have them eating Obama.

by zonk 2008-05-29 10:31AM | 0 recs
I do hear you

I just have a personal antipathy towards wasting time with pointless stuff.  

Though I have been enjoying the lobbyist witch-purge that McCain's camp has been subjected to.  He's going to be down to temps by the time this is all over.

by Dracomicron 2008-05-29 10:55AM | 0 recs


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