The Democratic National Convention got underway and on television yesterday in Charlotte, N.C. I do intend to watch what I can, but I couldn’t tune in last night. Could anyone report on what transpired? What themes do you expect to see? What arguments or what feelings will the Democrats use to keep Americans from concentrating on the usual determining issue, that it’s the economy, stupid? Are you finding their appeals at least rhetorically effective?
One argument we are already hearing is that if you are against President Obama you must be racist. That’s a powerful subliminal argument, though when it’s made explicit it can get pretty ridiculous. Thus Democrats are taking umbrage (or pretending to do so) at a raft of seemingly-innocent words that they claim are actually code for racism. Among them:
Holding Down the Fort
For explanations and quotations see That’s Racist! – Michelle Malkin – National Review Online.
The bill to ban abortion for the purpose of sex-selection was defeated in the House of Representatives. Because of a procedural move by Republicans (which tells me they weren’t serious about trying to pass it) the bill had to get 2/3 of the votes.
So guess how Democrats are spinning this? Gender-selection abortions are common in Asia, especially in China and India, where there is a strong cultural preference for boys over girls. This is also happening with at least some Asian-Americans. So Democrats are saying that the Republicans who favored the bill are racist against Asian-Americans! Really!
The New York Times broke a shocking story:
Joe Ricketts, an up-by-the-bootstraps billionaire whose varied holdings include a name-brand brokerage firm in Omaha, a baseball team in Chicago, herds of bison in Wyoming and a start-up news Web site in New York, wanted to be a player in the 2012 election. On Thursday he was, though not in the way he had intended.
Word that Mr. Ricketts had considered bankrolling a $10 million advertising campaign linking President Obama to the incendiary race-infused statements of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., brought waves of denunciation from Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign and much of the rest of the political world.
It seems Ricketts, an owner of the Chicago Cubs, started a Super-PAC to support Mitt Romney. One of the proposals put forward by a political operative was to associate President Obama with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his radical former pastor. Apparently, the proposal was “racially tinged.” So Ricketts and Romney are getting slammed accordingly.
But Mitt Romney has repudiated the tactic. Even more to the point, RICKETTS repudiated the ad. There is no ad! Ricketts refused to fund it. Not once it hit papers, at the time it was proposed! Somebody suggested doing this, but everyone said “no.”
So what is the story? There is no story.
It would be as if a reporter from Fox News was in a bar and overheard some drunk say, “I’m for Obama, and I gave his campaign twenty bucks! And I think the first thing he should do is kill all the capitalists!” The reporter then runs a story with the headline, “Obama supporter calls for killing capitalists.”
Stephen Pearlstein sees a shift in the campaign strategies of both sides:
The winning strategy is no longer to be more moderate than your opponent, to offer a bigger tent. Instead, it is to be more zealous and committed to your party’s ideology.
This transformation has its roots in what has become the dominant reality of American politics: the arms race in campaign finance. Candidates and parties now raise and spend enormous sums, well beyond what would reasonably be needed to provide for a well-informed electorate and well beyond what is raised and spent in other advanced democracies.
These days, the average Senate candidate raises and spends $9 million to win election, which works out to slightly more than $4,000 for each day of a six-year term. For the average House candidate, it’s $1.4 million, or just under $2,000 per day in office (including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays). These sums are several times what they were 25 years ago.
Given this dramatic increase in campaign spending by those with the most intimate knowledge of campaigns, and with the most at stake in the outcomes, it’s probably safe to conclude that this spending must work — that it can determine the outcome of close contests. In fact, it appears to work so well that it has now been embraced by a growing legion of “independent” entities with their own fundraising and campaign spending.
And how is the money spent? Anyone with a telephone, TV set or Internet connection has surely noticed that it is mainly used to produce an ever-increasing volume of negative, distorting and ideologically tinged advertising about opposing candidates and parties.
Contrary to what many believe, the central effect of such negative advertising isn’t to move voters from supporting another candidate to backing yours, as Mitt Romney and his allies have discovered during this primary season. The main effect is not even to move undecided voters into your column. No, the real effect of negative advertising is to energize and solidify support among your ideological base while turning everyone else off to the other candidate, the campaign and the entire electoral process. Negative advertising isn’t about changing minds; it’s about altering the composition of the voter pool on Election Day by turning moderate voters into non-voters.
This is particularly true in low-turnout elections such as primaries and midterm contests. But it is even true these days in high-turnout elections. . . .
Energizing the base has another important advantage: It increases campaign contributions from both small donors and rich zealots. That money can be plowed back into yet more negative advertising along with sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day. This self-reinforcing cycle creates a strong incentive for politicians to abandon the center and move permanently to the ideological extreme. You do not energize the base through moderation and compromise. . . .
There is a vigorous academic debate over whether negative advertising depresses or increases voter turnout. I suspect it does both, depressing turnout among moderates and independents while stimulating it at the ideological extremes. In that process, what has changed is the composition of the turnout rather than its overall level.
via Today’s paper.
When a politician makes a mistake, sometimes it gets turned into a disqualification. Sometimes it gets ignored. Chris Cillizza explains which ones stick and which ones don’t:
Gaffes that matter are those that speak to a larger narrative about a candidate or a doubt/worry that voters already have about that particular candidate.
Take the gaffe du jour — Mitt Romney aide Erik Fehrnstrom’s reference to an Etch-a-Sketch when asked whether the former Massachusetts governor’s move to the ideological right in the primary would hurt him with general election voters.
The Etch-a-Sketch incident is likely to linger in the electorate because it speaks to a broader storyline already bouncing around the political world: That Romney lacks any core convictions and that he will say and do whatever it takes to win. (It IS worth noting that Romney didn’t say the Etch-a-Sketch line — making it less powerful and perhaps less long lasting.). . .
To that point, the Democratic National Committee released their second Etch-a-Sketch web video in as many days:
Contrast Fehnstrom’s gaffe with President Obama’s slip-up in May 2008 when he told a crowd in Oregon: “Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states?”
Conservatives insisted that the reason that gaffe didn’t get enough attention was because of the media’s favoritism directed toward Obama. But, the truth is that the “57 states” comment didn’t become a defining moment in the 2008 campaign because there was no “Obama isn’t smart enough to be president” narrative out there. Democrats, independents and even many Republicans agreed that Obama had the intellectual goods to be president although there was considerable disagreement about whether his policies were the right fit for the country.
While Obama’s “57 states” gaffe never caught on, his comments about rural voters “clinging” to their religion and their guns — made at a fundraising event in California — became a huge problem for his campaign. Why? Because there was an “Obama as elitist” narrative already in the political bloodstream that his “cling” comments played directly into.
Recent (and even not-so-recent) political campaigns are filled with gaffes that prove our point.
* Massachusetts Sen John Kerry’s order of swiss cheese on his cheesesteak mattered because he was already fighting against the idea that he was out of touch with average Americans.
* Rick Perry’s “oops” moment mattered because from the second the Texas governor announced his 2012 candidacy for president there were questions about whether or not he was up to the task.
* George H.W. Bush looking at his watch during a presidential debate in the 1992 campaign mattered because there was a already a sense in the electorate that the incumbent president was aloof and uncaring.
* Edmund Muskie’s tearing up in New Hampshire during the 1972 presidential campaign mattered because it reinforced the idea kicking around in political circles that he was emotionally unstable and prone to burst of temper.
But the “narratives” have to come from somewhere, usually from things candidates do and say, including other gaffes. What turns a gaffe into a narrative, which then shapes which other gaffes are meaningful, seems to be a different process, with political spinners playing a big role.
And along this line, what do you think about President Obama’s latest gaffe, in which he gets caught on an open microphone telling the president of Russia to give him “space” until he is re-elected, whereupon he will be able to be more “flexible” in presumably giving the Russians what they want on a missile defense agreement. Will that one stick? Should it?