Monday, February 18, 2008

Republican Attack Plan on Obama

Campaign propaganda is largely designed to frame the image of one's opponent in terms favorable to one's own candidacy. Nothing controversial or surprising about that. What is astonishing is how many people fall for it. So, while you can find as much policy substance out of the Obama campaign as you can from Clinton or McCain, the Clinton campaign's caricature of Obama as big on rhetoric but short on policy substance has had great success in the media and in everyday political discussions in framing Obama's candidacy. Hillary Clinton even used the "all hat, no cattle" expression the other day in El Paso (that line, I believe, is originally Ann Richards', directed presciently at George W. Bush during the gubernatorial race in 1994), obliquely directed at Obama.

In the most successful propaganda, the truth is set to the side, but there must always be at least some plausible connection to the truth. There's nothing empirical about the "all hat, no cattle" claim in Obama's case, at least not in any way that wouldn't also apply to Clinton herself. But it has had some degree of success sticking to Obama in the broader public discussion and its shepherds in the media.

The propaganda maneuver is designed to hit Obama where he's clearly stronger than the other candidates - his inspirational speaking abilities. One further clever effect, however, for the Clinton campaign is that, as the media caricature gains further public traction, it will call out Obama into the open to detail substantive policy proposals, perhaps even much more so than Clinton and McCain. The assumption is that Clinton has the upper hand when it comes to policy wonking. I'm not so sure about that. The Clinton campaign may have fallen for its own propaganda. Nonetheless, as I've mentioned before, any policy will always have its detractors. So, the more concrete the policy proposals, the easier the campaign is to attack by generating more voters who may have liked the general policy idea but now have reservations about the details. The Clinton strategy is akin to Bush's claimed strategy of ostensibly drawing al Qaeda into the open in Iraq all the better to attack it.

Of course, more details on policy proposals is generally a good thing. Citizens can make better informed decisions based on the greater policy transparency. But, as a propaganda maneuver, it is designed not to apply equally to all candidates. In this schema, only Obama has the problem of being all about the rhetoric. A savvy electorate will call out all three candidates. Basically, that's the risk of the propaganda move. I suppose the hope is that the damage to the Obama campaign will have been done by then.

Still... it's astonishing how many people fall for such techniques, even when applied to their own candidate. Maybe it's helpful if we see what's coming before it takes fuller form in the media.

TPM takes a rough stab at the first Republican attack themes to be used against Obama. Keep an eye on how these develop.

He is not ready to be commander in chief.

Taking a page from the Hillary Clinton campaign, he had a "pattern of voting 'present'" in the Illinois legislature.

The Republicans "can be confident in a campaign about issues," seemingly in contrast to his mere rhetoric.

He is inexperienced.

P.s. And don't forget the "shady Chicago socialist."

See also the NY Times jumping on the same bandwagon.


See also this National Review Online piece strategizing the McCain attack on Obama.


troutsky said...

You can almost see the spittle fly as Norquist hurls the "s" word.Why not add anti-Christ?

CKR said...

I'm wondering if all this will work this time. I can't produce a lot of hard evidence for it, but I have the feeling that the blogosphere is limiting the damage that this sort of thing can do, at least the blatantly false.