Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Lips, Pigs and Stickiness

Losing campaigns always complain about their words being distorted and taken out of context. Post-2004, the term of art for that is “swiftboating.” And it seems that its preferred form this time around – in both the primaries and the general election – is what Obama today correctly labeled as “phony outrage.” Namely, you cite some statement by the other side and demand that the candidate publicly repudiate it. The Obamanauts did this repeatedly during the primaries – and, of course, O-man himself was forced to do the same dance on Wright and Phleger.

The question isn’t who has been indulging in this game of playground faux machismo – “You gonna take that from him?” All the candidates have done so. The question is which attacks stick, and why.

Read My Lips: For one of these accusations to have real, er, bite, it usually has to have emerged from the candidate’s own lips. Obama’s campaign was adept at turning utterances like “fairy tale” and Hillary’s praise of LBJ into dogwhistles on race – and, of course, they turned up the volume to 11 in pimping the blood libel that she had wished for Obama’s death via her RFK reference – sending the (finally, blessedly now demoted) Keith Olbermann’s deranged rant to anybody with an email account.

On the other side of that coin, they were able to derive real political benefit from the misogyny directed against Hillary by making sure their candidate’s own statements were suggestive but never over the top: “periodically”… “claws come out”… “likeable enough” and so on. (The most obvious exception was Obama's "bitter" slip-up.) They could stoke the fires of Hillary-hatred – never uttering one word of condemnation, never orchestrating one Sistah Souljah event for the record – with what seemed, at the time, like relatively low cost.

Pigs: But was the cost really low? It sure doesn’t look that way now. A nearly 20-point swing in white women from Obama to McCain, post-conventions? These arrogant, cult-of-personality amateurs can dismiss the PUMAs with all the derision they like… but how do they explain the fact that the simple selection of Palin – this one stroke of political jujitsu – could turn the whole election on its ear, knock down their narrative like a house of cards, transform what should be the overwhelming underdog into the apparent leader?

The male chauvinist pigs of the Left were allowed to run amok, and the damage to the Democratic Party brand has been enormous. Sarah Palin isn’t a pig – but these guys are. The damage probably isn’t permanent, but it’s really bad, near-term. No video exists of Obama standing up for women, but there’s loads of it demonstrating the vitriol directed against Hillary over months of the primaries. It’s into that context that Obama’s remark about putting lipstick on a pig plays – not just the context of Palin’s acceptance speech, but months and months of media imagery in which Obama was benefiting from misogyny, smirking all the way to the bank (and brushing any concerns off his shoulders and shoes like so much birdshit).

Sticks Like Glue: So… of course Obama’s remarks have been heard and read as referring to Palin. That’s the way most ordinary people heard them – including plenty in the shrillosphere. The Obamateurs never understood how to construct a meta-narrative… how to define the game, their candidate or their opponents… how to shift the debate to a frame that favored them. They never learned how to play chess. Instead, they sat back, smug in their own cleverness at gaming the caucuses and embracing the Net, and thought that was all that was necessary. Instead of building his brand, they ran out the clock – and then had the moronic gall to reject Hillary as the obvious veep, the one who would guarantee victory.

For all these months, they have never linked Obama’s brand to the economy, or healthcare, or the environment. Indeed, they’ve done everything they could to avoid linking him to anything specific. All that was the “old politics.” Well, now these poseurs are reaping the whirlwind. Not to mention, they have been irretrievably forced into playing defense. Two days, out of the precious few remaining until Election Day, spent talking about lipstick and pigs are two days that can never be used to provide a raison d’etre for this campaign.

It’s a joke for the lefty blogs and the MSM to keep urging Obama to take the gloves off and show some backbone. Not only isn’t that who he is, but even if he were Jake Lamotta, it’s too late. There simply isn’t time now for him to change the arena and redefine the battle. That’s the work of months, even years. It’s hard enough to do when the candidate’s career, thinking and brand are solid and clear. Even then, it takes great political skill. You have to be able to box like Ali – to be both the lead actor and the dramatist of the bout. To suddenly ask a candidate lacking in substance, one who has pissed away months during which he should’ve been building a brand, to do this work in real time is, well, unreal. We've seen what happens when this guy starts getting hit. He doesn't take a punch very well. He just dances away, and loses the late rounds.

This campaign bids fair to go down as the most empty and inept in modern Democratic Party presidential politics – which is saying something. In fact, the only difference between this effort and the Dukakis campaign is that Dukakis had actual ideas and integrity.


harpie said...

I find your commentary to be very informative and sharp. Thanks for helping me navigate through this campaign season.

Obama is certainly no Ali.

I'm just disgusted about this whole unnecessary MESS.

Unknown said...

You are GOOD!! Well thought out and said. No wonder Anglachel recommended your blog. Now--would like your take on Big Dawg and Barry's lunch yesterday. Guess we will never know what was said, but what would you have said-or imagined went down.

Falstaff said...

That's an excellent question, Mary K. It's one thing for Bill and Hillary -- as consummate professionals and tough, tough, tough human beings -- to suck it up, give those remarkable speeches at the convention... and then to carry it through in their performance as campaigners. But in private? After what Obama did to Clinton's legacy during the primaries? And, on the other side of that coin, given Bill's increasingly hair-trigger emotions?

I've also felt for some time that Bill and Hillary's relationship and feelings have been (and remain) a complicating factor in the whole event of her candidacy. It seemed to me that they would be divorced -- in actuality or in effect -- two years down the road, regardless of what happened. If she lost, and had no prospect of running again (because, I thought, any Dem would win, and then get re-elected), it removed one of the chief tethers keeping them together. And if she won, she would have to govern without him -- she would be being elected as The Woman Alone. So he'd get dispatched to some ceremonial job, or (more likely) continue to work on the Clinton Global Initiative. And, I thought, they both knew it. And, I thought, that must be informing the whole thing with incredibly complex and bittersweet emotions.

Well, now I'm no longer persuaded by my earlier expectations -- largely because I think that she'll run again if/when Obama loses. However, that notwithstanding, I do think the emotional volatility we saw from Bill during the primaries is in part a function of this welter of intertwined wishes and regrets.

And so, when one imagines the lunch between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, at this juncture, given all that's happened... well, it makes for a pretty juicy dramatic situation, doesn't it?

Where's Eugene O'Neill (or at least Harold Pinter) when you need him?

Palomino said...

Interesting how evocative the name "Dukakis" has become in the last few days. Signs are turning up all over. And though it's true what you say about Dukakis and his campaign, I would add one more contrast. With Dukakis, there were no grounds for legitimate questions about his character (not that the Bush forces didn't smear him anyway), whereas with Obama any number of such questions have been ignored or, shall we say, lipsticked over by the Obamatron media. Anyway, Falstaff, good job. I've added you to my blogroll.