<B>Tactical Animal: On Politicking</b>
Sep 2012 25

Tactical Animal: On Politicking

Posted In Activism,Blog,Politics

by ChrisSick

Or, a helpful guide for aspiring Werewolves and how that leads to the strangulation of senatorial aspirations by very expensive coattails.

“He [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] is the latest in a long line of political leaders to channel the ruthless wisdom of another former Senate majority leader, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who, as the late Hunter S. Thompson told it, sealed a comeback win in his 1948 Senate primary campaign by calling a news conference to allege that his opponent, a prominent and well-regarded pig rancher, ‘was having routine carnal knowledge of his barnyard animals.’

When Johnson’s press secretary balked, saying it wasn’t true, Johnson spat back: ‘Of course it’s not, but let’s make the bastard deny it.’”

—Gregory J. Krieg, Harry Reid’s Attack Boxes Mitt Romney In, ABC News, 7 Auguest,2012

Let us, for a moment, in a relatively slow week that’s already been much dissected and discussed, get a bit…elemental.

Politicians, at bottom, have only one job that comes in two parts. Traditionally they really only had to work at this job in the late summer and early fall, but these days they tend to be year round affairs. To be a politician:

1. Move in a straight line.
2. Move your opponent off their straight line.

That line, of course, being basically a straight shot to whatever office they’re running for.

This is politics at its most basic, and come debate night, as you soak in the warm stream of disinformation fed to you by professional talking heads — many of whom should probably be in prison — you’ll probably hear the phrase on-message quite a bit. You’ll hear, and surely have heard, much talk of candidates building narratives. You’ll hear dissection, autopsy, and painful amounts of over-analysis about who “scored” with good lines that most effectively needled in their side’s pre-established talking point.

Its all horseshit, of course.

“Narrative,” “on-message”, and “talking points” are really creative and educated (-sounding) ways of saying who moved down their path the straightest and who deviated the most. Because that’s all politics — in a two-party race/system, anyway, which is all I’m intimately familiar with as a citizen of this country — really is about. Whether you move your opponent off his path by accusing them of not paying taxes for ten years or of fucking their livestock, it doesn’t really make much of a difference at the end of the day.

Everything else is phoney artifice and bullshit jargon thrown at voters, candidates, and media alike to blind them with science and convince them that David Axelrod or Ed Gillespie is really worth somewhere between $175,000 to $1.3 million per year they earn advising their candidates. Their job is to come up with a good story somewhere between six months to a year before the election, and then spend the rest of the cycle as glorified babysitters and occasional mouthpieces. A job — it’s worth noting — that Ed Gillespie still manages to both fuck up and get paid a bonus for, somehow.

Those of us in my age group — the one that was politically aware but not yet politically active during Bill Clinton’s first and second terms — are familiar with one of the greatest narratives of modern politics, because it’s only four words long: The Man From Hope. But no matter how much attention you were paying in junior high, you couldn’t fully grasp Clinton’s incredible political ability until you heard him get the DNC to applaud George W., moments before turning it into an attack line against congressional Republicans.

Which brings us neatly back to my point, about the line and how one follows it or doesn’t. From the jump, Obama and his team have called this a choice election, while Romney and his team have called it a referendum election. And — please, allow me to parse the bullshit for you since I’m pretty sure it’s part of my job here — that should tell you all that you need to know.

Neither team feels strongly enough about its message or its candidate (read: product), to trust that voters will vote for them. This is why this is a base election (in more ways than one), because unless you’re already in the bag for one of the two candidates, its extremely unlike either is going to offer you a very compelling reason to vote for them. So the best they can hope for is to convince you to vote against their opponent.

To that end, Romney’s “straight line” was through convincing voters to — in the memorable words of a geriatric cowboy arguing with a chair while trolling his way to a nation’s heart — fire the President for poor performance. And Obama’s was to scare the living shit out of you by basically pointing to Republicans not named Romney (cough, Paul Ryan, cough) and reminding you all those white dudes share the same party.

It’s really that simple, and every day Romney spent talking about his taxes, defending his 47% comments, or trying to dispense with the notion that his campaign was in disarray — and holy fucking shit that was just this week — he was off his path and losing this election. Now both the head of the RNC and his own VP have taken up the language of “choice election,” which is pretty much his two biggest public supporters hammering the last nails in — what I’m sure is — his very expensive and luxurious coffin.

But seriously, fuck that guy. Never liked him.

In fact, he’s so bad at this, that he’s knocked every Republican Senator off their path this past week.

“The trend in the presidential race has been difficult to discern lately. President Obama has very probably gained ground since the conventions, but it’s hard to say exactly how much, and how quickly his bounce is eroding.

There are no such ambiguities in the race for control of the Senate, however. Polls show key races shifting decisively toward the Democrats, with the Republican position deteriorating almost by the day.”

—Nate Silver, “Senate Forecast: What Has Gone Wrong for GOP Candidates?,” FiveThirtyEight Blog, 20 September, 2012

Silver offers two potential hypothesis to explain the sudden decrease in the chance of Harry Reid losing his gavel come January: One is that Romney is so terrible he’s hurting all of his party’s candidates in tough statewide elections.
The other is that their own extreme conservatism is hurting the entire GOP brand, as evidenced by moderate candidate Linda McMahon of CT (yes, that Linda McMahon, we live in a country where the best experience you can have prior to going into politics is, actually, pro-wrestling. Suck it up, buttercup!) and mostly-moderate Senator Scott Brown of MA are distancing themselves from the national party.

My modest suggestion is that both reasons factor in. Because, really, under the circumstance who can stay on the path, or if you prefer, build their narrative, stay on message, or stick to their talking points? Romney cannot stay on message, because his message changes from day to accommodate his audience while simultaneously accommodating his rapidly degenerating-into-insanity-base.

It isn’t that Romney’s a bad politician, he’s exactly the best the Republicans had to offer this election cycle. It’s just — in part — that Barack Obama is actually a very good politician. If there’s any lesson liberals and Democrats needed to take away from the Bush years, it was the danger of underestimating your opposition. Jokes about Karl Rove’s weight may play well with the peanut gallery, but really, underestimating that man as a political strategist is just shy of insanity.

And when you compile the long list of things that the Conservative Right is convinced that Obama is — a list that would have to include how he’s a stunning incompetent, bumbling idiot, and empty suit, who ALSO somehow managed to trick 53% of the country to vote for him, while concealing his secret Muslim origins and Marxist ideology — it isn’t hard to see how underestimating their opposition lead the GOP to the hole they’re in now.

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