Tuesday, October 07, 2008

In which I ask questions about McCain's strategy

It seems to me that the McCain campaign's new super-negative strategy is as likely as not to backfire on him, but I also wouldn't be surprised if it moved the polls a couple of points in his direction in these waning days of the campaign. I am generally a believer in the efficacy of negative campaigning, if not necessarily the honor in it.

But from McCain's perspective, doesn't this shift in tones come too late to be very effective? Yes, yes, a month is a long time in an election. But I would have thought the ideal time to define Obama as a scary terrorist would have been before the first debate.

About that debate: Doesn't Obama's gracious, measured performance there in front of tens of millions of voters seriously complicate the effort now to make people afraid of him? Not to say it's impossible for McCain to retroactively implant doubt in people's minds -- it's just more complicated now than it was before so much of America was introduced to him.

And here's a question for stridewideman: Isn't it conceivable that this strategy from McCain would be much more effective if Obama had treated that first debate as a no-holds-barred sparring match? If he had seemed combative and angry then, it would surely be easier for McCain to now present him as, you know, combative and angry, like a terrorist.

The best thing about this sort of counterfactual is that I am right no matter what. If these attacks backfire on McCain, well it proves my point. If they work for him, I can always say, well, they could have been even more effective...


stridewideman said...

Sure, I see where you're coming from. But I'm necessarily advocating a pugnacious no-holds-barred style of debating. I just want a couple of solid zingers with available facts.

There's no reason that it has to come off as angry, just measured and anchored in truth. McCain is a deregulator in the Reagan vein. His tax cuts are for the very rich, including oil companies who are making more then the gross national product of some countries.

His healthcare policy is abysmal (as Biden pointed out in the most convoluted way possible). Etc. Obama can be more confrontational without coming off as angry.

The point you're making is valid, I think. If he had come off as angry, this would be worse. But I think this time he can utilize his cool demeanor and come off as cold angry against McCain. Not yelling, not gesturing, just cutting. That's what I want out of this one.

In the meantime, and along the same lines, doesn't the Keating Five gambit seem like off-brand messaging and kind of late in the game? I suppose it's a good idea to have something else out there to talk about, but I worry if he pushes it too hard it'll bring him down to McCain's level.

We'll see...

candycanesammy said...

I think Obama's debate performance (and Biden's too) were really fucking smart. Here's why: Obama _is_ a cool, relaxed, measured man, so he was playing to his strength already in acting like that. On top of that, it was a contrast to McCain's jaw-clenching pissiness, which made Obama seem ever more presidential by contrast. And finally, he deftly avoided all that scary-angry-black man meme. That might be at the expense of some "zingers" which would be on the news the next day, but considering how well the campaign is now polling, that's a trade-off the campaign will take.

Point is, Obama _does_ hit on these health-care and deregulation points, he just does them at campaign stops and smaller appearances, which I think is a better tactic than doing it during prime time.

Finally, the Keating Five rebuttal is strictly in response to McCain's (admitted) new negative strategy. I find it somewhat unseemly, but it is strictly a defensive measure, not an offensive one, and nice to see after the swift-boat mess four years ago.

Rob said...

Strideman, I take the point that there is a lot of daylight between direct, fact-based hits and angry-scary-person-ranting. It's not like you can only be gentle and nonconfrontational or else angry and scary.

You know I wonder about the Keating stuff. The risk of using it is that the story becomes "both candidates go negative." The risk of NOT using it is "Obama doesn't fight back." It's hard for me to weigh out those risks. To Sammy's point, yesterday at the YMCA I saw on CNN Obama's quote that "we don't throw the first punch, but we will throw the last." That actually seems like an incredibly effective line to me. If that message sticks, maybe the Keating attacks work splendidly with no particular backlash...

Don Hotdog said...

The Keating Five scandal isn't made up and I think has a certain built in resistance to being seen as 'going negative'. McCain himself admitted to the wrong-doing.

Bringing up a big-time saving and loan scandal, even if it was 20 years ago and tying it to the current economic crisis doesn't seem like the kind of irrelevant scurrilous smearing the way Bill Ayers type attacks do.

I've been nervous before, but Obama seems good at finding the right temperature for the bathwater.

stridewideman said...

Obama's performance last night was exactly what I was looking for. Firm, prepared to go on the offensive a bit, and speaking effectively about McCain's bushwah.