Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fear & Loathing Time Again

Girding for the Rovian Onslaught

The Rovians have landed again, laying waste to the nation's political climate like alien monsters out of War of the Worlds.

Already you can see their slimy tentacles going after Obama. To his credit, he's responding immediately, unlike Kerry in 2004. The problem with this approach is that he's always playing defense.

Obama—and all Democrats—need a Strategic Defense Initiative, essentially an umbrella ad that defuses the Republicans' smear tactics.

I'm not an advertising guru, but the SDI would go something like this:

Flash through clips of some of the Republicans' most egregious television ads. The Willie Horton ad that brought down Dukakis. The Swift boat ad. Maybe the ad that linked former Geogria Sen. Max Cleland, a war hero and triple amputee, to Osama Bin Laden. Heck, there might even be some kind of ad that Rove used against McCain in 2000. There's also a lot of opportunities to fine tune the ad with local examples in each market area.

While the clips are running, an authoritative voice is saying, “Back in 1988, they castigated Gov. Michael Dukakis for a prison furlough program that let a dangerous man out of prison, when the program had actually been started under his Republican predecessor. In 2002, they questioned the patriotism of war hero Max Cleland. Two years later, they did the same to John Kerry. All lies. It's easy to lie and spread rumors in a 60-second ad. The truth, though, takes a little longer. If you want the whole truth, you can find it here:

That would be pretty gutsy for the Obama campaign, since FactCheck also criticizes some of Obama's ads. Overall, McCain's lies and distortions have been worse.

Or they could play it safe and refer voters to this:

That URL uses a lot of words for a television ad, either verbal or on the screen. The web page isn't that dynamic, either. It also has a bunch of bad links.

Instead of the sleazy political ads, they also could do it funny by recalling some just plain stupid TV ads (think the Budweiser farting horse ad or the poor Kenyan runner forced to wear running shoes). Dredge up an ad for Enron or Countrywide. New York's Crazy Eddie (is he still around?). At the end, if it's legal, slip in a clip of the worst attack ad on Obama. Have the voice over say, “A lot of what you see on TV is ridiculous. That's okay for a brand of beer or a running shoe, but this year, there's a big difference between presidential candidates. To make an informed decision, forget what you see on TV and look here:”

Then run one of the web pages listed above.

A problem, of course, is that some of the voters Obama is trying to reach may actually like those ads.

If this all-purpose strategic wall is put up, it will foil a lot of the attack ads. The same kind of spot can be developed for radio, as well.

Still, this is playing defense. The Rovians are going to do whatever it takes to win the election, and that means making voters afraid. They won with an all-out fear offensive in 2004 and they will try it again. Fear trumps all other emotions when it comes to electing the next president. They will find a way to make people think that electing Obama will be tantamount to turning the United States over to the radical Islamic hordes.

On this one, though, Obama can take the offensive, and should. McCain's lack of judgment, ignorance of facts and volatile temper render him a loose cannon should he land in the White House.

The video is there; it doesn't have to be made up: McCain at a town hall meeting saying it would be fine if the U.S. was in Iraq for 100 years. McCain singing, “Bomb Bomb Iran” to the old Beach Boys tune. McCain having to be corrected by Joe Lieberman about Iraqi factions. And then there are all those quotes from fellow Republican senators who question is temperament.

Come September, the Obama campaign should be playing a compilation of McCain's greatest gaffes non-stop. If not the Obama campaign directly, then one of the 527s, like, has to step up. I like the fact that Obama is taking the high road in this campaign. But if his opponent is truly dangerous—or as dense as the current occupant of the White House—it's important to let people know.

After all, the most effective political ad in history was the classic “Daisy” commercial that made voters think Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war if elected. It was pretty devastating, but Goldwater was really out on the fringe and had openly talked of using “tactical nuclear weapons.”

Goldwater, a maverick senator from Arizona, got trounced by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Let's hope history, this once, repeats itself.

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