Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Why Voters Say they Don't Really Know Barack Obama (and Why They Don't Really Know Much about John McCain, Either)

For anyone out there who is a frustrated as I am by Obama's inability to recognize that he is losing the current political media battle with John McCain, Drew Westen (Huffington Post) has some words of wisdom for the Obama campaign:
"...McCain has made abundantly clear since infesting his campaign with Rove prote�g�es a few weeks ago that he intends to run a relentlessly negative campaign. For many of us, it was a relief this week to see Obama starting to run an occasional offense this week, instead of running a prevent defense with too few players on the field. What is not as clear is what the Obama campaign learned from the relentlessly negative campaign Hillary Clinton ran against him in the last half of the primary season. They clearly remember that he won. But what is not so clear is whether his campaign took away anything from the fact that he lost two-thirds of the primaries after Hillary turned to her slash-and-burn strategy and that many voters came away with an uneasy feeling about him.

His campaign needs to understand why that happened, because it's the same thing that happened to Al Gore and John Kerry. It's about narratives....

...There need be no contradiction between Obama's high-road message and a realistic campaign that addresses all four quadrants of the message grid. If he wants to retain the high road, the least he can do is to counterpunch every time McCain tries to tell a story about Obama or undermine Obama's own story, with a simple, 'There you go again--that's exactly the politics of division that has led us to where we are in Washington....'

...From a neurological standpoint, positive and emotions play different functions, arise in different ways, and even have largely distinct neural circuitry. If McCain creates enough ambivalence about Obama, Obama will need to create enough ambivalence about McCain to cancel it out. No one has ever won an election by saying what a great guy he is, letting his opponent pummel away at his character, and refusing to define his opponent or derail the glorious narrative his opponent is telling about himself.

Perhaps Obama will be the first. But he should study the stump speeches and convention addresses of the only Democrats to win an election when Republicans controlled the White House since FDR: JFK in 1960, Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Bill Clinton in 1992. All three ran positive, forward-thinking campaigns, but all three ran against the incumbent and his party with a strong story that resonated with the American people. None was afraid to mince words about his opponent.

Obama needs to remember that one of the most 'negative' political documents ever written was the Declaration of Independence."
Photo credit: The McCain and Obama macho match. (Slate Magazine)

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