Saturday, September 13, 2008

Campaign Tactics as a Campaign Issue

I have read some comments about how the Obama campaign is planning to react to the McCain camp tactics of using lies, malicious deception, and distraction to win the election. They are going to react but putting the emphasis back on the economy, the war in Iraq, the environment, and similar issues.

The Obama campaign seems to be missing an important point.

The use of lies, malicious distortions, and distraction in the pursuit of a political objective is a campaign issue.

The American people face a lot of threats to their well-being . . . to their very lives. These threats include threats to their health (and the high cost of health care), threat to their homes and their ability to pay their mortgages, threats to their lives and their property through terrorist attacks, threats to their retirement from a failing social security system, threats from global warming and the harm it will do to lives and property, threats to their jobs, and the like.

However, one of the threats that they face is the threat of having a political process hijacked by the use of lies, manipulative distortions, and distractions. This problem is, perhaps, one of the most deadly and costly problems facing America today because it stands in the way of us solving any of the other problems.

In fact, the culture of lies, malicious distortions, and distractions has directly cost us nearly $1 trillion, the lives of 4,000 soldiers, the health of more than 30,000 more, and killed nearly 100,000 Iraqis. The willingness of politicians to engage in these practices, and the willingness of the American people to allow it, is exactly how the Bush Administration got us into this mess in Iraq.

They lied. They deliberately misinterpreted the claims of others in order to engage in phony outrage (about insulting the troops or abandoning the troops). They pulled out all sorts of slight of hand and distracted the American people with irrelevant stories. Until, finally, they got what they wanted, and they got over 4,000 of us killed a result.

McCain’s campaign strategy for winning the election is simply a new application of the same playbook that the Bush Administration used for getting us into war with Iraq.

And the same people who are using this playbook for McCain are the people who wrote the playbook for Bush.

Obama thinks that the best thing to do with respect to this threat to the American way of life is to ignore it. We should pretend that this problem does not exist, and we should talk instead about health care, education, social security, and a failing infrastructure.

He is right in that we should talk about these things. He is wrong to think that “political manipulation through lies and distraction” is not or should not also be on that list.

He would not dare suggest that the best way to deal with the health care problem is to limit national debate to a discussion of education, social security, and the failing infrastructure. He would be a fool to say that the failing infrastructure is best dealt with by ignoring it and talking about health care, education, and social security.

So what sense does it make to say that the best way to deal with the problem of lies and manipulation in politics is to ignore it?

Now, we all know that this blog is going to have zero impact on Obama’s campaign strategy. So, let’s not pretend that “if Obama were to only read this post he would change the way he approaches this issue and the world will be a better place.”

He is not going to read this blog. He is not going to change his strategy.

If anything is to be done to make lies and political manipulation a campaign issue, it has to come from us. We have to make it an issue.

And even though we do not have the budget to reach more than a small fraction of potential voters, we can still reach that small corner of potential voters. It does absolutely no good to lament about what we could have done with resources we did not have. The only real-world option is to do what we can with the resources we do have.

What we can do is make lies and political manipulation a campaign issue.

If McCain is going to lie to us now, then he will lie to us a year from now. If he is willing to his political operatives to distract us with trivial concerns to earn the White House now, he is going to put those same political operatives to work to distract us when he is wants to distract us from something we may not approve of next year.

More importantly . . . more important than any of this . . . if we allow a campaign of lies and distraction to win the team that uses it the office of President of the United States today, it will send a message down through the next generation, and the generation after that, that they, too, should grow up to be people who use lies and distractions to reach public office in the years to come.

McCain, by his example, is teaching future generations of politicians the type of person they need to become to get ahead . . . the type of person that they need to be to be President. If McCain becomes President, he would have taught them to lie. He would have taught them to do whatever they can to divert the American people’s attention away from the issues. He would have taught them that they are to claw their way to the top with Machiavellian manipulations and distortions.

However, if McCain fails to win the White House, then his campaign will become a lesson in what NOT to do. McCain’s will serve as an example for countless young people growing up today who will seek a position in politics that it pays to be honest, that it pays to focus on the issues, that that it pays to be a decent, moral person who respects not only truth but who respects the American voters enough to be honest and straight with them.

This should be one of the issues on the table.

We should not only be talking about the threat that future generations face as a result of a national debt that is out of control. We should not only be talking about the threats that they will face as a result of global warming. We should not only be talking about the threats they face as a result of being too poorly educated to be competitive in the global workplace. We should also be concerned about the threats that they face if we leave them a culture of lies and deception. We should be going after the people who contribute to that political culture in the same way that we go after those who feed all of the other threats that we face and that we will leave to our children.

If we want these tactics removed from the political process now and in the future, for the sake of our country today and for the sake of our children and grand children, then we need to make this a campaign issue today, and we need to do what we can to point out to as many voters as we can that people like McCain and those who work for him are a threat to us, to our children, and to the country.

We should point out that, however unfaithful a candidate may be to his wife, to break faith with us by surrounding us with lies and distracting us rather than leveling with us about the important facts of the day is far worse. However difficult it is for a person of the first type to win public office, we consider it far more important to keep people who treat us with as much contempt as the McCain crew out of office. If only for the purpose of teaching our children to adopt better morals than those that the McCain camp appears to have adopted.


Calvin said...

Boy, it's a good thin Obama has never lied on the campaign trail! Um, unless you count his Illinois support of live-birth abortions...or his associations with Jeremiah Wright...or his claims that the GOP says he "doesn't look like the other presidents"....

Obama's going to react by focusing on "the issues" -- like how McCain's clueless because he doesn't use computers, never mind the fact that it's due to his injuries.


Anonymous said...

So true.

I felt I had to comment, given that the only response you've had so far to this great post was the one above.....

Anonymous said...

Is this McCain's campaign strategy?

anticant said...

Alonzo – you are absolutely correct in saying that campaign tactics are as important a subject for debate as “issues”. If honesty matters, that is.

It’s a delicate matter for foreigners to comment on your electoral process, which many Americans will understandably regard as their own and no-one else’s business. But because of America’s still [though for how much longer?] predominant role in world affairs, those of us who aren’t US citizens do have a legitimate interest in what happens in your country.

I speak as a lifelong admirer of USA and its ideals [even though these aren’t always practised]. Sadly, America seems to have lost its moral compass in recent years, especially since ‘9/11’. That tragic event proved traumatic, and enabled [whether accidentally or by design] those who had concocted the PNAC project to latch onto the levers of power. Corruption in government is not, and should not be, a party matter. See, for instance, Yankee Doodle’s blog – a patriotic Republican who has no illusions about the current state of affairs in Washington.

I only hope that voices such as yours and YD’s will be heard by many good hearted Americans – especially the younger ones such as ‘Calvin’ - in time to rescue some of America’s credibility at home and abroad.

Anonymous said...

"More importantly . . . more important than any of this . . . if we allow a campaign of lies and distraction to win the team that uses it the office of President of the United States today, it will send a message down through the next generation, and the generation after that, that they, too, should grow up to be people who use lies and distractions to reach public office in the years to come."

Correction. The precedent of a "campaign of lies and distraction to win" has already been set by Bush. McCain is the first "next generation" to get the "message" and attempt to replicate it. McCain is imitating, not originating. The question that will be settled is whether a transparent imitation of the master will still work. We shall see. If the evil that results from Republican rule could be limited to those who vote Republican, I might just start believing in a just and merciful god. If only.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


It’s a delicate matter for foreigners to comment on your electoral process, which many Americans will understandably regard as their own and no-one else’s business.

Sorry, but I do not buy this argument.

It is, in a sense, like saying that a foreigner has nothing meaningful to say on the issue of slavery, when slavery was legal. Or that a foreigner ought not to speak up about the Holocaust where Germany was involved, or say anything about Apartheid in South Africa.

The charge that the claims that a person can be dismissed because he is "a foreigner" is, in all honesty, an 'ad hominem' fallacy. A person makes an argument which may or may not be sound. But, instead of responding to the argument, the individual decides to attack the person - announcing some characteristic of the person and saying, "Because my critic has characteristic C, we may dismiss any argument he makes."

In this case, Condition C is "being a foreigner".

You should be able to tell from this response that, as far as this blog is concerned, it is the strength of the argument, not the characteristics of the person making the argument, that is relevant here.


Your statements are very much correct. Particularly given the fact that the people who divised these tactics for Bush are the same people who are managing the Bush campaign and, in particular, managing Palin's public appearances and comments.

Palin really is George Bush's political twin sister.

anticant said...

Alonzo - of course I don't buy that argument either! I only put the caveat in knowing all too well the angry responses posted on some British blogs to any criticism of America. These are usually along the lines of "What the hell business have you pathetic pinko Europeans to tell US what to do? We saved your miserable asses in two world wars" etc. etc.

Most of this stuff comes from redneck Republicans, who as you know only too well suffer from a bad case of hubris.

Doug S. said...

Alonzo: Apparently, the Obama campaign has, in fact, decided to make an issue out of this.

Their latest commercial.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Doug S.

Thank you for brightening up my day.

I notice one thing missing, though. It doesn't speak to the moral case about how this type of behavior is bad for all of us.

It is taken as a given, but I think it should be spelled out.

However, now that the advertisement exists, I would like to ask readers to spread the advertiement out a bit, and add some text to the form of:

"We will continue to have to wallow in this type of politics until we take a stand against it. If McCain wins with this type of campaigning, we can expect more in future elections. If it hurts him, we can severely reduce the amount of this type of garbage that we and future generations will have to put up with in the future."