The limits of media manipulation (pt. 2)


I'm too young darlin, and your too old, but
That don't mean that you got no soul...

--The Ohio Players

What continues to stand out for me about this Palin pick is it's essentially passive-reactive nature. McCain's biggest concerns seem to have been killing Obama's convention bounce, coming up with a counter to Joe Biden and generating some "heat" around the pick. Contrast that with Obama's criteria--no drama, someone he's comfortable with, someone who will be a capable, and independent, adviser. What we are seeing is one strategy based on reacting to external forces and another based on acting according to internal forces. As in life, the trouble with making moves according to forces beyond your control is that those forces shift. They're also subject to your misunderstanding. Obama chose a VP that he felt--rightly or wrongly--would be good for him. McCain picked one whom he felt would be well-received,

In fairness, despite all these "Everything Is Good For McCain" stories, the fact is that Obama can afford an aggressive strategy. In reality his "working class white people problem" is no worse than any other recent Democrat's, and the PUMA deal is now being exposed as an internet mirage. Obama has a relatively excited base, and a country looking for any reason to dump the GOP. Those factors have greased the machine--the social networking, the voter registration, the organizing--making it much easier to be aggressive.

Meanwhile McCain is dealing with a base that truly mistrusts him. Whereas Obama has no real history of beef with NOW, Planned Parenthood and Emily's List, McCain's problems with the power-brokers of his party are legendary. It's true that many women (up until now) may have thought McCain to be pro-choice. But the other part of that meme is that many conservatives don't see McCain as warrior in the anti-abortion fight.

When you're outgunned, outmanned and on unfavorable terrain, you start employing tactics that aren't under your control. You depend on cable news to carry your message to states you can't afford to advertise in. You pick a VP--not according to your needs--but according to desires of a base that doesn't like you and a media that will turn on you as soon as the narrative shifts. (Think on that--for all the talk about PUMA, Obama's base was secure enough that he didn't have to pick Clinton. It's McCain who's been forced to play to the base with a VP pick) And you announce that pick---not after she's been carefully vetted--but according to your desire to stomp on some mythical, irrelevant "convention bounce."

I was reading this really well-reported Times story today on the vetting process and was stunned by this section toward the end:

A number of Republicans said the McCain campaign had to some degree tied its hands in its effort to keep the selection process so secret.

"If you really want it to be a surprise, the circle of people that you're going to allow to know about it is going to be small, and that's just the nature of it," said Dan Bartlett, a former counselor to President Bush and an adviser in both of his presidential campaigns.

Former McCain strategists disagreed on whether it would have been useful for Ms. Palin's name to have been more publicly floated before her selection so that issues like the trooper investigation and her daughter's pregnancy might have already been aired and not seemed so new at the time of her announcement.

"Had the story been written about the state trooper three months ago, nobody would care about it anymore," said Dan Schnur, a former McCain aide who now directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "It's a risk. No matter how great the candidate, it's a significant risk to put someone on the ticket" who hasn't been publicly scrutinized.

"They obviously felt it was worth the risk to rev up the base and potentially reach out to Clinton supporters," Mr. Schnur said.

But Howard Opinsky, another McCain veteran, said calling attention to Ms. Palin's possible candidacy during the search process would have undermined the impact of her eventual selection.

"Had her name been played out in the press for months and months, she wouldn't have been seen as so bold," Mr. Opinsky said. "You either get freshness and you have to live with what you get in your vetting or you lose the freshness."

That is incredible to me. Basically they put making a lot of noise above insuring that they're VP didn't do them harm. Again, maybe this is what you do when you're running from behind. In that sense, I guess you can't fault them. But if they wanted the noise, they're certainly getting it now.