The Art of Staying on Message

Rick Lazio may not know the price of a subway card, but he does know how to drill a soundbite

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No one who remembers Rick Lazio's campaign against Hillary Clinton for a New York senate seat in 2000 will be surprised by his current campaign for governor, which is focused almost exclusively on the Mosque (or cultural center) at (near) Ground Zero. In 2000, Lazio focused almost exclusively on the argument that Hillary was a carpetbagger. She rode in a limousine while he, a native New Yorker, rode the subway. She represented that hateful place "Washington," full of politicians and lobbyists and awful people like that, whereas he loved New York and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, someone asked Lazio how much a subway card cost, and he had no idea.

After he lost, he went to work as a lobbyist--in Washington, of course. Lazio is one of those politicians who find a soundbite they like, and then repeat it, oblivious to any evidence or to the specific question he's supposed to be answering, or how many times he's said what he says already. This makes him seem pretty dim, but staying relentlessly on-message is harder than it looks.

To use the mosque controversy as the center of his campaign has required padding it out a bit. So Lazio has ginned up other phony concerns. Is the mosque being secretly financed by Iran? Is it a threat to our national security? Coming soon: Will the mosque be built out of poisonous cheese? Maybe it won't be, but how can we know for sure if Andrew Cuomo refuses to investigate?

A couple of weeks ago in this space, I urged that people who (like me) don't think that Washington necessarily needs to be bulldozed to the ground and rebuilt from scratch should read George Packer's recent essay in The New Yorker called, "The Empty Chamber." I should also have mentioned Todd Purdum's oddly similar and equally compelling piece in Vanity Fair, "Washington, We Have A Problem." Both articles use the metaphor of "broken" to describe the nation's capital. And both pieces use the "day in the life" technique to make an unnervingly compelling case. Purdum focuses on the White House while Packer did the Senate. After reading both, my faith is shaken. I just hope no one completes the trilogy by doing the House of Representatives.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.