The presidential election of 2008 is virtually a dead heat. It’s baffling to many of the political pundits, as well as to laymen who closely follow this election.
The facts on the state of the nation are well defined, and clear to all: terrible economy, plunging stock markets, disastrous deficits, erosion of civil liberties, history of corruption, tilt toward the rich, diminishing international prestige. And on and on — all under the unpopular eight-year stewardship of President Bush (six of those years with a Republican Congress and a friendly Supreme Court).
When was the last national convention when a sitting president and/or vice president was not even in attendance at his party’s event? Add to this a 72-year-old lackluster war hero paired with a novice unproven governor of our second least populous state, and you have what should be a landslide victory for the Democrats.
But that is not the case. Indeed, the election is not only razor thin; it seems to me that it’s moving inexorably toward a Republican victory. How is this possible — and what are the reasons? It is possible because of the Republicans’ skill at running elections, a skill that far outstrips their ability to govern.
It seems logical to give faint praise to the effectiveness of the Rove-run campaigns of George W. Bush, including use of the Swift boater’s et al. It is probably a foreshadowing of similar things ahead in the coming weeks. But those are old techniques, and the Dems are working hard to preempt them, or at least be prepared to deliver effective responses. Events of recent days indicate that there is a plan in place to run both an overt campaign and a second covert campaign; I find this plan far more subtle and more insidious than even the 2004 debacle.
Overtly, McCain has been forced to run against his own party, while employing Gov. Sarah Palin to lock in the right. A tough task, but he can always pull out his “maverick” credentials, damaged as they have been in the recent past with his endorsement of Bush policies. At the same time, Palin energizes the base. The overt campaign is pretty much the fallback position for the Republicans, and about the only viable option they have. But it is the covert campaign that will bring them victory, and here’s where it gets ugly.
It takes us to the race issue. Obviously, they cannot employ this tactic in their overt campaign — nor do I sincerely believe either McCain or Palin have any such feelings. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary, and McCain especially appears to be a good and decent man. But that has not stopped him from accepting a nefarious strategy. And what would that be? In simple terms, portraying Obama as “not one of us”!
Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign chair, has already stated they will run this campaign on personalities, not the issues. The execution of this strategy can already be seen in the words and actions of the McCain campaign. “He (McCain) is a true American.”
Palin pointed out the juxtaposing of being a mayor in a nice Alaska small town — as opposed to being a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. “She’s one of us” was a line heard often in the convention. The hockey-mom thing, PTA and NRA membership — all play into the same theme: She is one of us! Palin is feisty (Americans like that).
In a curious irony of Palin’s bona fides, her selection was a brilliant move precisely because she is not extraordinary. She “blends” right into the American psyche. Forget the issues, but remember, Palin is Americana personified (she even hunts), and Cindy McCain would look perfect in the White House. McCain was a Navy fighter pilot. They are “one of us.” What else could you ask?
On the other hand, with Barack Obama we get a guy with a funny name. We get a black. We get a guy who spent a lot of time on that creepy south side of Chicago. He went to a strange church where people clapped. We get a guy who somehow might even have been touched in some obscure way by Muslims. We get Michelle Obama as first lady. The picture isn’t Norman Rockwell.
To ignore the fact that there is latent prejudice in the country, and this election, is not honest — and the strategists behind the Republican campaign know this. How is the best way to play it? To do so overtly would backfire.
Obama is not one of us works. This may seem benign, but it is incredibly powerful, and it is being played every day in every way. Virtually the entire Republican convention, with virtually every speech, was built around the biographies of the candidates; issues were barely discussed. What matters was: They are one of us; and Obama fits the wrong template. Subtle, but ugly.
None of this means people should not vote for McCain — nor does it mean one should not vote Republican if the issues form the reason. But to vote against Obama because he is different, because Michelle’s portrait would be so different from that of former first ladies, because of his skin color or because he “is not one of us” would be a sordid action antithetical to the country we all claim to love so much.
I think razor-thin margins separating the candidates now are almost certainly the result of this condition, and we can be sure this strategy will be played out to the hilt.
Will it be successful? Only if we let it.
Myles Spicer of Minnetonka is a businessman and writer who owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.
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