Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Political kung-fu for dummies

The heavy propaganda requirements of modern political campaigning make the day-to-day task of managing the news cycle a lot like martial arts combat. There are basic moves like the generic attack ad that any candidate with a functioning brain can generate. There are advanced moves like sloganeering that should only be used by professionals due to the risk involved. For the true masters of the campaign, there are even spiritual moves that draw upon the adept's inner Qi to produce political results (the Clinton's trademark "spoofed Freudian slip" is an example).

Preliminaries aside, we thus turn to the latest news about the Obama 2008 campaign:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to turn rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's words back on her Wednesday, saying her vote to authorize the Iraq war was "irresponsible and naive."

Clinton had used the same language a day earlier to criticize Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with leaders of nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran without conditions within the first year of his presidency. Clinton said renegade leaders could use such a meeting for propaganda and that envoys below the presidential level should begin diplomatic work.
Here Senator Obama attempts a risky reflection move to turn his opponent's attack against her. This can potentially be used to devastating effect. The most notorious example of a reflection move in recent memory was President Bill Clinton's reflection of Bob Dole's campaign theme "A Bridge to the Past" into the bone-crushing Clinton campaign theme "A Bridge to the Twenty-First Century".

The single most important point to observe when attempting a reflection move is to avoid reflecting your opponent's attack away from your face and into your groin, which is what Senator Obama has done in this case. The first mistake was to accuse Senator Clinton of being irresponsible in voting for the Iraq war. Of course everyone knows that Senator Clinton was irresponsible. News flash: most Democrats don't care. The official Democratic Party line is that the Clintons are never responsible for anything bad that happens, and if they are, then the American people have already forgiven them. The second mistake was accusing Senator Clinton of being naive. If marrying Bill Clinton didn't cure her of that, there's nothing else out there that will. The final mistake was actually attempting a gutsy political move and not pulling it off with aplomb, because nothing reinforces the original attack better than a botched attempt to address it. A response of "I know you are, but what am I" doesn't quite project that aura of adulthood and gravitas that most presidential candidates aim for.

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