Thursday, January 03, 2008

I play campaign manager

Let's suppose Obama wins the Democratic nomination (not a sure thing). Let's suppose Huckabee wins the Republican nomination (simply no way that's going to happen).

The day it's clear that he's won, and that he knows who his opponent is, here's a public relations coup that I would enact. (This is in addition to, not instead of, actually communicating ideas as I suggested in the previous post.)

I'd have Obama go on TV and say the following:

"We have a long, spirited campaign ahead of us. I'd like to lead it off by inviting Governor Huckabee to join me at church. He can join me at my church in Chicago, or else I'd be honored to join him at his in Arkansas if he'd like. No cameras, no press there...just my family and his worshiping together, starting off the campaign by thinking about one thing we share in spite of all our differences: our faith."

This would have multiple impacts, all good for Obama.

First, it would blow away the bizarre rumor that won't die--that Obama is a Muslim. If church attendance is a measure, he's a better Christian than most of the Democratic candidates and a couple of the Republicans.

Second, it puts Huckabee in an impossible position of either having to say yes--and participate in eliminating a key stereotype against Obama--or to say no and have to explain why.

Might be silly, but it popped into my head while I drove home from my game tonight.


Joe said...

You know, I was just reading this blog with really interesting ideas about smashmouth politics and goading your opponents with cheap symbolism...


Luke, join us and we can rule the galaxy.

tommyspoon said...

I have a response for you at my blog. In it, I play one of your favorite games: word substitution!

TeacherRefPoet said...

Joe: I thought of that, and I know that the move is "cheap symbolism." But it's not the sort of thing that makes me mad if it's done in addition to, rather than instead of, an actual issue or two.

It's not an ad hominem attack. It's not Willie Horton, Swiftboating, or girl-with-flowers. It's just a way to get a message out in what I think is an honest way.

Alison said...

TRP, it's honest if, and only if, Obama makes the suggestion out of some genuine desire to share in worship with Huckabee. If you, as his hypothetical campaign manager, suggest it, there's nothing honest about it - it's pure political theatre.

anne said...

This is a damn good idea.

TeacherRefPoet said...


You're right, of course. I've been trying to tease out in my head why this would bother me less than the typical irrelevant assholery we see every four years. I think it's that, while it's theater, it's theater that isn't negative. Inviting someone to church (or anywhere else) is a nice thing to do even if it's theater. So I guess that's why I don't think this is going over to the dark side--although I do see your points. Maybe I'm just justifying.

Joe said...

As a piece of theater, I have no problem with it. As a matter of running your religion as a credential for office, I have a great deal of trouble with it.

And as a skillful, subtle piece of negative assholery, I'm quite surprised by it.

Here's the thing. The words you used are all positive. Except one. "Huckabee". If this is a good idea, why not do it now with Edwards and Clinton? Or if the nominee is McCain, Guiliani, or Ron Paul?

Because they're not advertising themselves as Christian leaders, that's why. Huckabee's the one who put religion in play; go after him. Now I know I'm writing in your motivation here without asking you... but you're careful with your words, and I think I'm right.

So my first problem is granting a terrible premise... that religion is a valid credential for office; that "strong on Christ" is as good a use of limited space in our free marketplace of ideas as "strong on defense."

And still, that's mostly theater, and it could be done without being reduced to negativity.

But this _is_ a negative ploy. As you say:

Second, it puts Huckabee in an impossible position of either having to say yes--and participate in eliminating a key stereotype against Obama--or to say no and have to explain why.

So the speech, which as you wrote it wouldn't melt butter in Obama's mouth, could just as easily come out this way in a smoke-filled room:

"Hi Governor Huckabee. Here's the thing: this Muslim thing is kicking my ass among your core voters. But if you won't help me fight it, I'll make sure every Black person in America and every white one north of the Manson-Nixon line thinks you're a cracker Pharisee who don't sit down with no Nigras."

Maybe we have fallen this far. Maybe the tone is what's important.

But I don't think so, especially if we put religion in the mix.

tommyspoon said...

Once again, Joe sums up my feelings better than I do. Thanks, Joe!

TeacherRefPoet said...

All good points, Joe. It's interesting that you added a racial component to it--I hadn't thought of it, and it's definitely there. I guess there's no reason why it can't be done with the other candidates as well, and I'm willing to amend this tactic to include them as well.

I pick Huckabee for the very reasons that you suggest--because it's Huckabee, not anyone else, who would likely suggest (subtlely) that Obama isn't a "real" Christian because he's liberal. I see this more as a civil response (although a pre-emptive one) to Huckabee's almost certain assholery. In context, it doesn't feel like assholery to me.

Perhaps I'm emotional. Maybe I'm not troubled by this tactic because I'm tired of conservatives telling me I'm not a real Christian. I've also heard the same thing from liberal atheists, believe it or not...non-believers telling me that if I'm not fundamentalist, I'm not a real Christian. Am I coming out swinging too much?

Also, I want to know the philosophical underpinnings of a candidate's positions, which often means religion. I'll vote for a candidate or any faith or of none, but I want to know where their sense of right and wrong comes from, whether it's Jesus, Mohammad, Shakespeare or Grandma. Additionally, while I disagree, a significant portion of our population wants to know a candidate's faith when they vote. They have a right to hear that information.

Joe said...

Let me go you one better, then.

"Governor Huckabee, you and I are both Christians. I wish to engage you in a public discussion of how our faith influences our political views. I don't think we should call it a 'debate' because we shouldn't be thinking about winners and losers. But the people have a right to listen to us talk to each other about where our values and practices come from."

As a tactic, actually, I don't find your suggestion problematic. Make your opponent walk the walk, whatever they claim as their strengths.

I guess my point of view is that manipulative theater is, by definition, smashmouth football, no matter how civilly it's phrased.

TeacherRefPoet said...



Maybe the issue is a definitional one. Is all policial theater assholery? I guess we need to define "theater." And I guess that, in any campaign, -everything- a candidate does is theater. I wish it weren't, but I don't know how to avoid it.

Case in is your suggestion, which I like, any -less- theater than my suggestion? Isn't your phrase of "manipulative theater" redundant, as all theater is designed to manipulate an audience?

My definition of "smashmouth football," I think, starts and ends at ad hominem attacks. Willie Horton ad: "Dukakis will unleash this terrifying prisoner to your home." LBJ flower ad: "Goldwater will kill this little girl." Swift-boating: "Kerry is a lying spotlight-hog at the expense of his fellow soldiers." It's theater--guilty as charged--but it's not an ad hominem attack. It merely puts Huckabee in a tough spot. Is that smashmouth? What's your definition? Just theater?

This is damn fun, by the way.

TeacherRefPoet said...

(The "it" in the penultimate paragraph above is my Obama idea, by the way, not the Bush41/LBJ/Bush43 examples I give.)

Joe said...

Good point about all campaigning being theater. Better point about all theater being manipulative of the audience. And no, my suggestion is no less theatrical than yours (although I do think it moves us toward theater of ideas and away from theater of mere imagery).

What I meant, though, is that your original idea is an attempt to manipulate Huckabee in an ad hominem way.

Because if Huckabee chooses not to help Obama correct a misconception, the obvious and necessary outcome is that someone will accuse Huckabee of not acting like a True Christian.

Maybe someone not connected with the campaign, maybe someone like, well, you and me... but that someone will do it and do it loudly is a foregone conclusion. And all we've accomplished is putting the Swift Boat on the other foot.

Unless Huckabee does what Obama wants. Now, is that the legitimate consequence of his choice, especially given that he's the one who made Christian identity a campaign asset? Or is it just bullying?

Or can it be both? I think that's my definition... sometimes, it's reasonable to call on some aspect of the smashmouth playbook. And yes, in my book, threatening to go negative is going negative.

Glad you're enjoying this, by the way. It's a neat kind of thinking... one I probably need to practice more.

Alison said...

TRP, you wrote:

I pick Huckabee for the very reasons that you suggest--because it's Huckabee, not anyone else, who would likely suggest (subtlely) that Obama isn't a "real" Christian because he's liberal. I see this more as a civil response (although a pre-emptive one) to Huckabee's almost certain assholery. In context, it doesn't feel like assholery to me.


Do you base this opinion of Huckabee on anything he has done or said, or merely on the fact that he is a Baptist minister? I ask because, although I disagree with most of Huckabee's social policies, I haven't gotten much of a whiff of assholery from me.

"Assholery," by the way, is an excellent word, although not quite as good as "douchebaggery." I just didn't much want to talk about "a whiff of douchebaggery." Ew.

Alison said...

In the penultimate paragraph, the last two words should be "from him," not "from me." Oops.

TeacherRefPoet said...


It's late. I'll get to yours tomorrow. I have to mull over whether threatening to go negative is the same as going negative.


I actually think I like Huckabee as a person, so I regret attaching him to the word "assholery." I do think, however, that evangelical anythings (in this case, Christians) are, by definition, not tolerant of other beliefs (because they believe they're wrong and damned). This especially troubles me when the "Obama is less of a real Christian than Huckabee" card is played. I don't have any proof that Huckabee will do that himself, but I'd bet my next paycheck that one of his minions would. Why not see if Huckabee would act in a manner consistent with that, whether it's through my technique or Joe's?

tommyspoon said...

This is very enjoyable, and I don't have anything more to add except a slight editorial comment:

The word "theater" keeps getting tossed around this discussion. I think a better word is "spectacle", which is the element of theater that embodies "audience manipulation". Saying "all theater being manipulative of the audience" is like saying that the game of golf is all about the driver. There are other clubs in the bag; audience manipulation is only one club in theater's bag.

Good theater requires a good story, first and foremost. Obama and Huckabee are telling the best stories right now, hence their recent performance.