Case in Point: By Chris Honoré
As the Republican convention was winding down, Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, in an interview with one of the networks, said, "This election is not about issues." Think of the chutzpah it takes to make such a statement given the ditch the Republicans have driven us into.
So, if not issues, if not health care or infrastructure, if not the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, if not education and the national debt, if not the economy and our over-stretched military, if not global warming and dependence on foreign oil, if not nuclear proliferation and Iran ... then what?
Well, get ready, for this GOP outfit is prepared, as Obama said, to make stuff up. Their convention thesis was predicated on the idea that it was some other Republican Party that had been in office for eight years. Not those in the convention hall or those delivering speeches. And though John McCain was in Washington for all of those eight years, plus 20 more, well, no worries, the folks at the convention chanting, "drill baby, drill," are the new and better Republicans. Certainly not the entrenched special interest big-spender Republicans who obliterated the national surplus and racked up staggering debt using our children's credit card while executing a disastrous war of choice with no end and refusing to define "victory in Iraq."
Indeed, the Republican glitterati, standing waist-deep in balloons and confetti, avoided addressing issues at every opportunity. The McCain campaign has pivoted, deciding that if they can't run on the abysmal record of the last eight years, they will run on celebrity instead. On backstory. On image. No matter that mere weeks ago the Repubs were spinning that Obama was an empty suit with celebrity as his only asset. He was a rock star. Not substantive. Paris and Britney were rolled out in a Repub ad as being the other side of the Obama coin.
But watch carefully, for popularity and ersatz political posturing have taken stage center in the Republican strategy and Davis' comment of an issue-free campaign is now being executed by Team McCain. It's actually a stunning development and so outrageous that it seems impossible that Americans will buy it. But given the recent poll numbers, it's working.
McCain, monochromatic, as rock-ribbed conservative as they come, has chosen a self-described "Wal Mart hockey mom" as his running mate and her star power is drawing new wattage to his one light bulb campaign. Suddenly the party of traditional family values — the party that railed against "feminazis," the women's movement, and resisted equal pay for women — has embraced a working woman who wants it all.
The new Repubs are fully prepared to cry sexism should Palin's resumé, or record as governor of Alaska, be challenged by the Dems or their alleged co-conspirators, the media (which have "not shown Palin enough respect or deference"). Suddenly, the Repubs are the defenders of the new 21st century woman and the party of a woman's right to choose: motherhood and career. As long as that same woman doesn't choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, even if the cause is rape or incest. The hypocrisy is palatable and glaring.
This non-issue narrative is, nevertheless, formidable. No one does this better than the Rovian Republicans. And once again, they're not kidding around. If truth is a casualty, well, no worries. The strategy: settle on a message. Repeat it often. No matter its veracity. Get angry if challenged.
If Obama, when discussing McCain's economic policies says, "If you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig," cry foul and manufacture outrage and indignation. Be furious and insist on an apology. Use "ist" words liberally: sexist, elitist, and chauvinist. Rinse and repeat. Why? Why the ersatz righteous anger? Palin offered that the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick. So wasn't Obama calling Palin a pig? See the connection? No? Well, no matter. Remain angry. Did someone say "sow's ear?" Or "that dog won't hunt?"
It has all worked before. As has fear. Make American afraid, very afraid. Use images of 9/11 shamelessly. Ignore the gaping holes in our homeland security: our ports, first responders, nuclear plants, our infrastructure. Who better to protect us than a decorated POW?
And that is where the McCain story comes into play. Repeatedly. It is a wrenching narrative. And implicit in that story is the assumption that the crucible of the Hanoi Hilton prepared him to be president. Who better to defend us from Osama bin Laden (who, seven years later, remains alive and well) than a man who has worn the uniform of his country for more than 20 years. Nevermind his legislative record. Nevermind his hasty V.P. choice. Nevermind the platform of the Republican Party (one of the most conservative in memory).
And when all fails, co-opt the other guys' theme of change. Change is good. Heck, the Repubs are not only the party of the modern woman but the party of "real" change, even when they're not. Critical issues to be weighed? Solutions explained? Later. After the election. For now, trust the Repubs. All they need is four more years. Eight would be better.