Sunday, February 24, 2008

When Fools Attack

This might be news to you, but conservatives are idiots. Trust me, I checked. Because they don't even understand how their own smear machine works. The whole point of an effective smear is that the target can't easily debunk it and the more the victim tries to explain why the smear isn't true, the more they draw attention to it while taking away from their time talking about other things. That's the whole point. If the smear effectively sticks in the long run, even better. But that's the icing on the cake; not the cake itself.

The Swiftboat thing, for example. That was complicated. On the one hand, you had all these guys getting their stories together and fabricating a complete rewrite of historical events that had few eyewitnesses. And they came out blasting with their story already in hand and totally caught the Kerry campaign flatfooted. Even once Kerry found his own eyewitnesses to corroborate his story, it simply became a "He Said, She Said" kind of thing. And even then, the smear had so many different points and falsehoods to be debunked that even Kerry's strongest supporters had trouble keeping up with it all.

And the more time Kerry wasted trying to explain why the attack was bogus, the less time he had for anything else. By the time Kerry had the story contained, it was too late. And all the same, I suspect that the greater damage was done by the stories of how Kerry got caught flatfooted and how his campaign was struggling against the accusations. People like winners, and stories of struggling campaigns make the campaigns struggle even more. So the damage wasn't from the smear directly, but from the inability to properly fight the smear.

And that's how a smear is supposed to work. It's not just that you attack your opponent with an untruth. It's that you smear it all over them and they lose whether or not they can get it off. If the general public buys into the smear, that's all the better. But that's not the point. Even the Swiftboat thing was unlikely to have convinced many people to vote against Kerry. The whole point was to put a taint around Kerry and make him waste his time debunking old stories that he hadn't been prepared to debunk.

Bad Smears

And that's what makes all the current smears against Obama so lame. Like the ones in this article by AP stooge Nedra Pickler. While I suppose they can be labeled "smears" they're horrible examples. Because they're so easy to debunk that Obama has already included one of them in his stump speech as a weapon against his opponents. He's inoculating himself against the attacks, and making it dangerous for his opponents to continue to hurl them. And if I know wingnuts (which I do) they'll continue to make these absurd charges and hurt themselves all the while.

Like with the "Obama's a Muslim" thing. That's a dumb attack. Because it's so easy to debunk. Why not go with Obama's a Martian? Or Obama's a cyborg? Even worse, it gives Obama a good opportunity to remind people he's Christian, without it sounding like he's being pointed about it. Conventional wisdom aside, most people really don't like it when people wear their religion on their sleeve. But if his religion is under attack, then it's perfectly acceptable for him to tell people he's Christian. Even atheists won't mind him talking about religion under these circumstances.

The article also raised the issue of him being unpatriotic. But puleeeze, if there is a less likely smear to stick on Obama than this one, I don't know what it could be. At least the Muslim thing has a tiny shred of believability to it. But no one is going to go for the patriotism smear. Even in the patriotic heyday after 9/11 this would only have been an annoying nuisance. But these days, attacks on people's patriotism will most likely backfire.

The Patriot Attack

But the worst thing about that article is that it only referenced these attacks as coming from conservatives. If there's a better way to undermine the premise of this article, it's that. And the fact that every accusation in the article is not only lame, but borders on offensive; this is more likely to win people to Obama's side. In fact, one of the biggest falsehoods about Republican smears is that it matters what wingnuts think. It doesn't. It never mattered. As I said last week, wingnuts don't hate us because of they believed the smears. They believed the smears becuase they hate us.

Take this passage:
Conservative Republican consultant Keith Appell, who worked with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, said Obama's opposition to the war will create a "striking contrast between McCain the war hero and Obama the poster child for the anti-war movement."

Yes, a striking contrast. And one that is HORRIBLE for McCain. Obama is proud of his anti-war stance. And rightly so. People HATE the war. Not everyone, but most people. And the only people who still wholeheartedly support the war weren't going to vote for a Democrat anyway. And even those people aren't going to expect Obama to think any differently, so this line of attack will have exactly zero sway with people.

And honestly, the term "Swiftboat" has become synonymous with unfair attacks. So the idea that any attack coming from anyone identified as being part of that group will be considered effective is just a joke. This guy has no credibility whatsoever and his association with that group is a taint that will last for as long as people use the term "Swiftboat" to describe these kinds of attacks.

Some Smears Are Better Than Others

And this passage is patently false:
Opponents of Sen. John Kerry proved in the 2004 election that voters are sensitive to suggestions that a candidate is not sufficiently patriotic.

But the Swiftboat thing wasn't about his patriotism. It was to deny him the ability to use his war record as a weapon against the two draft-dodgers he was running against. And as I said, it was more about tying him in knots defending himself, rather than about actually getting the smear to stick. And seeing as how the Swiftboat attacks, at best, may have cost him a few points at the polls, I fail to see how this proves that voters are "sensitive" to this kind of thing. And had the media done their actual job as reporters instead of their preferred role as gossip mongers, the attack should have backfired.

But as I said, the current attacks are nowhere in the same league as the Swiftboat thing. While the Swiftboat attack should have backfired, these current attacks are just like pinatas waiting to be busted open. They give Obama the opportunity to not only talk about his religion, anti-war stance, and patriotism; but also an opening to attack these people. Even egregious smears slightly damage the side making the attacks, and these attacks aren't even mildly effective. That's one of the biggest problems Hillary's had this campaign: There are no good attacks on Obama, and yet she still takes heat for leveling mild attacks. The same thing happens to conservatives, even if they use "outside" parties to make the attacks.

If we've learned one thing from Republicans, it's that they'll always overplay their attacks and get people to defend their opponents. That's why Clinton's highest approval ratings came when they impeached him. And while I'm sure there will be more effective attacks to come, they'd be better off keeping their powder dry rather than shrieking loudly about every smear they can think of. Some smears are better than others, and the more you hype the little ones, the less effective the big ones can be. But if Republicans were able to understand that bigger isn't always better, they wouldn't be Republicans.

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