Sunday, October 05, 2008

Old Man McCain

Media folks are weird people. And while I can sort of understand how their minds work, I really don't quite understand why. And without a doubt, the Bushies totally had their number. They knew how to control the media the way that a Benihana chef controls his grill. The difference being that after the chef finishes his slicing and dicing, the chicken rarely expresses admiration for the quality of his work.

But for whatever reason, McCain didn't get those people. Just as Sarah Palin knows which words to use, without understanding how they're supposed to fit together; the McCainiacs know how to manipulate the media, but never figured out how to get the results they wanted.

And I'm thinking about this while reading this analysis piece from the AP:
"Obama isn't above attacking McCain with loaded words, releasing an ad on Sunday that calls the Arizona Republican "erratic" — a hard-to miss suggestion that McCain's age, 71, might be an issue. A harsh judgment, certainly..."

A Harsh Judgment

And my first thought was, what planet is this guy from? The word "erratic" has something to do with age? I thought it had to do with McCain being a risk-taking flip-flopper who seems unable to stay on-message for more than five minutes. And let's not pretend that this is all McCain. His entire campaign is erratic, and lest we imagine that Steve Schmidt and McCain's other goons are secret senior citizens, I don't think age is the issue. The issue is that these guys are desperate and clueless.

But of course, this just reflects the McCainiacs idea of innoculating McCain against any attack that might conceivably be about age. As if the age issue is so sensitive and "harsh" against McCain that it's unfair to bring up. But that's exactly why McCain's manuevering on this was idiotic. Because rather than innoculating McCain from the attack, it just means that reporters will remind people of how old McCain is every single time Obama hits him for being "erratic" or "confused" or for having "lost his bearings."

So rather than turning McCain's weakness into an asset, they made it into a double-attack against McCain. Now, the media will remind voters that McCain is not just erratic and confused, but old too. And as this piece says, this is such a negative that even hinting about it is "harsh." So voters are reminded of McCain's age, but won't associate the attack with Obama.

Embrace the Liabilities

And this just isn't how the Bushies did things. Bush was an idiot. And rather than fight that basic fact by pretending he was an intellectual, they slapped a hat on him and bought him a ranch. Presto! He was a cowboy. And liberals helped them with that all the time, by repeatedly referring to him as a cowboy; as if Americans hated cowboys or something.

But that's not what McCain's people did at all. They should have made McCain's age an asset, by playing up his wisdom and experience. And while they've certainly tried that tact too, they got burned by also going with the opposite message; that it's unfair to talk about McCain's age because it's such a liability against him. And then there was McCain's willingness to promote change, which played to Obama's advantage. If both sides agree we need something new, Obama wins, because he's newer.

And if anything, they should have emphasized that Bush was the hot new risk-taker who tried to change too much, and how McCain represented a back-to-basics approach to governing. Because that's actually true. The Bushies betrayed just about every principle conservatives believed in before they came into power, and had McCain embraced that old school rhetoric, he could have gone far. It was always a lie, but it was a lie that worked.

McCain should have tried to appeal to the make-believe America of the 50's, and how he was going to be the safe daddy who took care of everything. Like Reagan and Eisenhower rolled into one. And he could explain that his support of Bush was merely his attempt to make the best of a bad situation, by giving the new guy a chance. And now we see what a mistake that was, and how we need to get back to our roots. That was McCain's shot at winning; not trying to steal Obama's message.

Mixed Messages

But no, McCain's people decided to try and grab every single sales pitch imaginiable, and ended up with no message at all. He's an experienced guy who wants to change everything. He supported Bush while also being Bush's worst nightmare. He's an anti-Republican maverick constantly trying to excite the Republican base. He's both bold and safe. He's positive and negative. And he can stand up to Bin Laden and the baddies, but is hurt if you say he's old.

And really, none of this makes any sense. The secret to good marketing is finding the best way to sell your product and sticking to it. Walmart will never mean quality, McDonalds will never mean gourmet, and McCain will never mean change. You can't sell something that you don't have. You might not like the image your product has, but you've got to work with what you've got. And if your product is old, you've got to make old look positive. It's like if McDonald's ran ads telling people to stop talking about how fatty their food is. It's an insult that will only remind people of the very thing you're trying to get them to forget. Not smart.

While this was Obama's election to lose, McCain seems to have done his best to make sure he didn't stand a chance. He might win a newscycle or two with one of these messages, but he was certain to lose by pushing all of them. It made him look erratic and risky, and if the media insists upon reminding us that this is related to his age, I don't see why we should complain. After all, it was conceivable that Bush could have gotten smarter over time, but nobody believes McCain's getting any younger.

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