Road Map

February 27, 2008 10:04 p.m.

Hopefully, everyone can now see the McCain strategy for running against Barack Obama. Yes, we have some general points on taxes, culture wars and McCain as war hero who can protect us in ways that flash-in-the-pan pretty boy Barack Obama can’t.

But that’s not the core. The core is to drill a handful of key adjectives into the public mind about Barack Obama: Muslim, anti-American, BLACK, terrorist, Arab. Maybe a little hustler and shifty thrown in, but we’ll have to see. The details and specific arguments are sort of beside the point. They’re like the libretto in a Wagner opera, nice for some narrative structure. But it’s the score that’s the real essence of it, the point of the whole exercise.

Now, a good deal has been made out of John McCain’s repudiation of talk radio yakmeister Bill Cunningham, who led off for McCain at one of his rallies with the full run of Obama sludge. But don’t be distracted or fooled. This is more like an example of what the digital commerce folks refer to as ‘channel conflict’. You’ve got your multiple distribution channels. You’ve got the way McCain’s selling the product. Broadcast. Broad and thematic about McCain. But you’ve got a number of other product channels to sell through, most of them a lot grittier, but no less essential for ultimate success.

Both can work simultaneously. In fact, in the kind of campaign McCain’s running, they’re both essential for success (see the 2000 Republican presidential primary in South Carolina). The key is just that the channels don’t cross. Because that’s when the trouble starts and they can begin to undermine or even short-circuit each other. And that’s what threatened to happened here.

Don’t insult your intelligence or mine by pretending that John McCain’s plan for this race doesn’t rely on hundreds of Cunninghams — large and small — across the country, and the RNC and all the GOP third party groups, to be peddling this stuff nonstop for the next eight months because it’s the only way John McCain have a real shot at contesting this race.

If McCain really wants to repudiate this stuff, he can start with the Tennessee Republican party which dished all the slurs and smears about Obama being a Nation of Islam-loving anti-Semite, just today. And once he’s done talking to the people who will be running his Tennessee campaign, we’ll have a number of others he can talk to, like the head of his Ohio campaign, former Sen. Mike DeWine, who gave that Cunningham guy his marching orders.

Let’s just not fool ourselves, not lie to ourselves about what’s happening here and who’s in charge.

Late Update: A few insightful readers have noted that Wagner is perhaps not the best illustration of my libretto to score metaphor since Wagner is one of the few major composers — I’m actually not sure there are any others — to write his own libretti. Perhaps my blind spot is a product of my listening to Wagner without knowing German. In any case, I think my general point remains valid. Perhaps I should have picked on Verdi. But for me nothing — nothing in opera at least — compares to Wagner.

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