The Phony Campaign

2008-09-21 Update

And we have … a new leader:

Query StringHit CountChange Since
"John McCain" phony1,100,000+156,000
"Barack Obama" phony1,090,000+138,000
"Bob Barr" phony37,000+3,800

This marks McCain's first appearance in first place since July. What's going on?

  • One of the top hits is from reliable lefty David Corn, a blog entry headlined: "Obama Better Watch Out for McCain's Phony Populism". Corn takes McCain's recent comments about "excess and greed and corruption" and, essentially, sobs:
    Right now, McCain is sounding a more populist tone than Obama, whose strategy seems to be to portray McCain as too tied to George W. Bush and too out of touch to be trusted with this hurting economy. So even with McCain stumbling (by declaring the "fundamentals" are strong), McCain looks more like the fighter, the guy who's ready to knock heads together--the heads of the greedy SOBs responsible for this mess--and get things going again with a healthy dose of reform. It's phony populism. It's like the head of a Mafia family decrying a crime wave caused by his own lieutenants. But that doesn't mean it cannot work politically.
    An intriguing mixture of fact and nonsense. McCain's populism certainly isn't "phony": when he speaks from his unscripted heart, his rhetoric reeks of the demagoguery, scapegoating, and economic illiteracy on which full-throated populism depends.

    And, if you're in the mood for the kind of follow-the-money finger-pointing corruption-seekers love to do, check out the relative positions of Obama and McCain on the list "All Recipients of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Campaign Contributions, 1989-2008." For extra credit, reflect on how hard Obama had to work to get that high on the list during his relatively brief political career. And then play "spot the phony."

    [Seriously, wouldn't it be nice if voter revulsion turned out every single politician appearing on that list? That would lose one guy I kind of like, John Sununu. But I'd make that trade in a heartbeat to get those other weasels out of office.]

  • Also appearing in the hit list is a National Journal interview headlined "Campaigns Capitalize on 24/7 News Cycle With 'Phony' Ads". In an interesting development both campaigns are producing "ads" that might never (in the wording of the article) "actually make it on the air as legitimate commercials." Instead they're designed to pop up in talking-head segments of cable news networks. (And, I would guess, sympathetic blogs and other websites.)

    The article deems such ads "phony" because of their low-cost, low-repetition distribution. But (note) these are traditional ad guys talking, and whether an ad is "legitimate" or not, for them, seems to hinge on whether they are funnelling campaign dollars to traditional media.

    To anyone not involved in the ad industry, however, the phenomenon seems not so much "phony" as it is "an obvious development that should have been pretty easy to foresee." High-quality video production is cheaper and faster than ever, distribution over the Internet is low-cost, news shows are hungry for current content and controversy, … Why did they not see that coming?

    Goodness knows there are more than plenty of "legitimate" ads on the tube, though.

  • Speaking of how technology changes things: there's a real neat article at Slate that summarizes the Obama campaign's recent changes to its website policy pages. Most notably for a campaign that's been recently been trying to scare Florida seniors by lying about McCain's position on Social Security, automatically tracked with software at Versionista:
    And this week the Obama campaign modified his position on a sensitive issue: Social Security. Compare the current "Seniors & Social Security" page with the previous version. Now, tell me why, oh why, would the Obama campaign decide to delete the following sentence: "[Obama] does not believe it is necessary or fair to hardworking seniors to raise the retirement age." Is he trying to stoke anxiety about his position on Social Security?
    Changing positions and pledges in mid-campaign, hoping nobody will notice is very, very phony. (But at least Obama's providing me with "change I can believe in.")

    I think Versionista is going to be a great resource over the next few weeks.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 1:22 PM EDT