It was January 1, 1929 and Tom Lifson’s beloved California Golden Bears were facing the fearsome Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. Midway through the first quarter, Tech’s Jack “Stumpy” Thomason fumbled the ball and Cal’s center, a callow youth named Roy Riegles, picked up the ball and was hit a glancing blow by a Tech lineman that spun him around until he was facing his own goal. This proved tragic because Riegels, temporarily losing his bearings, began to run the wrong way – toward his own endzone.
The fastest man on the field was Reigles’ teammate Benny Lom, who took off after Riegels, screaming at him to stop and turn around. But the 90,000 fans in the Rose Bowl that day were yelling so loud – some for him to stop, others for him to continue – that it wasn’t until Riegels was at his own 3 yard line that Lom was able to corral him and get him turned the right way.
Too late. Half the Tech squad swarmed over Riegels and dropped him at the one yard line. The very next play, Tech blocked a punt for a two point safety, eventually winning the game 8-7.
Forever after, the young man was known as “Wrong Way Riegels.” He went on to live a successful life, dealing with his notoriety with good humor. Eventually, he was named to the Cal Hall of Fame and the play itself was enshrined as one of the six most memorable sports moments of the 20th century.
Barack Obama would do well to study the life of Mr. Riegels. For the last fortnight he has lost his bearings and has been sprinting as hard as he can toward his own goal line while his own teammates are screaming at him to turn around. In the annals of modern American political campaigns, it is hard to remember when one candidate has shot himself in his own foot so often in such a short time period.
His attacks on Palin backfired horribly. Obama should know – since he is the master of this game – that people don’t care much what your position was previously on an issue, it’s where you are now that matters. Hence, Obama’s lurch toward the center during the summer where he threw many of his previous far left positions on issues under the bus and adapted a more moderate stance worked with the voters who now see the former #1 liberal in the senate as a moderate. Similarly, Palin’s previous support for the “Bridge to Nowhere” gets tossed out the window because she now opposes it. Voters are not going to hold it against her no matter how many millions of dollars Obama spends on commercials calling her a liar.
Beyond that, he and his campaign’s snide comments about her experience and his supporters attacking her family seems to have enraged many women. You don’t go from a comfortable advantage in the polls among women to a 12 point deficit in two weeks without screwing up royally.
And speaking of screwing up, the guy who came up with this bright idea of an ad should be fired:
“Today is the first day of the rest of the campaign,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe says in a campaign strategy memo. “We will respond with speed and ferocity to John McCain’s attacks and we will take the fight to him, but we will do it on the big issues that matter to the American people.”
The newest ad showcasing their hard line includes unflattering footage of McCain at a hearing in the early ‘80s, wearing giant glasses and an out-of-style suit, interspersed with shots of a disco ball, a clunky phone, an outdated computer and a Rubik’s Cube.
“1982, John McCain goes to Washington,” an announcer says over chirpy elevator music. “Things have changed in the last 26 years, but McCain hasn’t.
“He admits he still doesn’t know how to use a computer, can’t send an e-mail, still doesn’t understand the economy, and favors two hundred billion in new tax cuts for corporations, but almost nothing for the middle class,” it says. It shows video of McCain getting out of a golf cart with former President George H.W. Bush and closes with a photo of him standing with the current President Bush at the White House. “After one president who was out of touch, we just can’t afford more of the same.”
Bravo, Barry! You’ve just won the prize as the biggest numbnuts to ever run for president:
Yep. The day after 9/11, as part of its “get tough” makeover, the Obama campaign is mocking John McCain for not using a computer, without caring why he doesn’t use a computer. From the AP story about the computer illiterate ad:“Our economy wouldn’t survive without the Internet, and cyber-security continues to represent one our most serious national security threats,” [Obama spokesman Dan] Pfeiffer said. “It’s extraordinary that someone who wants to be our president and our commander in chief doesn’t know how to send an e-mail.”
Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by “extraordinary.” The reason he doesn’t send email is that he can’t use a keyboard because of the relentless beatings he received from the Viet Cong in service to our country. From the Boston Globe (March 4, 2000):
McCain gets emotional at the mention of military families needing food stamps or veterans lacking health care. The outrage comes from inside: McCain’s severe war injuries prevent him from combing his hair, typing on a keyboard, or tying his shoes. Friends marvel at McCain’s encyclopedic knowledge of sports. He’s an avid fan – Ted Williams is his hero – but he can’t raise his arm above his shoulder to throw a baseball.
In a similar vein I guess it’s an outrage that the blind governor of New York David Paterson doesn’t know how to drive a car. After all, transportation issues are pretty important. How dare he serve as governor while being ignorant of what it’s like to navigate New York’s highways.
John Hinderaker headlines his post on this “Obama Gets Tough, Shoots Self in Head.” That just about sums it up. If this is the campaign’s idea of “ferocity,” I would suggest they stop taking lessons on how to be an attack dog from Huckleberry Hound. What an insanely stupid thing to do; criticize someone for not being able to perform a physical task because they were brutally tortured (not by the “Viet Cong,”) in service to their country?
The liberals are ignoring the gaffe and concentrating instead on the fact that torture is no excuse for McCain not to be able to type, that there are plenty of devices out there that he could use that would allow him to be as computer literate as the geniuses in the Obama campaign who don’t know how to use Google to find out why McCain is somewhat constrained from using a keyboard because the North Vietnamese used a hammer on his hands to break his fingers several times not to mention hanging McCain by his thumbs and hoisting him off the ground.
The McCain campaign is taking a different tack in defense, pointing out that the candidate travels with a laptop. McCain himself has said that he is “learning” to surf the web and that his wife reads emails to him.
It is largely an irrelevant issue as Goldberg points out. And examining the attack for its political impact, let’s look at this excellent piece by Patrick Ruffini on what makes a good attack meme. First, he quotes Phil Singer’s incisive take on what is needed for a successful attack:
Political attacks work best when the charge they make is both echoed by the subject of those attacks and resonate with voter perceptions of that candidate. Case in point: The flip-flop attack on John Kerry wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as it was if he hadn’t told voters in West Virginia that he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it. Kerry gave the Republicans a real time example of the negative storyline they were driving against him.
Fast forward to 2008: It’s tough to make the McSame attack stick because John McCain rose to national prominence by being a thorn in George W. Bush’s side. McCain might have voted for 90 percent of the Bush agenda but the public got to know him as a pain in Bush’s behind – a perception aided by the fact that Democrats rushed to exploit the McCain-Bush schism that came out of the 2000 primaries.
So does that mean the Obama campaign should ignore the fact that McCain voted 90% of the time with Bush. Absolutely not.
It means that the Obama campaign needs to focus its energies on generating some real time examples of McCain hugging Bush. (I think there are some other areas to hit as well but that’s a post for another time.)
Does the “out of touch because he can’t use a computer” attack resonate with voters? I’ll grant a yes to that but add that there’s a helluva lot more potent angles to attack McCain on than whether he can use a computer. Even if you can come up with an answer to the idea that he can’t use a keyboard because of torture, you are missing the point, John Cole. Even if he could use one of those devices for the handicapped, all the attack does is remind people that John McCain was tortured. Nothing else matters. You don’t criticize your opponent and then leave yourself wide open to a counterattack that uses your opponent’s powerful narrative as rebuttal.
Ruffini points out that the Obama campaign’s attacks fail to resonate not because they’re not true but because they go against how McCain has defined himself:
This is the Obama campaign going with an Attack 1.0 strategy—pick your opponent’s theoretically most damaging vulnerability and hammer away at it, regardless of how initially believable it is. The premise: repetition will make an initially farfetched but damaging attack believable.
The McCain campaign and the Steve Schmidt machine is pursuing an Attack 2.0 strategy. Pick the most believable attack (or the one most likely to get picked up by earned media, which magnifies paid media by orders of magnitude) even if it isn’t the most damaging, and hammer away until it is the most relevant and therefore damaging.
Attack 2.0 beats Attack 1.0 because there is some kernel of public belief in the attack that allows it to go viral.
This is the premise behind “celeb”—up to that point, Obama’s celebrity status had been considered an asset. But in reality, it was always a hidden vulnerability.
I said when Obama first chose to decline federal matching funds that having too much money was a curse in many ways. This is one of them. They have been hammering the “McSame” meme for weeks, spending tens of millions of dollars and have failed to make a dent in McCain’s “maverick” personae. I daresay with less money, they probably would have realized sooner that this strategy was going nowhere and backed off. Now here we are in the middle of September and they really have not developed an overriding attack strategy at all. They are in limbo – caught between a failed strategy and a ticking clock.
Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is driving Obama and the netnuts wild with attacks that are resonating because they play into people’s growing perception of Obama as a far left liberal with no experience and someone who is full of hot air and not much more.
And Obama is assisting the McCain campaign by coming up with attacks that help the Republican rather than destroy him. If things keep going the way they have been for the past two weeks, this election is going to be remembered for how many times Barack Obama took the ball and ran toward his own goal line, scoring for his opponent.