Moves from Karl Rove’s Playbook

Rove 101: The point is get people to look at the image, rather than the actual candidate.

Politics is a realm of words, gestures, and representations. There are no rules, no ethics, and no overseeing body that regulates the veracity or legality of its actions. In many ways, politics exists in a laissez faire (French for “allow to act”) battlefield. What is laissez faire politics, you ask? The predominant goal in laissez faire politics is to undercut the opposing candidate at any cost, and to recast the desired in any light that is most favorable. And this laissez faire politics is currently underway in the current 2008 presidential election. While existent in both Democratic and Republican camps, it is heavily being touted by the Republicans in recent weeks.

One striking example is the current winds of change; most U.S citizens want change in Washington– more so than ever before. The Obama campaign won the Democratic Primary on this platform- a drastic change in policy and actions compared to the current administration. Throughout the Republican Primary candidates were scrambling to address change as well. Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain grasped the most attention due to their ability to cast themselves as candidates for change, while remaining supportive of the incumbent Party. In the end, John McCain’s decision to run as a War candidate that is against special interest groups in Washington won him the Republican nomination. As such, McCain had one foot in the ‘change’, and the second foot in the status quo. But after winning the Republican Primary, the McCain campaign realized they needed to challenge the Democrats, who stood as the Change Ticket. To do so required a recasting of John McCain, and what I will term as misdirection for the general public. This was not a first for many people working on the McCain campaign, who have worked in the Bush adminstration (such as the recent addition of Greg Jenkins, who now oversees the stagecraft of the McCain campaign).

In 2004, there was another president who wanted to depict himself as the War candidate that was against special interest groups: George W. Bush. That year the U.S was invested in a contentious war in Iraq, suffering bouts of problems with unemployment and deflation, and a highly unpopular president. To make matters worse, the Democratics had nominated John Kerry, a Vietnam Vet with a strong legislative history in the U.S Senate. The possibility of President George W. Bush becoming re-elected looekd grim. In the 2006 independent documentary So Goes the Nation, James Stern and Adam Del Deo follow Republican and Democratic Party efforts in the state of Ohio. The premise: what happens in Ohio will reflect the overall effect of the country.

This premise was proven correct in 2004; George Bush won in Ohio and, correspondingly, his re-election. But he did not win through policy debates, intellectual prowess, or sheer strength of character. In the end, it was the political methods that cost John Kerry the White House, and allowed Bush his second term. In the documentary reputable workers for both the RNC and DNC talk about the savvy and intelligent moves by the Bush campaign. The Republican Party was able to depict John Kerry as a ‘flip flopper’ and paint this caricature in such a bad light, that Bush’s unpopular moves and decisions were ancillary to it. To demonstrate this tactic, the documentary cuts to a scene in which Bush states that people may not like what he has to say, but at least people know where he stands.

As the clip from the documentary shows, it’s rhetoric that undercut Kerry and sold Bush. When you think about it, there was no substance to it. Bush did not argue why his policies were stronger, he did not talk about his experience being superior. It was a classic case of schoolyard talkdown: you can’t trust this kid, but you can trust me.

According to Real Clear Politics, Barack Obama has held a slight lead over McCain in national polls for the past couple months. It was clear to the McCain campaign that they needed to strengthen his standing in battleground states like Colorado, Ohio and Florida. The Hail Mary move turned out to be his VP pick, Governor Sarah Palin from Alaska. The strategy was simple: strengthen the image of a “change” ticket, appeal to the conservative base, and misdirect the public’s attention. The last tactic has been the most recent tactic found in the media.

People had been focusing on McCain’s rejection of a troubling economy, his pro-war stance, and– in a very ageist light, his eldery state. The McCain campaign’s goal was to reorient everyone’s attention to the young Sarah Palin. To point, it was not Palin’s experience that has benefited McCain the most, but the misdirection she has inadvertently caused (note, Palin has been kept from being interviewed by most of the media since her nomination aside from a short clip in People magazine and a currently divided delay from Oprah). While conservatives salivate over Palin’s Christian fundamentalist values, and Republicans drum up sexist charges against the media, and the media continues to muse about her credentials– whether in sexist or non-sexist ways– the attention has turned away from McCain vs. Obama.

Christian fundamentals are no longer thiking about the “maverick” McCain of old, fiscal conservatives are not thinking about economic issues as topics such as hunting, sexism, and passport remarks fly about. But when the dust settles and the elections have finished, the president will either be John McCain or Barack Obama. The McCain campaign was not able to get people to look at the McCain image, so they came up with something better– have people look at a VP image. Viva la Rove.