While many of us would prefer that political campaigns were run on issues, the fact is that most are won or lost based on imagery. What do we remember from the 2008 campaign beyond “hope and change?” Was the deciding event in 2004 the policy differences between George Bush and John Kerry or was it the Swiftboat Veterans? Other than the recount, what do we really remember about 2000 other than the last minute DUI revelation? Jim Webb owes his senate seat to George Allen’s infamous “macaca” comment and if Scott Brown prevails over Elizabeth Warren it won’t be because of policy differences it will be because of her bogus claim of “Cherokee” lineage.
The current presidential campaign is no exception. That is why we must fight and win the minor wars that flare up over Obama’s epicurean proclivities, the travel arrangements for Seamus, and most recently the grotesque credit-grubbing indulged in by Obama over the death of Osama bin Laden and the life of Obama’s imaginary girlfriends.
Some on our side, some of whom are friends of mine, are of the opinion that focusing on these near daily guerilla actions is counterproductive and diverts the voters’ attention from the Administration’s abysmal handling of the economy. I disagree.
If we let these small attacks go unanswered, they become part of the image for Romney and Obama. If we want to go into November 7, 2012 with Romney labeled an out of touch, uncaring, rich guy and Obama the guy who saved Western Civilization then ignoring the various dogs, eaten and uneaten, Ann Romney’s work history, and who actually killed bin Laden is the way to go about it.
The fact that Mark McKinnon would take to the pages of The Daily Beast to explain how wrong we are demonstrates why we are correct in meeting each one of these attacks. McKinnon, if you recall, was the guy John McCain hired to run his advertising operation and who then stepped down because he discovered that job would entail attacking Barack Obama. He is now affiliated with the “non-partisan” No Labels organization.
Now I personally don't think Obama has to hit things very directly on the nose regarding bin Laden. I always prefer a subtle glove rather than a high-fived slap. But, Obama has every right to tout this significant accomplishment. And if he wants to suggest Mitt Romney might have done otherwise, that's his right as well. That's what campaigns are all about.
It is Obama's right and obligation to characterize his record and run on it.
And when you look down the list of Obama's accomplishments, if you're honest about it and take out the politics, you would have to say eliminating Osama bin Laden is right there at the top.
So I say to Republicans: take an aspirin. Applaud Obama's significant foreign- policy achievement. Get some credit for being honest and then take that credibility and turn the argument back to the economy, where the turf is much friendlier.
You’ll note that his advice is 1) Obama is entitled to say it, 2) Romney is not entitled to refute it, and 3) move back to the economy. Ask yourself how this strategy focuses anyone on the economy rather than allowing Obama’s claim to be a national security hawk go unchallenged? Short answer: it doesn’t. Logically it doesn’t and the fact that Mark McKinnon, the man who deserted a long time friend rather than campaign against Obama, tells us we are wrong should tell us we are on the right track.
This election will be a close one and it will be as bitterly fought as any we’ve ever seen. But we can walk and chew gum at the same time. Fighting these memes before they take hold is critical to, not a distraction from, the larger economic message. Each time we beat one of these memes we increase the focus on the economy because we are able to strip away Obama's attacks on Romney and discredit his narcissism. As November approaches and more people are listening Obama will not be able to avoid the economy.