Cartoon Candidates

Today I heard someone say, earnestly, that if John McCain wants to win in November he should give up the silly “celebrity” attack ads and run on his positions on issues. What a charming idea!

Of course, it’s not going to happen.

McCain cannot run on issues because (1) he genuinely doesn’t want the American people to know his stands on issues, because he is way to the right of most people on most issues; and (2) Republicans don’t run on issues. Not for president, anyway. They run by smearing the Dem and turning him into a cartoon.

Some of you may remember that at one point during the 2004 campaign, several of us bloggers noticed that Kerry’s web site featured Kerry’s positions on issues, whereas the Bush web site was saturated with several cartoon drawings of Kerry. (I made a screen capture of this that I cannot find now. It seems to have disappeared from my archives, alas.) Not a single substantive policy position could be found, beyond “stay the course.”

And, notice who “won.”

As I remember it, about 95 percent of the Bush 2004 campaign consisted of ridiculing John Kerry. Republicans wore band aids to the Republican convention to ridicule Kerry’s Vietnam War injuries. GOP operatives were sent to Kerry rallies to wave “flip flops.” (Dem operatives, of course, were locked out of Bush rallies.) Once, after a story came out about Kerry going duck hunting, I recall Karl Rove and Karen Hughes popping out of Air Force One wearing duck hunting gear, complete with “Elmer Fudd” ear flap hats.

And, of course, the lazy sots that comprise “U.S. news media” covered the buffoonery and not the issues.

This strategy almost backfired. Dana Milbank wrote in the Washington Post (“Bush’s Cartoon of Kerry Failed to Show Up,” October 15, 2004):

By turning Kerry into a cartoon, the Bush campaign created such low expectations for the senator that he easily exceeded them in the debates.

Leading up to the first debate, the Bush campaign very effectively defined John Kerry as a wishy-washy flip-flopper who never knew where he stood, and then they get on the stage and here’s a John Kerry who differs from the perception,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster.

Marshall Wittmann, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) now with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, said Bush had gone “over the top” in making Kerry seem ridiculous.

“It was a case of taking a caricature to such an extent and not realizing the caricature could be disassembled by the candidate himself in the debates,” he said. “You would have expected a hybrid of Jane Fonda and Ted Kennedy would walk on stage. . . . People expected to see a left-wing, beaded radical.”

If the election had been held immediately after any of the three debates, I believe the outcome would have been different. However, by the time election day came, the GOP successfully had re-booted the cartoon Kerry in enough of the public’s mind to keep Bush in the White House. (With some help with the shenanigans in Ohio, of course.)

So, expect McCain ads to do little else but lie about and ridicule Obama. Why tamper with success?

The swift boaters are back, too. Jerome Corsi has a new book out called Obama Nation (cute) that promises to do to Obama what Unfit for Command did to Kerry. Jim Rutenberg and Julie Bosman write for the New York Times:

Significant parts of the book, whose subtitle is “Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality,” have already been challenged as misleading or false in the days since its debut on Aug. 1. Nonetheless, it is to make its first appearance on The New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction hardcovers this Sunday — at No. 1.

The book is being pushed along by a large volume of bulk sales, intense voter interest in Mr. Obama and a broad marketing campaign that has already included 100 author interviews with talk radio hosts across the country, like Sean Hannity and G. Gordon Liddy, Mr. Corsi said on Tuesday.

That’s the plan. Write a book full of reckless and unsupported charges, kick it up the bestsellers lists with bulk sales by right-wing interests, then make the rounds of cable television and talk radio to “discuss” the book. It’s an effective way to spread lies and propaganda.

4 thoughts on “Cartoon Candidates

  1. But Maha – how come the plethora of tell-all Bush policy and character disaster books that were out there in ’04 and before didn’t effect a turn-off to his re-election?

    I’m really guessing here but I’m beginning to think that Republicans deliver a message that the electorate wants to hear and somehow wants to believe and then thinks and acts accordingly. Is it possible that Dems tell people what they don’t want to hear?

    Shortly after 9/11 a columnist in USA Today, a fairly even-keel news source, praised Bush as being so ‘brave’, that’s right, ‘brave’ when he declared that he was going to ‘go after’ those who caused 9/11. Where does that come from? Even an assumed fairly sophisticated newspaper columnist calls Bush brave? (Then, of course, it’s all down hill from there as what citizen wants a ‘chicken’ commander in chief.)

  2. Felicity, makes you think the anti-Bush books didn’t have any effect? It’s possible that if there had not been any books out that were critical of Bush, his margin may have been somewhat greater.

  3. Well, slap my wrists with the proof reading ruler.

    That should have been, “what makes you…”

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