In politics, as in war, you can often be hurt worse by your friends than by your enemies. I have the political scars to prove it.
The premise of this essay is that many of the people most opposed to the policies of President Obama and the League of Leftwing Lawyers who run the Congress take actions that are actually helpful to the Obama forces, the exact opposite of what they intend.
I feel competent to write on this subject, not because I hold a degree in Political Science, but because five months after earning that degree in June of 1972 I defeated a Democrat state senator in a four to one Democrat district in Massachusetts, last won by a Republican in 1938. Political scientists and party strategists from both sides considered the district unwinnable by a Republican, and considered the incumbent the most powerful politician and best speaker in living memory from that area. Without rehashing that campaign—which I’m always happy to do if you are buying the drinks—I believe my instincts on picking issues and developing political strategy were key to that victory, and to my four successful re-election campaigns, including winning both the Democrat and Republican nominations in 1976. I retired undefeated, after which the Republican woman I endorsed held the seat for another five terms.
There are some premises that I base my thinking on:
1. Elections are won in the middle. They are decided by people who are not too interested in and don’t like politics, who are much less informed than activists about current events, government and history—the independents. Think about the people on Leno’s popular feature “Jaywalking,” all voting. Think about people being given a ride to the polls asking the driver, “Who’s good?” On Election Day in 2008, Congress had an approval rating far below that of George Bush—but polls showed that 67% of the voters didn’t know that the Democrats controlled that Congress.
An independent is someone who wants to take the politics out of politics, as the old joke goes.
It’s axiomatic in our system that the Republican has to run to the right to get the presidential nomination, and the Democrat has to run to the left—because that’s where the contributors, party activists and many primary voters are. Then to win the election, the two nominees must scramble for the center, lying about what they said to get the nomination, because after the nominations, that great middle is finely paying a little attention.
So if you are enjoying feeding red meat to the conservative base, but turning off folks in the moderate, less-involved middle, you are helping the liberal side win the next election.
2. “It’s always an advantage to a public man to be the victim of an outrage.” This old saying was frequently quoted by my floor leader, the late Senator John Parker, and he had several examples in his political humor books If Elected, I Promise and The Fun and Laughter of Politics. I recommend them if you can find them.
In 1972, during a poorly watched debate on a small cable TV station, my opponent, the Democrat incumbent, lost his cool, refused to shake hands, yelled at me and called me a “snide, slimy young man.” Oh, joy. My research into his temper, campaign style and my efforts to make him angry paid off. Thanks for the “outrage,” Joe. I won by nine votes. Doubtless because of this one incident, which we were able to play up, I served five terms as a state senator. His career ended.
If you are giving the opposition the opportunity to play the victim card, even if it’s unreasonable in your view, you are giving them an advantage over you.
3. Perception is reality. This goes with the above. Your intent doesn’t matter. What matters is how your actions and deeds are perceived by others, particularly by those in the middle who will decide the outcome of the election. And that perception will be created for a lot of people by the Leftstream Media, which has taken on the role of Joseph Gobbles for the Obamaites. You can’t control how they spin things, but you can be careful not to gratuitously give them anything to spin, anything that feeds their narrative.
Their narrative is that conservatives are greedy, heartless, racist, rich, uncaring, ignorant yahoos, religious fanatics, uneducated, elite, corrupt, dangerous, violent, and fanatics. That some of these may be mutually exclusive is irrelevant.
4. The Norm Thompson Rule. Norm, a wise selectman in Lunenburg, MA, asked me at an election night party if I wanted to know his theory of politics. Since he’d been elected to office several times, and I was just starting my first campaign, I said sure.
“I want a fellow to be for me,” Norm said. “If he won’t be for me, I want him neutral. But if he has to be against me, I don’t want him mad at me—he’ll work twice as hard and give twice as much money if he’s mad!”
I carved it in stone on my heart. About the dumbest thing I saw in politics was a Republican candidate who had his supporters sneak into a fund raising reception for the Democrat incumbent and leave fortune cookies in bowls on the tables, with messages attacking the incumbent. Since all attendees were contributors to the incumbent, it only made them mad, and probably raised an additional $10,000 for the incumbent’s campaign. And the Republican paid money for those cookies, just to fire up the Democrats. The election wasn’t close.
Sure, the leftie statists are going to hate you. It’s the average guy you don’t want to make mad, because you don’t want him contributing to and campaigning for the opposition.
Richard Nixon famously said that he gave his enemies a sword, and they used it to destroy him. Every day, some opponents of Obama give him, at the least, a club. Here’s how to avoid helping Obama:
1. Avoid the appearance of racism. It was inevitably that, when Obama’s policies ran into trouble, the left and the sycophant Leftstream Media would play the race card. It happens whenever a black politician gets into policy or ethical trouble.
Yes, there were people who voted for McCain because he was white, and Obama wasn’t. Yes, there were a lot of people, blacks and liberals out to feel warm and fuzzy, who voted for Obama because of he was black and McCain wasn’t. The percentage of blacks voting for Obama in the primaries was a lot larger than the percentage of whites voting for Hillary. And Obama got more white votes than Kerry or Gore did. All that doesn’t matter. People for whom race is a determining factor are going to vote for or against Obama as their biases direct. Our target are those undecided folks in the middle who are not into identity politics, but who will feel sympathy for Obama if the left or the media can use anything—I mean anything—that at all credibly portrays the opposition to him as being based on racism.
Don’t tell jokes or circulate items that could be construed as racist. No mention of Africa, color or of anything that might be taken as a racial stereotype. No pictures of Obama as a monkey (yes, the left did that to Bush, but Bush couldn’t play the race care.) I’m sure the doctor who was pilloried for forwarding the cartoon of Obama as a Witchdoctor was thinking of bad medicine, not race. But it allowed the opposition to discredit him. Don’t feed the trolls.
As conservatives who believe in America, we oppose people because of their policies, their actions, their character, not their race, gender, ethnicity or religion. Or, unlike the left, their age.
2. Violence and guns. Some idiot wrote a column suggesting a military coup against Obama might be needed. Another put up a poll asking if Obama should be killed. And stupid websites put them up. What a gift to the left’s efforts to portray opponents of their statist policies as violent nuts.
The black guy who took a military-appearing rifle (thus assault rifle to the media) to the protest outside Obama’s Arizona speech was, I believe, an opponent of Obama. But he gave a gift to the Leftstream Media, as MSNBC was able to film him from the waist down, so viewers couldn’t see he was black, and then comment on how people hate Obama because of his race. Do not take guns or weapons to protests. If you take a butter knife, the media will jump on it to portray you as the second coming of a Nazi SS Panzer division, marching on Washington. No jokes about guns or violence. It feeds the pro-Obama narrative they are selling to the decent folks in the middle, who are not paying a lot of attention.
3. Don’t overplay your hand. The first rule of poker is that you bluff on a weak hand, you underplay a strong hand. The classic political case of overplaying a strong hand was the stupid—no other word for it—Republican attempt to impeach Bill Clinton. They could have left him weakened and twisting in the wind. Instead they gave him and the Democrats the chance to say it was about politics and about sex when it was about perjury—apparently Democrats believe that if you are charged with sexual harassment, lying under oath is fine.
The whole mess allowed Clinton to portray himself as a victim of Republican politics, and make a remarkable recovery. Suppose Republicans had said, “We believe that perjury is a serious crime, an impeachable offence. We also believe that allowing it to go unpunished in a sexual harassment case jeopardizes the rights of women in future cases. But we know that removing a president from office is also very serious, and we don’t believe it should be a partisan endeavor. Therefore, unless and until a significant number of Democrats believe that perjury in sexual harassment cases is an impeachable offence, we do not think that moving forward is in the interests of the country.” That would have left him hanging around Democrat necks, defending perjury as opposed to a woman’s right to a fair trial in a harassment case.
And suppose they had removed Clinton. Al Gore would have gone into the 2000 election as president, leading a fired-up party. Great result.
You can make more points with the middle by presenting the facts and letting people make up their own minds. Let them discover how bad his policies are for America.
4. Focus on the important. You don’t have to beat up Obama and company on every little thing he does, and doing so makes our opposition to him look petty and desperate. The middle probably isn’t interested in his wife’s shopping trips or how much a night out in NY cost. They think the president deserves a night out and know he has to be protected. This is a case of feeding the base, while turning off the votes in the middle you need to win.
5. Don’t overreach. This goes with don’t overplay your hand. Nothing is more common in politics than to overreach by taking a strong case and hard facts, and then moving into speculation, and sometimes into lies. And your case comes crashing down.
I contributed to the Swift Boat Vets, but I think they overreached. They had a strong case, based on facts. Kerry did launch his career by denigrating his comrades in the Winter Soldier Project, which was highly based on lies. Then they got into speculation about his medals, something they couldn’t prove that gave the opposition ammo to question their entire case, and create the impression it was unfair—aided by the media. Maybe Kerry deserved his medals—I wasn’t there. If not, frankly he wouldn’t be the only officer in Vietnam to get a gong on the cheap.
I don’t know if Obama was born in Hawaii or not. Apparently, they pretty much take birth registrations there on faith, so I don’t know that we’ll ever know. I’ve stayed away from the Birther movement, because I can see then overreaching, thus aiding Obama. To me, it was clear that no court would overturn the results of an election, even if you had a video of him being born on Mars. And especially not when it would likely result in riots, destruction and murder in the inner cities.
Too much of the Birther movement has used speculation or documents that aren’t credible, thus tainting all associated with it. I’m focused on policy.
6. Avoid personal attacks. Joe Wilson fired up the base, me included. And he took in a lot of campaign dollars. But he allowed the Leftstream Media and the Obots to shift the focus off the lies in Obama’s speech to Joe Wilson’s outburst. It was a gift to Obama. See the note about being the victim of an outrage.
If Wilson had issued a press release the next day saying that the President’s statements were untrue because of X, Y and Z, there would have been no more outrage than there was at Obama calling his opponents liars in that same speech.
Calling the President a liar is a personal attack. Saying that, “Yesterday, President Obama spoke about a man who died from cancer because he couldn’t get insurance, but in fact, that man did get coverage and lived for four more years,” lets voters conclude that the President is a liar, without you making him a victim by saying so.
Attack his policies. Attack his actions. Exposing actions and bad policies will expose the character flaws and lack of judgment without resorting to personal attacks that may make him sympathetic to swing voters.
7. Avoid the direct insult. Saying, “President Obama is a liar” is a direct insult. Saying, “President Obama has such a great reverence for the truth that he doesn’t want to wear it out by overuse” is satire, clever and more likely to score points with the swing voters. Humor and ridicule are powerful weapons—if directed at his policies and actions, and not at him personally. (Yes, I cribbed that, forget where—maybe Churchill.)
Ridicule is an effective weapon. But, again, we want to ridicule the policies and the actions, not the President personally. Never mind how the left treated Bush, Palin, et al. The infantry have a saying: “Take the high ground, or they will bury you in the valley!” I’ve found it to also be true in politics. It’s hard to do, of course, especially if you are angry, but it’s generally the safest and best policy. Coming down off the high ground makes you vulnerable to counter attack.
8. Act with integrity. Some of the phone documents circulated by a few in the Birther movement have helped Obama the same way Dan Rather’s phony military documents helped Bush. Don’t forward Internet glurge without at least trying to check it out. Don’t forward things you know to be untrue. Hitting “send” without checking is a gift to the statists supporting Obama. If we are the good guys, we have to try to act with integrity. Leave the lies and phony documents to the left and their media puppies.
Have I ever violated any of the above? Of course. I’m not perfect, and in fact I believe perfection doesn’t exist. But constant improvement does, and we can all improve how well we act, every day. And the better we can do following these rules, the less we feed the leftwing trolls.
I’ll leave you with another good maxim I don’t always follow: Anger is a good servant, but a bad master.
Robert A. Hall is a Marine Vietnam veteran who served five terms in the Massachusetts state senate as a Republican. He was Minority Whip when he decided not to seek re-election in 1982.