Surviving the Rock Star and Not Beating up the New Kid

Stephen Noriega – The McCain Beat

John McCain has a bit of a paradox to swim through if he wants to become president. McCain finds himself running against a historical, charismatic, symbolic candidate. This presents a multidimensional challenge in terms of McCain being able to frame himself and frame Barack Obama. McCain must avoid the pitfalls that come with campaigning against an attention machine. He must also avoid being so rough on Obama that he becomes defined as a bully. McCain needs to know that voters are willing to dislike the rock star but if we feel sorry for them, we back them up whether they deserve it or not.

First, the rock star hurdle must be cleared. The evidence is clear that Obama is a phenomenon, drawing hundreds of thousands of cheering people in Germany, waving American flags. When was the last time that happened without divisions of American soldiers marching in the streets or supporting airlifts there? The answer is never.

All of this comes through the media. The Internet obviously loves Barack Obama and prefers to make fun of McCain. More pictures can be found like the two below than the reverse.

This clip from Hardball illustrates the visual and psychologically symbolic difference between Obama and McCain.

Inspite of that, Obama only received a bounce in the polls to approximately 48% to McCain’s 40% after his Audacity of Yes We Can 08 World Tour. This number actually fell one percent according to Gallup ( ). As it turns out, Americans don’t follow the European lead when it comes to presidential politics. If that were the case, Ralph Nader would not be running only because he was term limited!

McCain can take advantage of this by sticking with his agenda and framing himself as the candidate who did not need a tour of our battlefields because he had been there many times. He did not need a trip to Europe because Europe does not elect our president or help us much in the Middle East. McCain is very strong in the “town hall” environment. He is a good sparring partner. He makes gaffs and factual mistakes but they are often in smaller venues and his willingness to take unscripted questions gives him forgiveness in this area. Obama is already the better coliseum orator. No reason to fight him there. Fight him among the American people, in the veterans’ halls and the converted square dance auditoriums and even the college campuses. This is where McCain can punch and punch back. Obama, expected to be elegant and articulate all the time, can only make blunders and look less ready for the pressures of the Presidency.

Not Beating Up the New Kid

McCain and his campaign committed an error by energetically firing off juvenile criticisms of his apparent patriotism and travel itinerary. Let the public in America feel unimpressed while you focus on how the surge in Iraq has worked, how you want to ease the pain at the pump on so forth, Senator McCain. By talking about Obama not visiting wounded troops, the McCain campaign opens itself up to looking ugly and desperate. First, because the facts are wrong (Obama did visit wounded troops). Second, these tactics appear like nervous salvos thrown at an opponent, creating sympathy for Obama. Third, it’s too early! Most people are finishing off their summer vacations, and thusly worried about gas prices. More people are thinking about the 2008 Olympics and Academy Award implications for the Dark Knight right now. Any creative and successful harpooning of Obama may very well go unnoticed and wasted until at least the party conventions.

John McCain should not “approve this message”.

A very wise professor once said that one of the best ways to get elected is if the voters feel sorry for the candidate. This is true. Many felt that Bush’s election somehow became more solidified the more that Hollywood mocked him. Senator Hillary Clinton seemed to gain strength in her bid for political office after Rick Lazio stepped to her podium with a piece of paper. It was over the top and seen as bullying. Hillary won the seat after being neck and neck with Lazio up to that debate. Anyway, my money would have been on Hillary if it spiraled into fisticuffs.

-MSNBC, 2000

McCain needs to keep it in mind that Americans love the underdog more than the rock star. This is not to say that McCain can not state differences in philosophy or criticize Obama. He can and should. However, he should give little attention to his ability to draw crowds, perhaps even complimenting him for that. Then he should turn around and nail him for wanting to raise capital gains taxes, on his mistaken assumption that more U.S. troops would not work in Iraq and other weaknesses. McCain did not help himself with the statement that Barack Obama is willing to “lose a war to win a campaign”. The commercial blaming Obama for higher oil prices also worked in the opposite direction. They are too aggressive at this point and they give the rock star the underdog title as well. Obama is too vulnerable in other ways to try the straight negative approach. McCain needs to keep his charming side to the public. He needs to nurture that part of him that is humorous (no gorilla rape jokes!) and attentive to people’s concerns. This is definitely something he can do. He can attack Obama on the validity of his policy arguments. He needs to stay away from phrases like, “The audacity of hopelessness”. They might be funny. I even chuckled. Then I thought, “Does that make McCain anti-hope?” In these hard times, the Straight Talk Express needs to include some hope. If McCain’s campaign does not realize this, he will frame himself as the angry old bully and Obama as the good new kid.

Ron Davis, The Satirical Political Report, 6-20-2008

Advise to McCain

So if I were advising McCain, I would tell him to lay off the new kid. Argue with him within the environment of policy and experience. Do not become desperate because of his youthful popularity. It has not translated into a gaping poll chasm yet. McCain’s numbers continue to be extremely friendly considering the widespread anger with the Republican Party. Stay with the policy program, go to as many town halls as possible and let the rock star perform at as many stadiums as he wants. Very few rock stars have been elected to political office, and if they did win, their opponents were probably too mean to them.


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