Internet/Telecom/Social Media

Hillary, John, Rudy, et al., we (the people) hardly knew ye …

If I’d had $1,000 to spare, the freedom to blow off a day of work and the cost of plane fare from Buffalo, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., I could have met presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, probably gotten photographed with her and listened to her speak on her perceptions of “domestic security.”

She and other members of Congress hosted a noon luncheon for donors at the law firm of Jones Day. After that, I could have participated in an hour of “policy discussions.” But I didn’t get an invitation. I’ll bet you didn’t, either.

I didn’t get an e-mail from David L. Mercer, the president of Mercer & Associates Inc., a political consulting and public strategies firm. The e-mail said, according to The New York Times:

I’d like to offer you a rare opportunity to take part in an in-depth discussion with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and top lawmakers from around Washington, D.C. [The lunch would be an] excellent opportunity to contribute the maximum to Senator Clinton and her campaign to restore American strength.

That’s one helluva campaign theme: “contribute the maximum.” Given a professor’s salary, I’m not surprised I was not an honored and invited check-writer.

The carping between candidate Clinton’s campaign and her principal challengers is well under way.

An e-mail from presidential candidate John Edwards’ campaign said candidate Clinton’s luncheon portrayed her as a “poster child” for “what is wrong in Washington” and that “too many in office have fallen under the spell of campaign money at any cost.” Then, of course the Clinton campaign reaches into its bucket of slime and tosses this back at candidate Edwards: “Increasingly negative attacks against other Democrats aren’t going to end the war, deliver universal health care or turn John Edwards’ flagging campaign around.”

These idiots are missing the point. Both the candidates and the press that dutifully records the slime and counter-slime just don’t get it: The candidates for national office do not speak directly with the citizenry —they speak only with the tiny percentage with the biggest wallets. The rest of us get the targeted leavings paid for by those big wallets.

I didn’t get to meet presidential candidate Clinton. Or candidate Edwards. Or candidate Romney. Or candidate McCain. Or any of the others who are wedded to fundraisers and a schedule of scripted and press-mediated gotcha debate opportunities.

I have met in person — shaken hands, talked with — only two presidential candidates: the late Sen. Paul Tsongas and former Gov. Michael Dukakis. And that’s only because they were Massachusetts politicians, and I was a Massachusetts journalist who met them long before their presidential aspirations took hold. I admired Sen. Tsongas; I rued Gov. Dukakis.

Yet 17 viable presidential candidates want my vote. In Iowa and New Hampshire, voters actually meet the candidates. This is the famous face of “retail” politics. Candidates trudge from diner to diner to meet the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. They kiss the babies and get their pictures taken with the locals.

But what about those potential voters who live in the wholesale states? Campaign planes touch down in these states momentarily in half a dozen cities in a single day before those planes carry the candidates off to another wholesale state.

Voters states in wholesale states are deluged with “robo-calls” — computer-dialed and -delivered political messages that usually sling mud at another candidate. The candidates appear at fundraisers only long enough to collect the checks from smiling bundlers (who may or may not have passed criminal background checks). And maybe they’ll spend a half hour having their pictures taken with those who get invited to actually meet the candidate — at a $1,000 per picture.

Come primaries and the general election, most of us are left with only press-mediated impressions of these [insert favorite pejorative term here]. Oh, I suppose we could read the blarney posted on their campaign Web sites. And we could read what bloggers have to say (and how many credible bloggers have actually met the candidates?). We could read the ponderous pontifications about these politicians written by syndicated pundits for the nation’s bland, boring op-ed pages.

Heavens, we could even learn about them from those political action groups (you know, the 527s and so forth) that have no official affiliation with the candidates, groups that pull in tons of soft money. You know, the groups that made swift boat into a verb and a general of the army into a traitor.

I won’t be able to shake these presidential candidates’ hands and look ’em in the eye. Instead, I’ll be micro-targeted as a specific demographic type gleaned from their data mining of consumer and personal data. I will be for them only the amalgam of keywords in a database.

The candidates will “[t]ake corporate America’s love affair with learning everything it can about its customers, and its obsession with carving up the country into smaller and smaller clusters of like-minded consumers, and turn those trends into a political strategy” — which is what pollster Alex Gage to advised Karl Rove in 2002 to insure the re-election of President Bush in 2004.

The candidates will tell me what to do and think about their rivals through “crash ads,” in which a candidate’s operative might, for example, “[drive] around New Hampshire with a digital camera and a singular mission: finding a way to discredit John McCain with voters in the state’s upcoming primary.” The footage gained could used almost immediately to produce a negative campaign ad after an opponent’s gaffe-filled appearance or press conference. (Can you say “Macaca,” Sen. Allen?)

Or the candidates might send a micro-targeted message to me through their OPOs — online political operatives who believe the Internet offers “a strategy, a whole new way of campaigning, a form of communication, from blogs to MySpace to YouTube, with far more potential than the old media of print and television.”

I’ve long felt that to national political campaigns, I am merely precisely sorted data. I am not a person with a vote. I am a marketing segment to be targeted, and that cultivation does not allow me the opportunity to get past the mediated version of a candidate’ persona, purpose and policies. I will not know them, and they will not know me.

It’s not entirely the candidates’ fault. We, the electorate, should have complained a helluva lot more when big money began flowing into politics in the 1980s. We should have recognized the nasty trickery of the Deavers and the Atwaters and the Roves and the DeLays. We didn’t, because they were really, really good at the twin political arts of corrosive deception and corruptive arm-twisting.

But, at the moment, candidates are gaming a political system that isn’t about serving the needs of the nation or its citizenry as much as it is about obtaining and keeping power — and then arrogantly revealing to us what our needs and wants actually are as those in power see them.

If we the people do not believe that members of Congress and the president know and understand us, why on earth do we tolerate that? How we expect them to act in our — and we are the nation, not them — best interests if they only know us through the push polls and targeted marketing?

Remember the book about Richard Nixon’s campaign, “The Selling of the President 1968” by Joe Mcginnis?

Nothing’s changed, people. … Well, actually, it has. Things are much worse.

17 replies »

  1. Bravo, Sir!

    We do know the candidates, though. They are the same and have been the same for centuries. I believe you mentioned it in the entry, “…candidates are gaming a political system that isn’t about serving the needs of the nation or its citizenry as much as it is about obtaining and keeping power…”

    Garbage in, garbage out.

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  3. “We should have recognized the nasty trickery of the Deavers and the Atwaters and the Roves and the DeLays.”

    But so many people did and do. This is the open secret of politics; that arm-twisting and apathy shelter and reward the most aggressively venal of the pack.

    How on earth do you decide for whom to vote?

  4. You could always choose to not choose. This process will always draw the same people into it, so finding the “right” person is pretty much out of the question, let alone enough of the right people to make a difference. I say to hell with the whole thing, we can do better on our own without having power-hungry leeches skimming off the top.

  5. You could always choose to not choose.

    Sure, and your non-vote becomes a vote for the winner because you choose not to vote for the loser. And if the winner happens to be someone you disagree with more than the loser, then you’re partly responsible for the fact that the greater evil won.

    Even a non-choice is a choice.

  6. Denny, I’m still waiting to hear why you think Petraeus didn’t deserve the shot MoveOn fired at him, personally. Seeing as how you mentioned it again in the course of this post, I figure you should be able to explain how you find what they did wrong.

  7. Brian,
    I think you present a false-dichotomy based on the assumption that there has to be some chosen one. Having to choose one or the other and not presenting another choice of choosing or not is jumping the gun.

    Degree of disagreement with another person should hardly matter if they didn’t have that monopoly on the use of force to begin with. If you want to be ruled, then voting may be a necessary analgesic. I don’t make the assumption that there has to be someone to rule me, so I don’t feel it necessary to choose who those somebodies are.

  8. I read The Selling of the President, Denny. I also read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Guess which one seemed more apropos to politics?

    They’re all bastards interested in $$$ and $$$ alone, Denny. I love Edwards, but he’s a $$$ guy, too. He can’t help but be.

    It’s the SYSTEM that’s got to be addressed.

  9. PintofStout – my assumption isn’t that there has to be someone to rule over you, but rather that, in our system, there will be someone. It’s an important distinction.

    Given that there will be someone running the country, do you want that someone to be more or less in line with your beliefs? If you choose not to choose the person more in line, you’ve chosen to let others make that choice for you. Which is fine, BTW – just don’t whine (to me, anyway) if that person does something you don’t like.

    I’ll say it again – every non-choice is a choice. So please, make sure you make your choices carefully.

  10. Martin,

    I think MoveOn played a little loose with the language. Some of its claims in that ad are open to varying interpretation or cannot be supported.

    I’ll let the Washington Post explain. Please see:

    I also think that tactically, it was a blunder. If MoveOne sought to enlighten, it failed. If it sought to foster dissent, it succeeded spectacularly. I’d love to know how MoveOn’s own fundraising fared in the wake of the ad.

    The attempt to make a point also suffered from the law of unintended consequences. Instead of talking about the content of the ad, much of the coverage went to the supposed “cut-rate” cost of the ad.

    If I were MoveOn’s media strategist, this is not what I’d have recommended.


  11. Brian-
    Sadly, it is true that there will be someone. But the distinction between the likelihood of there being someone and mindset that there has to be someone is what I’m focusing on. If we accept current reality every time, then there can be no change because there will be no one to think outside the now.

    If I had to vote for someone in line with my beliefs, I’d still be a non-voter it seems – don’t see many anarchists running for office. I don’t wish to whine about anybody, either. I would have to whine about everyone. If voting earns a special privilege to be heard whining, then can only whine about the person I didn’t vote for; because, actually I didn’t vote for any of them. If it would somehow earn me the privilege to whine about the person I did vote for, then there’d be a LOT less whining these days.

    I understand it is a choice. And my choice makes as much difference as yours.

  12. PintofStout, – whether your choice makes a difference or not is entirely dependent on how you define “making a difference.” Not voting makes a point, and to that extent it makes a difference. If, over the long run, that point your making helps institute change in the system, then yes, it would have made a difference to the system. So in the sense of potentially opening people’s minds to new ideas, you probably are making a difference.

    Alas, that’s not enough for me – I need pragmatic, concrete results to my choices (at least in this realm).

  13. Denny,

    I’d be loath to trust the Washington Post on any sort of fact-checking, as they fuck it up worse on a daily basis than ever has.

    With that said, I agree with your comments that the ad made it more about them than the issue of Petraeus’ shill testimony. My problem with your comments was that I felt like you were giving Petraeus a pass simply because he was an Army general. That’s something I would always fight back against.

  14. Nah. I wouldn’t give Petraeus a pass ’cause he’s military. My beef is MoveOn adopted a weak PR strategy. Poor design = unintended effects. It lost control of its message.

  15. I’d have to agree, even though I completely support the sentiment they were espousing. Now even Bush is getting in on the act, and the ad is becoming the centerpiece, as opposed to the main point–that Petraeus’ testimony was crap and that conditions in Iraq were horrible.

    Of course, I could also take the counterpoint and say that every time we discuss the ad instead of Petraeus, we’re guilty of falling for the frame as well. So I’ll stop. 😉