"Our Karl Rove is the blog you should be glad that Democratic strategists don't seem to listen to"
-- what they're saying on Republican blogs

Monday, July 17, 2006

Principles Trump Policy

Progressive Blogosphere,

The debate and discussion over Lamont and Lieberman in Connecticut has become increasingly controversial and concerning -- so much so that watching the televised debate became mandatory research for OKR. From an out-of-state perspective, two things became clear after watching the debate:

  • Lamont appears flimsy and whiney, whereas Lieberman appears to have shed his whiney persona and has gotten a lot better at debating since the 2000 campaign.
  • Lamont is running as an outsider and anti-Bush candidate, whereas Lieberman is running as a seasoned, moderate Senator who happens to have a very unpopular policy with regards to the Iraq War.

Bloggers and concerned Democrats who support Lamont, you are falling into a trap. You are supporting a candidate based on a policy instead of his principles. Lamont appears to be a gimmick candidate who is benefiting from a populist campaign focused on a politically-charged topic. Lieberman might not have a popular position in his continued support for the Iraq War, but the Democratic Party will be stronger when it supports candidates of principle and integrity -- even when they appear wrong-headed on specific issues.

How could Lieberman be principled, you might ask, when he supports such a horrible war policy and such a horrible President? He can be principled because while he continues to support the President in the Iraq War, he still believes -- rightly or wrongly -- that his position is the informed, mature, reasonable approach to seeing things through. If he were not principled, he might be seen careening and vacillating with the popular sentiments of the day, month or year. If he were not principled, he might be easily labeled as, say, a flip-flopper. If the man's a hawk (possibly due to an allegiance to Israel, among other things), then the principled thing for him to do is to be honest about his beliefs on the matter, no matter the popularity.

It's easy to see how Democrats might mistrust a politician who seems to be principled. After all, President Bush's ability to appear principled to the average voter was a significant factor in his ability to be almost elected and then re-almost elected. But, just because Bush turned out to be a politically savvy double-talker who merely appears to be principled doesn't mean that Democrats such as Lieberman -- who also appear principled -- should not to be trusted or supported. Conversely, it is arguable that any Democrat supporting the war today has quite a difficult position to manage politically. To contrast, what difficult political positions is Lamont taking?

Then there's Lamont's recent advert of Lieberman's face morphing into Bush. This solidifies Lamont's brand: he is the official "We Hate Bush" candidate. If being anti-Bush is all Democrats and progressive bloggers are looking for in a candidate, then the Democratic Party is but a hollow shell -- a literal shadow of the Republicans (in fact, Democrats are still recovering from being in this exact losing position when they nominated John Kerry in 2004).

So please take pause, step back, do some research on Lieberman's personal life and voting record, and think about his character. Try to look at how he conducts himself as a person and politician outside of the war issue. Think about it...don't Democrats ask moderate, pro-life Americans to step back from that singular issue -- abortion -- and vote on the broad stance on issues of a candidate? Didn't Democrats deride those "other voters" who voted Bush back into office based on a single issue - the war on terror? Or, in some communities, the single issue of gay marriage?

Think about how much you risk inadvertently becoming them as you yourselves get sucked into single-issue politics, and how this feeds a culture of polarization.

Look deep and critically examine exactly what you're supporting and why you're supporting it. Are you supporting a set of guiding principles that strengthen the Democratic Party and subsequent political influence, or are you supporting a set of populist policies that expire rapidly and leave the party constantly on the prowl for the next "anti-[fill in the blank]" campaign?

In the end, I'm afraid Democrats just don't wear "populism" well in today's climate. Populism is easy, cheap, and effective -- and has been the domain of conservatives in modern times. Today's Democrats are supposed to uphold progressive values, which are inherently more difficult to explain because they involve cognitive reasoning, systems thinking, and less usage of mankind's basic instinctive emotional reactions.

Yet, Lamont is running a populist campaign. If Democrats want to differentiate themselves from the failed, populist conservative policies of the past twelve years, now is not the time to support populist Republican clones.

If you follow this line of reasoning, then you just might see that Lieberman is not the Republican clone... Lamont is.


Sirocco said...

This analysis wrongly assumes that Lieberman is only unpopular for supporting the war. In fact he is unpopular for his constant fraternization with the administration, undermining the front against same.

Jon said...


Appreciate the comment and the context. Point well taken. But if it weren't for the war, any fraternization wouldn't be the news it is today.

Additionally, your comment also cements the "anti-bush" notion as a reason not to vote for a moderate, respected Democratic senator who will have more power in the Senate in the next 6 years than Lamont will.

It's about having a systemic view of the Democratic brand and political efficacy.

But, thank you for the comment, and point well taken. Lieberman decided to be friendly with this administration at his own peril. That might not have been the right thing to do, but that doesn't mean that Lamont is the antidote.

Max Flores said...


Can you use this as a post? We seem to think very much alike:

It wasn’t Iraq.
It wasn’t terrorism.
It wasn’t abortion.
It wasn’t gay marriage.
It wasn’t jobs.

It wasn’t anything real.

George Bush won because Karl Rove was way better than the Democrats at one simple thing. Managing perception. What is managing perception?

Let’s consider these two examples:

John Kerry went to Vietnam, saved a man’s life and got wounded several times. Somehow, the people of this country perceived of John Kerry as a coward who had never served his country and would not be tough enough as our commander-in-chief in wartime. That's managing perception!

George Bush avoided going to Vietnam and even avoided serving out his National Guard obligation. Somehow, the people of this country perceived of George Bush as a heroic fighter, experienced military man and a courageous commander-in-chief. That's really managing perception!

Not just managing the perception people have of YOUR guy, but more importantly, it’s managing the perception people have of the other guy!

In 2004, more people perceived that John Kerry was bad and George Bush was good. Just enough people for George Bush to win the election.

Which brings us to a cold hard fact: if the Democratic party wants to take back Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, they must immediately become as good at or better than Karl Rove at managing perception.

The good news is, managing perception is not some magic trick that only Karl Rove knows the secret to.

Managing perception is not even all that difficult once you know the rules and once you’ve committed yourself and the party to doing it right.

What are the rules?

Rule 1: (put a huge star next to this rule)

Pick ONE individual to head up your election team and give this person TOTAL AUTHORITY to manage any and all advertising messages and perception issues. Whatever he or she says – goes! And no more discussion.

There were twenty nine people in charge of Kerry, including Kerry himself. The public heard twenty nine different viewpoints. The Republicans had one person in charge. Rove. The public heard one viewpoint. Rove’s.

Pick the roughest, toughest, meanest person who has ever created wildly successful advertising/PR campaigns. Make damned sure this person is a real marketer, doesn’t take any guff from anybody and is NOT a political stooge.
Finally, make sure ALL the money flows to this one person and all spending is coordinated through this person alone.

Rule 2:
Understand that you are dealing with a target audience that doesn’t care enough to learn the real facts regarding the real issues.

The target audience fervently believed that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and that there WERE weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Do not try to change this reality. Work with it. The perception they have IS the reality! Take heart! If they are maleable enough to perceive something despite obvious evidence to the contrary, you will be able to make them perceive any number of things!

Rule 3:
Come to grips with the fact that the media that services this target audience is already dead set against you. Learn to live with this obvious negative.

Fox News. Official News Channel of the successful invasion of Iraq and media/pr representative for the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth.

Create a media network that will reach your target. Don’t make it left, don’t make it right. Work hard to make it entertaining, middle of the road and believable.

Rule 4:
When the other side hands you a bone, do not bury the bone! USE IT! The best way to negatively affect the perception of the other side is to use their own bone against them!

“I voted for it before I voted against it” was a bone Karl Rove shook in our face, perfectly defining Kerry as a “flip-flopper”. When Bush said, “I don’t think much about Bin Laden”, Kerry should have said, “Bin Laden murdered 3000 Americans and will kill more of us and you are too much of a coward to go after him? We avenged Pearl Harbor! Why are we not avenging 9/11, you coward?”

Cheer up. You missed your chance, but there’ll be more. Rudy already blamed the troops (instead of Bush) for missing the weapons cache. Hey, Mr. Mayor, accept responsibility and SUPPORT our troops, you miserable politician.

Rule 5:
Stop playing by Marquis of Queensberry rules. Before you get punched, you punch. Hard. Whenever possible, you punch below the belt. And most importantly, even after they are down, you keep punching. If necessary, you kick them until they are not just down, but dead.

George Bush. Cocaine. Alcohol. The National Guard. Deserter. With 40 days to go before the election, there should have been 40 awful revelations about George Bush – one each day, each worse than the one before it.

Forget spin. The voters we’re after don’t care about it. If you’re worried the other campaign will spin you as being too negative, you’ve already lost the election. Your job is to do your job, play dirty, punch hard and not care what people think.

Rule 6:
No more nuance.
The target audience not only fails to understand even the most obvious nuance, they actually HATE the idea there even IS a nuance in the first place. (It even sounds French!)
Nuance - bad. Black and white – good!

“A marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman” – George Bush. “I’m personally against gay marriage, but I feel the states should decide.” – John Kerry (Too Nuanced By Half!!)

Forget that issues really DO demand nuance, at least until the election is over. So until November, pick a side on each issue and make sure your target audience understands clearly what that side is. And relax. The only people you’ll sound like a simpleton to are already voting for you anyway.

Rule 7:
Choose one very clear label for your candidate and never EVER let go of it. Keep hitting it hard until everyone in America knows it is EXACTLY what your candidate stands for.

Bush was the “unwavering commander-in-chief who defeated terror”. Kerry was _____. Whatever he was - wasn’t bad, but we’re still not able to fill in that blank.

Think of a one word label that your target can quickly grasp. “America, I am the Jobs President!” Don’t worry about which label is best. Just choose one and let that be the centerpiece. All other things the candidate talks about will grow out of this one strong position.

Rule 8:
Raise as much money as possible and then divide it into two equal piles. One goes to media/adv/pr and the other to recruiting, training and firing up volunteers.

Rove found and motivated volunteers who went where no campaign had gone before – into places where alligators were more likely to vote than people.

Your volunteers MUST BE a member of your target audience. You need to find volunteers who attend the same church, go to the same stores and who like and dislike the same things your target audience does! Remember, you cannot spend TOO MUCH money or do TOO MUCH demographic homework and research making this happen!

Rule 9:
Do not give Rove any help. In other words, do not start with a candidate that puts you in a twenty foot ditch that he will never let you fight your way out of.

There are too many examples from this past election to even get into.
This one is no walk in the park, but it is not impossible. No obvious liberals. Nobody from the Northeast. Nobody who cannot remain strong and stay firm on issues while tacking to the center in a convincing, spirited way.

Hint! Hint!
Bill Richardson. Wesley Clark. Evan Bayh.

Rule 10:
Start today. Not later today. Now. Karl Rove has already picked a candidate and crafted a strategy that he is confident will womp your stupid Democratic butt. And make no mistake about it: he has also already dug up tons of dirt on the 20 people you’re most likely to nominate.

By the time the Democrats got around to throwing a few punches in 2004, they were defensive punches and way too late. They should have started in December 2000.

Don’t put off your homework for tomorrow morning. Karl Rove isn’t. Collect data on whoever they might nominate. Spend some time NOW figuring out how to effectively deal with anybody and everybody they might nominate.

Rule 11:
Stop trying to be ATAP, or “All Things To All People”. You will fail. There is no way in this great country of ours that you will ever be more than 65% of things to 55% of the people. That’s your goal, by the way. You reach it and you own the White House in 2008.

Karl Rove didn’t bother with liberals and even most democrats. He went after Republicans and the squishy center and didn’t waste any time or money on anybody else. (He also didn’t care what everybody else thought of him or his candidate.)

In 2008, there’ll be a lot of people who voted for Bush who are going to be OPEN to a new candidate, IF it’s the right candidate and you IF make people perceive it’s the right candidate. Work hard to figure out who these people are and what they want to hear. Then go for it.

Keep a copy of these rules by your pillow and read them every night. Then, when you wake up, make damned sure you follow them every day. No example or hint required. If you adhere to these rules, you are going to NEUTRALIZE Rove by making this Rove Versus Rove.

On a neutral playing field, (you may want to check the voting machines in the meantime) you’re going to win. Big time.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that Lieberman has an undeniable incentive to support policy that makes Israel safer? I would imagine in his own mind he is hoping that everything in Iraq works out and it becomes a supporter of Israel's right to exist. Otherwise, why else would he try and put a positive spin on what is going on in Iraq? Answer me that.

Lynette said...

Brilliant, Max, almost as brilliant as OKR :-) ~ so why can't democrats seem to find our own elusive karl rove? why do the already advantaged republicans seem to have the advantage in this area as well? where is our karl rove?

Jon said...


Great contribution. Good news... you have *already* posted on OKR. People will read the notes here.

Sometimes, there is more "gold" in the comments area than in the original post. Keep up the great contributions to the body of work that is Our Karl Rove -- posts and comments alike.

I was where you are when I started KerrysKarlRove.com back in 2004. I felt the same things, and blogged very similar ideas. And we're not alone... Kerry made it really easy for a lot of us to become "messaging experts" because, frankly, it wasn't hard to be better than the candidate.

One of the key strategies that is often missed in these messaging suggestions is something that's a bit harder to implement, but very important: belief.

Bush and his cadre really do believe that they're right, and that they're saving America from pointless and misguided liberalism.

Once you have belief, all of the "messaging pointers" that you listed are much easier to implement. Belief is 70% of the battle.

The problem is that liberals have very little left to believe in. Their core principles have been unraveled at the cultural level. Democrats are still battling a nascent echoes of the "hippies in the sixties."

Until this battle subsides, liberals are always going to be cast into a hippy context, which kills their credibility. Conversely, conservatives are battling with the movie "Grease." Quite a different battle, wouldn't you say?

This is why so-called "moderates" are the hot trade right now in Democratic politics. Not necessarily because they’re any better, but because they -- importantly -- duck and weave the hippy context.

As the 2006 election season presses on, I hope that you and others become frequent posters and add meaningful additions and insights to the blog posts here at OKR. This site needs more recognition, participation, and influence. Great comments like yours will only help create the requisite gravity to grow.


Jon said...


> Could it be that Lieberman has an undeniable incentive to
> support policy that makes Israel safer?

This assertion is definitely mentioned in my memo. And while I have no information that would definitively ensure that Lieberman has a linkage to Israel beyond any other politician, I really see no problem with that either.

If Lieberman has an allegiance to Israel, he should probably be open and honest about it. At the same time, his religious affiliation might be all he needs to share to get the point across.

But this is all besides the point I think. Do we really want to elect a U.S. Senator that won’t have nearly the clout or authority of Lieberman just because we believe that Lieberman – the Senator representing Connecticut -- has an allegiance to Israel? Isn’t there more to politics than a single issue?

The answer is “yes.” Go watch Lamont in action in the debate. It’s clear that he’s much more up for reveling in populist politics than really being a strong component of a future Democratic majority.

Jon said...


Glad to see regulars here! But I must take issue with your comment… Where is our Karl Rove? Ummm... He’s right here. You’ve found him.

Now, if only the Democratic leadership would find us.


matt said...

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Anonymous said...

The simply fact Democrats are too nice with the Republicans and too willing to attack their own. I'm watching in pa while Bob Casey. I do not agree with him on every issue but he is 100x better than 6 more years of Rick Santorum. The other thing people don't realize is that the Seat that is held by Santorum and Casey is running for has always been the Conservative seat in pa in the senate. Specter holds the seat that was almost always held by a Liberal. We have become a party where a small number of extremists have over run the views of the vast majority of the party.

NutmegState said...

A nicely done public airing of the du jour "opinion that dare not speak its name" among the left-leaning in the Nutmeg State. (Yes, even among those of us who abhor the war, support gay marriage, and generally loathe Bush's policy agenda.)

You are not alone. I sent this post to a good friend recently fired by [relevant political employer] for bringing similar views to the table.

Lynette said...

I heard something vaguely OurKarlRove-ish from the wooden Howard Dean on CNN this morning . . . :-)

Jon said...


Care to share? I'd love to hear whenever OKR has penetrated the political dialog...