"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, February 25, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Sheds Light on Karl Rove

I can't say for sure if my being within spitting distance of Karl Rove was the cause or the result of the full lunar eclipse last week, but the two events did converge at the same time.

This past Wednesday, February 20, we experienced a full lunar eclipse and I attended a Q&A "keynote" session with Karl Rove. It was not an intimate affair, so I was not able to introduce him to his quasi-dopplegänger, but I was able to listen to him speak in long-form about his beliefs, feelings, and approaches to the issues of the day and of the Bush Era.

I paid close attention to what he said, and how he said it in an effort to dig deeper into the mind of my antithesis. What I was able to re-confirm was that Karl Rove is every bit as bright, driven, and savvy as I had expected him to be. What I learned was that he is also quite ideological and protective, while still being a very effective communicator.

I have posted my brief review and analysis of Karl Rove on the Election Integrity blog (interestingly enough, Karl expressed a deep concern for election integrity).

Please post any of your thoughts and comments in the comments area here on OKR.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why You is Better than Me


No, I'm not going jive on you. You is better than me. When running for office (or, in fact, leading any organization), people utilize different levels of leadership in an effort to more effectively connect with their target audiences. During campaigns, voters have the ability to sense the level of leadership a candidate has mastered. And this matters, big time.

What do levels of leadership have to do with you being better than me? A lot -- and they're already having an effect on the 2008 primaries and presidential race. But before we jump right into the current races, it's important to see how leadership levels, and you and me, have played a critical role in prior elections...

A Look Back

The 2000 Election (Bush v. Gore) key messages:

  • George W. Bush ran on a lot of ideas (compassionate conservatism, lower taxes, unity [ha!]), but his campaign could be summed up as "I'm the guy who's more or less just like you, so of course I'll represent you the best in the White House."
  • Al Gore ran on a lot of ideas as well, which can be summed up as "I'm more responsible than Clinton, and I'm just plain smarter than Bush."
Revelation: For every "I" in Bush's message, there is a corresponding "you." Compare this to Gore's message of "me, them, me, them." Gore completely left you, the voter, out of the message. This can be boiled down to Bush's you-first message competing with Gore's me-first message. Guess which message voters preferred?

The big idea here is that one candidate had the confidence and wherewithal to always remember who he was courting, and was able to keep his head above water. People see this as a signal of superior confidence and leadership skills. And in national politics, these feelings can trump specific policy platforms (read this sentence a few more times, Democrats).

Now, onto the 2004 Election (Bush v. Kerry) key messages:
  • George W. Bush ran on "I'll keep you safe."
  • Kerry ran on "I'm ready for duty, and I'm just plain smarter than Bush."
You're smart. You see the pattern. Bush is still linking himself with you in his message, and the Democrat, predictably, is still all about "me, me, me!" (Yes, we all know that Bush vaguely, barely and shoddily won each race, but Gore and Kerry should have wiped the electoral map with Bush's gaffes and inexplicable track record.)

Onto the Democratic Primaries

So, how do the Democratic candidates measure up to the you is better than me leadership approach?

Hillary Clinton (primarily) focuses on the predictable Democratic message of "me"...
  • I'll be ready on day one
  • I am more experienced
  • I am a woman
Yet, she also has some "you" messages as well...
  • I'm going to worry about you every day
  • I'm going to fight for you
  • I care about you and your troubles
Yes, Hillary's you-first messages are bit depressing (which is another traditional Democrat message pitfall), but at least she has a few you messages in her collection.

Barack Obama (primarily) focuses on a less conventional message of "we"...
  • Together, we can change America
  • We are the ones we've been waiting for
Yet, Obama also has a secondary batch of messages, which are of the "me" variety...
  • I did not vote for the war
  • I will bring people together
  • I will change the tone in Washington
Like Hillary, Barack tries to focus on his primary message points whenever possible, but will fall back into his secondary messages when under the gun.

So, where do they stand? The answer lies in a simple leadership level calculus: You > We > Me. Simply put, you-first messages are stronger than we-first messages, are both are stronger than me-first messages.

If Hillary plans on winning, she's going to need to shift her focus from the less powerful me-first messages to her more meaningful you-first messages (she'll also need to clean them up to be less pessimistic). She can do this, but it's not very likely due to her depressingly piggish chief strategist Mark Penn.

If Hillary somehow does manage to shift to you, then Obama's movement-like 'we-first' messages get trumped -- he'll have nowhere to go but back to his store of weaker me-first messages. See the problem for Obama? He doesn't have any substantive you-first messages (did you catch that, Mr. Axelrod?). Fascinating.

The General Election

No matter who wins the primaries, Democrats will have a leg up on John McCain. Because, you guessed it, McCain is a me-first candidate:
  • I am a war hero
  • I am a maverick (ooh, sorry, I mean 'conservative,' my friends)
  • I was for the surge when nobody else was
  • I called for Rumsfeld's resignation when nobody else did
  • I co-wrote McCain-Feingold (notice whose name is first, my friends? Yeah, thought you did.)
Could this be the underlying reason why Republicans feel so skeeved out about their candidate? This kind of personality candidate sounds more like a modern Democrat ("me, me, me!") than a modern Republican leader who effortlessly stays focused on the you.

To John's credit, he does try to use some we messages as well, but these are secondary and not very popular with his base. Sadly, we as a pronoun rings very socialistic to Republicans.

Barring extraordinary factors, we can use the You > We > Me leadership level calculus to predict who has the best chance of winning races...

The Primary Calculus
Barack's we beats Hillary's me unless Hillary can quickly shift her message to one that says you matter more than she does.

The Election Calculus
Barack's we beats McCain's me. Even if McCain reaches into his backup store of we messages, it'll be hard to compete with Obama's primary we messages.
Clinton's me ties McCain's me, but Clinton has a backup supply of you messages she can deploy for the knock-out punch against McCain's backup selection of we messages.

In the end, while this is all instrumental to success, there is a very simple lesson for any candidate to glean: Voters are the ones voting. Think of them first, and the right words will follow.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Republican Debate Showcases Republican Abate


By now, you've read all the conventional analysis surrounding the debates leading up to Super Duper Tuesday. But as you also know, this primary season has been anything but conventional.

To make sense of an unconventional political season, best to be armed with unconventional wisdom:

The Republican debate was a great exercise in opposition research. We learned a few important things about the presumptive front-runner John McCain that can be taken to the bank in the general election...

  1. John McCain is tragically out of step with the fundamental priorities of most Americans. He sees the struggle against radical Islamic extremism as the "transcendent issue of our time: a fundamental struggle between good and evil." McCain asserts that "everything we stand for and believe in is at stake here."

    Wow - how quickly old timers can get out of step with reality. It feels like 1991 all over again, replacing George H.W. Bush with John McCain. Seriously, John, is the U.S. vs. Al Qa'ida really the equivalent of good vs. evil in biblical proportions? Or could it possibly be that America is seen as a neo-empire that is trying to control the flow of oil by keeping bases on Arab soil, and manipulating the power equation in the region as we see fit to protect our interests, and not the interests of the Arab people? I'm not saying there's anything wrong with protecting American interests, but what I am saying is that protecting our interests doesn't make them evil (or us good), and it doesn't make the problem transcendent. Rather, the issue is fairly geo-political, and only relevant for as long as we don't have alternative energy sources to rely upon.

    In the end, John McCain drank the Neo-Con Kool-Aid and is now apparently drunk on the power and force of Islamic extremism (or, the power of the military industrial complex). It's a shame to hear an American leader of such prominence giving so much credibility to such a marginal faction. Yes, Al Qa'ida has been quite destructive, but more damage from 9/11 has come as a result of America's fear of Al Qa'ida than Al Qa'ida's actual attacks.

    If we are determined to throw all of our money, military resources, and energy at trying to find a couple thousand extremists around the world, then we risk looking and sounding like the crazy uncle who tears up his own house looking for his dentures.

    By putting this stake in the ground, John is implicitly handing over the economy, global warming, and healthcare over to the Democrats to be their transcendent issues. That's a lot of political stickiness to give your opponent! The only way John wins at this game is if America is attacked again this year. Quite a bet to wage.

  2. John McCain displayed a few instances of old-guy-reaching-for-words-he-couldn't-easily-find syndrome. Look, it's not nice to use ageism as a political tool, but if you don't want political straight talk, then don't come visit Our Karl Rove.

  3. McCain dismayingly tried to use Bush-like debating strategies as he tried to corner Romney in his supposed support for timetables. He failed miserably. After McCain's campaign tanked over the summer of 07 due to his adoption of a "Bush III" campaign strategy, I thought John learned that he simply can't pull off the assoholic Bush campaign style. Apparently, John hasn't fully shed his Bush advisers. He should. The shoe just doesn't fit.
I'll briefly entertain Romney's problems just in case he becomes the nom:
  1. Romney is Their John Kerry. Need I say more?
    OK, a couple more...
  2. Romney is a center-less super-pleaser who may be smart and a great guy, but is simply not a good national politician. He's not politically savvy, he doesn't communicate well in the symbolic realm, and he is politically uncomfortable in his own suit.
  3. Romney plays a true conservative on TV, but is too much of a smarty-pants to be a virulent southern-fried conservative that tends to win Republican elections. He's like George H.W. Bush meets Steve Forbes with some hair on top. Blech.
In the end, when contrasting the Democratic and Republican debates, the Democrats -- refreshingly -- appear to be the party of the politically savvy, smart, and in-touch candidates. John McCain and Mitt Romney certainly have their positive attributes, but their debate looked like amateur hour compared to the primmed and proper Dems the following night. Obama and Hillary really put on quite a show, and are demonstrating to America that Democrats once again are relevant at the executive level. Kudos.