"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

Friday, October 31, 2008

An Economical Endorsement


I hold The Economist in high regard as a global news publication. Though, while reading it, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that it advocates a fierce ideology that maintaining free markets is by far the most advantageous strategy for improving the state of the human condition. Thus, when analyzing American politics, they are not going to be too inclined to endorse a Democrat for President. In fact, in articles throughout this year, I sensed The Economist strongly leaning toward McCain in their election coverage.

So it was to my great surprise that they have announced their endorsement of Barack Obama for President. Unlike its only two prior endorsements of Democrats (Kerry as "incoherent [and] far from an easy call," and Clinton as representing a party that "deserves a chance to try"), this endorsement is full-throated:

"The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr. Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America's self-confidence."
Note: There is, of course, an argument made by Republicans that all the Economist does is endorse the "non incumbent party" nominee. This frame is clearly being advanced as a way to discount this powerful endorsement. However, it's simply not true: In 1984 and in 1988, The Economist chose to endorse no one.

This endorsement is powerful on two fronts:

1. The President of the United States is not a single-issue position. This is a free-market (i.e., anti-socialist) magazine weighing all the factors involved in what a President is and needs to be for America. Being a British enterprise, The Economist has traditionally seen America as a crucial gravitational force for the world's stability, safety and morality. From their perspective, America is much more than a nation -- it is a (now withering) symbol of what people and nations can do at their best: fearlessly innovate, explore, give, work and grow.

From this vantage point, even the virulent free-market editors see the balanced scorecard: international relations, terrorism, the economy, race relations... all of these factors go into picking a modern-day President. The Economist reminds us that picking a President is so much more than a tax plan.

2. Obama is more like Ronald Reagan than most on either side of the aisle party want to admit. This is prescient OKR speaking; meaning, this is not a tactic that is necessarily going to win Obama any votes, hearts or minds in the next few days. But I'm going to advocate this frame nevertheless because I want to be out in front of it.

Actually, I'm not the one who is out in front of it first -- Obama was when he said that Reagan "changed the trajectory of America... He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it." And he meant what he said -- it's just that he quickly learned that he couldn't say such things in Democratic primaries without being bludgeoned by a nearby Clinton.

Nevertheless, it's an important parallel. In 1980, Reagan was seen by many (right up to the end) as a vapid two-bit actor who did not have the experience or foreign policy chops to navigate America through the Cold War. Yet, no matter what your opinion on his philosophies and actions, he was a transformational President. He fundamentally shifted the domestic political landscape for decades, and dramatically changed the status quo of world events.

But how did this "unknown" and "inexperienced" candidate do it? Reagan transformed the nation -- and the world -- by restoring America's self-confidence.

Think about this while reading the Economist's endorsement again.

It's true that Obama's political philosophy is quite different from that of Reagan's. But his leadership philosophy is quite reminiscent.

During the primaries, there was a darn good reason why Republicans were so distressed about a potential Obama candidacy (distressed to the point of outright shilling for Hillary Clinton) -- they saw the Democrats' Ronald Reagan rising.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Talking Points for Softies

Obama Supporters,

Despite Obama's seemingly Bradley-busting buffer in the polls, this lead is unprecedentedly soft. People who are "soft" Obama supporters are people who were swayed by a speech, a tag line, or party affiliation, but were not completely comfortable with the candidate.

Many argue that this softness is due to Obama's skin color. Maybe. Not much you or I can do about irrational decision making.

Some argue that this softness is due to his lack of experience. This is a seemingly rational rationale, but it's not. And many are concerned about a traditional liberal philosophy of higher taxes stunting real economic growth. Both of these arguments are bunk, meaning they need to be debunked. And that's what I'm going to do right now:

Bunk Rationale #1: "Barack Obama just doesn't have the experience to handle the tough challenges facing our country."

Debunking talking points:

  • Senator Obama not only has close to 12 years of experience as both a state and federal Senator, but he has shown America his executive experience as CEO of a small business for the past 2 years: The Obama 08 Campaign.
  • As CEO of his election campaign, Obama has attracted the best and brightest talent to run his campaign -- a campaign that has been miraculous in its effectiveness, innovation, financing, and discipline. He has crushed entrenched competition (Clinton, Inc.), and is now showing he can win against the mudslinging and character assassinating Republican, Inc. machine as well.
  • Obama has just enough Washington experience to provide him with the discipline, judgment and confidence to run this great country, and has just enough "outsider" experience to change it for the better.
  • Most importantly, Obama has shown us that he has the competence and stature to be President. Just look at how well he handled the economic crisis in September, and how he quickly gained support overseas from our allies during his in-person visits in August. Even if you think he doesn't have as much experience as McCain, it's hard to argue that Obama has the competence, stature and natural skills in all the right areas to be President. If I were hiring someone for a job, I would take experience into consideration, but I would be more interested in their skills, abilities and level of competence.

Bunk Rationale #2: "Barack Obama represents a liberal philosophy of taxing more, which will stunt economic growth and give the government too much involvement in our lives."

Debunking talking points:

  • Senator Obama only needs to restore the 1990s tax rate on the most wealthy Americans because someone, somewhere needs to pay for the Iraq War. We need to pay for the tremendously expensive mistakes made by the Bush administration, and whoever is President is going to have to do that.
  • Senator Obama is actually much less liberal than a traditional Democrat. A 1970s/80s Democrat would be raising taxes on everyone to reduce the deficit. Not Obama -- he's only going to restore the 1990s taxes -- as John McCain put it in 2003 -- to the people who can comfortably afford them.
  • Contrary to what Senator McCain says, Senator Obama will not be taxing the most successful small businesses so that they cannot hire workers and grow the economy. In fact, it's the opposite -- President Obama will restore the 1990s tax rate on income (not revenue) above $250k/year, but he will also provide a $3,000 per employee tax cut for every business owner who hires an on-shore citizen over the next two years. This is not a tax increase at all -- it's a tax reduction to help small businesses grow the economy and increase jobs here at home.
  • Senator Obama's tax plan is better than even Bill Clinton's tax plan that served us so well in the 1990s: President Obama will reduce taxes even more on people who make under $250k/year, and tax folks who make over $250k/year just as much as they did in the 1990's. As far as I remember, folks making $250k and above did pretty well in the 90s.

Of course, there are other slams against Obama out there, but these are the two big issues that turn people soft on Obama in our country. They just need to hear counter-points like these to give them the confidence that the warnings and fear being launched at them daily are refutable.

I ask each of you to find a softie between now and election day, and ask them what concerns them about Obama as President. First, listen carefully: "I see..." Then bridge: "I can see how you'd see it that way..." Then counter: "Have you thought about [insert above talking point here] as well?"

The Obama campaign relies on each of us not to convince people out of an ideology, but to ensure that they at least see both sides of the issues represented in a fair way. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but their opinions will mean more after they carefully consider both sides of the argument.

I am convinced that a truly open-minded voter will see that these talking points trump the vacuous drivel that the McCain campaign has been peddling. Why? Because these points are substantive, and in tough times, people do tend to gravitate toward substance over spin.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Introducing: Between the Columns

Our Karl Rove subscribers, readers, and passers by,

As an Our Karl Rove reader, you know that I only post my most thought-provoking and strategic ideas. Yes, sometimes this can mean days or weeks between posts, but in exchange, I aim to provide columnist-quality perspectives and advice to my readers.

I think this model works well for Our Karl Rove, and I don't want to change the format.

Yet I have found that there is a lot more I would like to share with you on a more regular basis. To help address this gap, I'm launching a new blog:

Between the Columns
: A Breeding Ground for the Next Generation of Political Analysis, Punditry and Messages.

My new blog will be different than Our Karl Rove in two fundamental ways:

  • It will be authored by "me," Jon, not the persona "Our Karl Rove." That means the tone of voice will be different. You'll have to assess for yourself if you like "my" voice as much as the one I strap on for OKR posts.
  • It will be updated far more regularly -- more like a normal blog.

Some of the ideas blogged at Between the Columns may gestate into Our Karl Rove posts, but the overall approach will be more punditry and analysis, and less advocacy and advice.

Similar to Our Karl Rove, Between the Columns will continue to challenge conventions, assumptions and existing frames in an entertaining and engaging fashion -- but as a political analyst and pundit, not a strict progressive advocate.

Lastly, I hope to see my Between the Columns posts become topics for discussions where visitors and I can collaborate and further parse the stories and further flesh out ideas. Unlike many blogs, comments posted on Between the Columns will most likely be responded to by me personally as a way to engage in an on-line conservation. As a interactive community, I believe that we can advance the state political thinking.


PS - If you like the content and style of Between the Columns, I invite you to sign-up for an RSS feed or email alert to be alerted to new posts. Both sign-up options are available on the left margin of the new blog. And, feel free to email me at jon@betweenthecolumns.com with any feedback (good or bad).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Final Frame

Obama Campaign,

As we turn the corner and head for the finish line in this campaign, it can be difficult to convince ourselves that introducing a new frame/meme/competitive advantage is the right thing to do. After all, if the campaign has proven anything to us, it's that it likes to play defense when it's ahead and only take chances when behind.

Still, hear me out: There is one frame you can deploy during the final stretch that is completely risk-free, will resonate universally with all voter demographics, and will also subtly touch upon key differentiators between Obama and McCain.

Obama/Biden: Working Harder

The Working Harder frame plays on multiple levels that can only improve the ticket's positioning in the electorate:

  • Americans are a hard-working bunch. Hard work is just as much of our national self-image as freedom, democracy, and religion. Advancing this frame plays into our self-image, which can only benefit the ticket. To prove the point, look at what advancing freedom and democracy did for George W. Bush's election prospects in 2004.

  • Hard work -- not spin -- is exactly what will get us out of our economic crisis, and everyone knows it. Americans will feel even more secure with Obama/Biden if they are promised and re-assured that hard work will accompany all the knowledge and education (i.e., so-called elitism) that comes with the ticket. Nobody questions Obama's intellect -- it's just that too often Americans believe that a leader relies on either intellect or hard work to succeed. The Obama campaign needs to make it clear that Obama / Biden will not just be smart, but will work hard.

  • Obama/Biden have already proven that they are working tirelessly to prove to Americans that they are the right ticket for America's future. Everyone who's paying attention knows that the Obama campaign had to out-work (as well as out-smart) Hillary Clinton in order to win. So, while hard work has always been the ethic, a hard-working narrative has yet to be introduced to the voter directly.

  • Hard work is a frame that will directly impact the demographics that are the hardest for Obama/Biden to reach: working class Democrats, struggling middle-class independents, and non-ideological/moderate Republicans. Heck, even racists might get past the half-black thing if they are convinced that Obama/Biden will work hard. Much of "racism" in America is actually not racism, but culturalism -- a belief that blacks in America simply don't want to work hard to get ahead, and expect our tax dollars to subsidize their lifestyle.

There is certain obviousness to this that is far too easy to overlook, and therefore not too difficult to explain, nor to prove. Obama/Biden have already proven they're willing to work hard to make America great again, and when the voter comparison shops based on this frame, they will see I'm-72-and-I-don't-work-on-weekends McCain and I'm-a-mouthpiece-and-not-a-worker--just-like-Bush-and-who-by-the-way-has-five-kids-to-raise Palin don't even have to be called out explicitly on these issues. The voters already implicitly feel these truths.

Beyond the rationale, there are two compelling attributes to this being a killer final frame:

  • There is no down-side to introducing the frame of working harder. There can be no media blow-back (it's not negative, and it's a subjective assertion), and there's really no counter-punch opportunity (McCain simply can't afford to make his age and energy level a focus at this stage in the game, especially with his wildly unqualified VP pick waiting in the wings).

  • It is incredibly simple to introduce as a campaign message. Just two steps are required: 1) Alert the media that you will be introducing the new working harder message so that the analysts and pundits get their ears tuned. 2) Simply sprinkle the working harder message into existing speeches wherever it makes sense (i.e., "America needs and deserves new leadership. Leadership that will work harder for you.")

When the campaign introduces this final frame, the American people will not only feel better about the ticket than they already do, but they will instinctively connect the dots around the age and qualification gap between the tickets, and hand the election over to Obama/Biden with a decisive victory.