Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama Should Return To First Principles

Oh no. The Obama campaign has a commercial out now, showing images of McCain and Palin, and asking: "Politicians lying about their records?" I wonder how long it will take the campaign to see that this is a mistake – both as a matter of politics and a matter of principle.

First, the politics: If you want people to see the discrepancy between what your opponents say and what they do, you want to make THEM the focus, not yourself. But instead of the story being the gap between Palin’s statements and her record, they’ve made the story – "Obama calls McCain and Palin a Liar" This is explosive stuff. Does Obama really think that a high emotional temperature favors his campaign?

No one has ever paid me a dime to write a TV ad: I'm a total amateur. But any idiot can have an opinion, and here’s mine: If you want to get people to question the nice story they’re being told about McCain-Palin, show her telling 37 million people she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere. Then show her with a T-Shirt supporting it. Show her decrying pork-barrel spending. Then show her fighting for it. Show her talking about being fiscal responsible. Then show her record as Mayor and Governor. Then say: "Did John McCain know the difference between the image and the reality? If he did, why did he pick her? If he didn’t, why didn’t he find out?" Or is he now thinking: "If Sarah Palin is good enough to fool me, she’s good enough to fool the American people."

Alright, you can do better, but the point is – Make it light. Make it humorous if you can, so the listeners are laughing with you, and laughing at them. Above all, don’t be angry!!! If you have to be mean, at least be nice about it! Instead, we now have a tough, charming, accomplished woman from Alaska with a great story who’s getting beaten up in the press, and a candidate on the other side who’s calling her a liar. Is this good politics?

Now, the principle: Calling his opponents liars throws away an ideal that Obama seemed to have in view earlier in the campaign – a new form of non-violent politics. People generally think of non-violence as not killing or injuring, or not waging war. How does it apply to a campaign? If you take non-violence as refraining from violent physical actions, then the extension to political campaigning would mean refraining from speaking or acting under the emotions that inspire violence. In other words, it means not speaking or acting out of anger and hatred.

At different points, Obama has seemed close to embracing this. But people in politics are ambitious and competitive. They hate to lose, and too often, they hate the person trying to make them lose. That may be what’s happened in the last few days in the Obama campaign. Let’s hope they get over it, and get back to their principles, and to sound politics.

Senator Obama might consider the words of someone who should know. Richard Nixon told his White House staff on the day he left the White House: "Never be petty; always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."

Tom Rosshirt

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