Last night was the second Candidate debate. Palin wanted to substitute for McCain but the people in charge advised her that, despite her bravado, she was not the Candidate and she would simply have to wait and see. I was going to write about the debate and the fact that McCain said “my Friends” anywhere from 19 (the official transcript count) to 21 (the Jordan/Iris count) times. I’m not sure why it so irritates me when he says it. (Putting on my speech teacher’s hat), it’s either the arrogant tone, the assumption that we are more than cordial pals, or the number of times he says it—which makes it less rather than more personal. Or I could talk about what I consider missed opportunities for Obama -- like talking about McCain’s actual record with Veteran votes.
The pundits mostly agree it was a draw and who am I to argue with so many people who know so little, but talk so much. The campaign political strategists think it was a win for their candidate. I think they both missed the point—which was that the economy is in the toilet, people are seriously hurting, pension plans and savings went the way of the wind, the war is usurping much needed capital, and the candidates were trying to explain their health care plans—which no one understands. Not that health care isn’t important, but it has to be explained within the context of everyday financial suffering for “just plain folks”. The public has one question of the candidates. “What will you do to make things better”. OK maybe two questions. “What can I do to make things better?” Neither answered either. (Now putting on my PR Professor hat) Why is what they say important to me? How will it affect my life? If it’s too complicated the public won’t understand nor will I listen. It’s the reason emotional appeals and character attacks (if they are crafted sensibly), work so well. Anyway, no winner, and more importantly for the campaigns, no loser.
On Monday I went to a screening of a new movie about the 1992 Clinton “War Room”, revisited. James Carville, DeeDee Myers, Stan Greenberg, Mark Miller (from Newsweek) Lisa Caputo, and an assortment of government (Cong. Rosa DeLauro) and celebrities were in attendance. George Stuffingonenvelopes, (That’s what the media called him in the White House), Paul Begala , Frank Luntz and Mary Matalin, were absent. It was an interesting film for insiders but I’m not sure who, other than those of us who were involved, would really care. Included in the film is a short clip from my Chicken George campaign. That’s when I sent chickens out to every “Poppy” (as Mary Matalin calls him) event because he refused to debate Clinton. I was reminded that I had many arguments with James and George over the chickens – they hated them, until they worked. None of the people who worked on the Counter Events operation was seen on camera in “The War Room” movie. The chicken made an appearance and you do hear conversations with me on the phone. But we didn’t really want to be identified because we were better off ‘under the radar”. I wonder what people called that before we had radar?
The back story on our small group of vigilantes is almost as interesting as the events we produced. In 1992, there were many people from previous campaigns who wanted to help Clinton. But when they contacted the campaign they were told that it was a new kind of campaign (that meant they were too old) and the best way to help was to give money. Large numbers of these political activists wanted hands on involvement so they turned to us and we found lots of things for them to do other than dress as chickens or other costumed characters. For example, they became part of the “Harry Truman Truth Squad,” or when Hillary would go out and speak and we heard there would be a protest, we contacted a local transportation union and they would surround the site of her event with trucks and buses, thereby preventing the press from seeing the protest. We didn’t discourage the protest (it’s an American right), we just didn’t help the media to see it – unless they went outside the event perimeter, which mostly didn’t happen.
In the Gore and to some degree the Kerry campaign, they made the mistake of not finding ways for concerned but not political people to do more than fundraise. The Obama campaign has learned that you need to provide people with jobs to get them to feel like they are part of the effort. Millions of volunteers, young and old, have a vested interest in the success of that campaign. I’m not sure how the McCain people are “reaching out” as my friend Sid would say, to help increase the circle of voters who have a hands-on commitment to the campaign. But I believe the candidate who has the most effective people-to-people volunteer effort, along with most creative technologies, will be the President at noon, on Jan 20, 2009.