Sunday, September 7, 2008

The McCain--Palin road show: swagger and cheek in Michigan

McCain and Palin have hit the trail with swagger and cheek -- riding a post-convention boost in popularity straight into Michigan. Some Michiganders seem receptive to the story-telling road show, although many are resisting the snake oil. The hard facts of economic life in Michigan can't be cured with old-time remedies.

If this year's presidential campaigns were books, they'd be a western and an exhaustive non-fiction treatment of some tragic truth -- Louis L'Amour meets a remaindered tome on the demise of American industry. Which would you rather read in your off time? But we're not talking about picking summer reading; we're considering electing the next president of the United States.

The GOP is working one of its stock in trade strategies for electing presidents. Stick a cowboy hat on a guy (or gal) with a can-do attitude and you have a de facto American leader. Remember, Maverick is a legend of the west. And if your protagonist is a western hero in a white hat wrapped in the flag what does that make the other guy? Effete, over-intellectual, hand-wringing, unpatriotic...

What's worse, it doesn't have to be true to stick. Recently McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, told the Washington Post - that the election is "not about issues" but about "a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." Pure political pragmatism. This isn't about speaking truth to power; this is about power speaking myth to voters. This is about winning. Expect negative ads and plenty of misinformation.

A truckload of compelling facts can't necessarily compete with a myth, story and propaganda. Human beings are hardwired for stories. Our subconscious speaks in archetypes and the GOP knows this. So does team Obama, which has come this far thanks to strong message control and branding (Change, Yes we can).

Obama has a can-do attitude, but with a collective sensibility. McCain, on the other hand, is playing to American individualism. Obama wants to invite us to a barn raising with a big potluck afterwards. McCain wants to pace off at high noon and then fence off the back 48. Obama needs to remind voters that McCain will be a continuation of the last eight years. That swallowing more Bush administration "remedies" won't cure what ails us. That to elect McCain is like trying to heal an earache by blowing tobacco smoke into the ear and saying "pain, pain go away, go into a bale of hay." Sure, people tried it. It's even got quaint old west charm. But it doesn't work.