Bob Somerby, "Stupidification has worked! " August 7
LEAVE us not let the poorly-run Obama campaign--still chugging from that vintage 1989 How To Beat Republicans By Being More Like Them that smelled so good to it in 2005 (you cannot drink the same bottle of wine twice!), still operating on the assumption that a good enough showing will make its man a viable V.P. candidate, still flummoxed by events on an almost daily basis (it is the central stuff of the Centrist Democrat, who stands athwart the fence and yells Stop! No, wait, Proceed with Caution! Have sex, but try not to enjoy it so much!)--blind us to the McCain campaign, which would be worse--difficult as that is to imagine--if it had Obama's money, and which has demonstrated, beyond any possibility of rebuttal, that our national political press corps, last seen playing Maverick's trombone so enthusiastically that there was only one arm and a pair of shoes visible, is worse than Hitler's.
Still, Stupidity Sells! and it's not self-policing. If Krugman and Somerby tell you essentially the same thing, on the same day, do not nod your head as though you already understand. Listen and Learn! You do not finesse Stupid, you take his chips. You do not try to out-stupid Stupid, because you have a soul and he does not; you must not lose yours in the process. It may, at times, be necessary to take up the arsenal of Stupidity in order to defeat him, but that time is not when you find him passed out from huffing Freon. Bob?
Why has McCain been running this “stupid” campaign? Could it be for an obvious reason—because stupidifcation has worked in the past? In fact, in the spring of 1999, the Republican Party announced its plan to create such a clowning discussion. And with the help of the mainstream press corps, it has worked out quite well—until now.
What has happened since this plan was disclosed? We’ve had cheese-steak debates—and wind-surfing wars. We’ve had inane reductions of major issues. (Al Gore wants to eliminate the automobile as we know it!) We’ve been told that one Dem nominee looked French—and that another was raised at the Ritz. Through it all, the mainstream press corps has clowned along with almost every one of these inanities. Dowd can’t seem to remember that now. We’ll take a guess: John McCain can!
Anything to add, Paul?
What’s more, the politics of stupidity didn’t just appeal to the poorly informed. Bear in mind that members of the political and media elites were more pro-war than the public at large in the fall of 2002, even though the flimsiness of the case for invading Iraq should have been even more obvious to those paying close attention to the issue than it was to the average voter.
But it isn't just that Stupidity works, or that our Press corps can't tell the difference; it's that people are so willing to let it become the issue. There's a hundred volumes of outrage over the Paris Hilton ad; show me the Obama supporter who demands a campaign capable of grinding such Stupidity into the dust ("He's a pretty speechifier with no substance" has been out there for six months at least. It doesn't matter what you think about it; that's Voltaire's prayer. It matters what's done about it, which is a peculiar thing on which to have to lecture the same geniuses who believe "My proposal permits a small amount of offshore drilling" is some sort of political masterstroke.).
Tiregaugegate is a fine case in point: I hope there's somebody inside the campaign who's paid to cast a critical eye on this sort of thing, because somebody blew it. The candidate had a reasonable point, but it got stuck in his head and he blew both timing and delivery. He--it was purely a stumble of speech--made it sound like he cued the drumroll before revealing...Tire Pressure! Regular Tune-ups! It sounded ludicrous. (He's also reverted to unmodulated bullhorn speaking, from what I've heard. There needs to be someone on your staff who looks after these things and is fearless about them.) Had he been waving a prop gauge at the time the whole thing would have been a large positive. These things count; campaigns pay millions of dollars to get them right; you provided the money, or at least the seed fund.
Yes, yes, yesyesyes, the brutality of our campaigns explains occasional missteps and brain bubbles, but nevertheless, both sides pounce when they occur. You cannot do so and decry it when it happens; Stupidity is on to that one. We have a political environment where this sort of flapdoodle is more important than real issues--I'm hard-pressed to explain anymore why we don't deserve it--but that's not exactly news, and pointing this stuff out has about as much effect as pointing out the ludicrously long odds against human/Vulcan mating has had on the Star Trek franchise. I know no one could possibly have predicted it, but saying, "That's old-style politics" has not made this stuff go away--maybe three times would, if you had the Ruby Slippers on--and "post-partisanship", while a swell idea for someone running to be Vice-President, has not kept the election from turning into a debate over arugula. Quel surprise! John McCain may be a stiff, and he may have a limited upside (lucky you!), but being long on Stupidification isn't his weak spot.