Last week, this blog referred to the Rove Effect, and it solicited a number of responses. Does anyone still think Rove is not involved? Innuendo, subtle messaging, and turning an asset into a liability is his style—and the Obama camp had better realize it. When Rove referred to Obama as a pretentious snob a month ago, he knew where he was going with this, just as he did with the Swift Boat strategy after the Democratic convention promoted John Kerry’s military record. If you recall, the Democrats wanted to show that Kerry could be a stronger commander-in-chief than Bush, and he was believable until the Swift Boat ads. Rove and his operatives decided they would raise doubts and they succeeded. The Paris Hilton/Britney Spears spot was intended to mock the rock star image Obama cultivated on his overseas trip by associated him with vampish celebrities of dubious reputation. It also had subtle racial overtones—blond, white girls with the black rockstar. This ad and the one that followed—with Moses parting the waters—had as a goal to narrow the gap. It worked. (In 2004, Kerry took a full two weeks to respond to the Swift Boat accusations and, by then, he was 8 points behind.)
After the Denver convention, you can be sure the 527s will kick in. (Watch for a reappearance of Pastor Wright.) Does anyone think Rove won’t be involved? Like him or not, Rove is a genius when it comes to these Machiavellian, ‘the ends justify the means’-type tactics. He learned from Lee Atwater, the late master-strategist of Bush senior. The Obama camp had to know this would happen. It is all to do with the resistance to change.
The Obama camp must not allow itself to be mesmerized by the Rove effect. However, while some naïve bloggers have failed to recognize Rove’s voodoo magic because he is not officially on McCain’s payroll, it would be a tragic mistake to see these latest ads as merely tactical. They are strategic and are aimed at reinforcing fears and doubts about a first term senator who just celebrated his 47th birthday this week and who has limited experience. He is up against an experienced legislator who happens to be a war hero. And with 527s, it will only get worse. McCain’s camp recently accused Obama of injecting race into the contest with his off-the-cuff remark about the Republicans painting him as different from “all those other presidents on the dollar bills.” A smart move by McCain’s people and an error by Obama. But make no mistake about it, race will be on the ballot, as will doubt. And it will not be the Democrats’ doing.
Barack Obama has demonstrated that he is a viable candidate who has captured the imagination of an important segment of the electorate with his message of change and hope. This election should be about the state of America, both domestically and internationally. The people want change badly and the outgoing administration is the most unpopular in history. McCain is a fine man and is giving his best shot, but he supports policies that will continue America’s current situation. Are Americans better off today than they were 8 years? Do they want more of the same for the next 4 years? This is what this election is about, not whether Obama is greeted by 200,000 Germans.
The fact is Obama is able to mobilize and inspire new voters and people who had given up on politics. That is what he must do rather than spend two days commenting on Rove-inspired ads. Making one of his own to respond was fine in the short term, but this is the Rove agenda he is responding to. The best way to combat the resistance to change is to push change even more: Remind voters why they want and need change; propose an agenda of change; and repeat, repeat, repeat! Reagan did it in 1980 and so did Clinton in 1992. Both were change elections, and Obama should adopt the same strategy.