The Spin Gap

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Joshua has a post up that I mostly agree with. He is basically noting that the Bush campaign is far better at Spin Doctoring than the Kerry campaign. Whatever you think about each candidate, that seems hard to disagree with. The Kerry campaign, and its supporters, lob bomb after bomb at Bush, and they have little to no impact. Sure, the media picks it up and runs with it for a while, but the accusations are made so poorly that they, irregardles of their veracity, fall apart very quickly.

But if you imagine for just a moment that Karl Rove had made similar accusations against Kerry, you'd have no doubt that they'd have a devastating impact. Indeed, most of the attacks that the Bush campaign has made against Kerry have been to a large extent successful, again irregardless of their veracity.

I am deeply disturbed by Kerry's incompetence in this area.

I am even more disturbed that Bush seems to be more competent at Spin than he is at running the country.

6 Comments

[Most of the following is taken from my comment on the piece you link to.]

I just don't see the difference. The statement Joshua gives as how to do it is exactly the sort of thing Kerry is saying, and he's been doing it the whole campaign, saying Bush said there was an imminent threat, saying Bush said the whole thing depended on there being an imminent threat, saying there were no WMD, saying Bush acted as if the WMD was the only justification for going to Iraq, saying Bush has banned embryonic stem cell research, and all the other false claims that seem to me to be deliberate given how often they're said after having been corrected. Kerry's quite good at it, and it's not as if people see through it. It's amazing how often I see the same thing repeated by smart people.

My sense is that in both cases, from Republicans and Democrats, the campaigns themselves aren't the ones who spread this spin. When it is the campaigns, it's a little strange to say that Bush is better than Kerry at it, since they're not the ones who are coming up with the spin anyway, most likely. It's the advisers. I think it usually originates elsewhere and gets picked up by them anyway, starting with the bloggers and the second-tier media (talk radio, opinion columnists, guests on cable news shows, and opinion hosts like O'Reilly, Chris Matthews, and Jon Stewart (though I'm not sure how to classify him), not to mention fringe elements both welcomed and hated by the campaign in question (Michael Moore, Swift Boats, moveon.org).

If the Bush spin gets more play than the Kerry spin, it's probably because the Bush supporters at that level are better at getting their stuff out. In my experience the Dem spin has far more staying power and convincingness at the popular level than the Rep spin, so I'm just not sure what the imbalance you and Joshua see really is to begin with. I just don't see it.

When it is the campaigns, it's a little strange to say that Bush is better than Kerry at it, since they're not the ones who are coming up with the spin anyway, most likely. It's the advisers.

Admittedly so. When I use "Bush" in this context, I'm using his name as a proxy for his administration and his campaign. Not merely him as an individual. Same when I use "Kerry" in this context. Sorry for not clarifying.

Kerry's quite good at it

Here's where I disagree. Kerry (and his campain) suck at this. While I think that Kerry's message gets more airplay and has more staying power than Bush's message, his message seems to cause no actual damage to Bush.

Consider the Kerry attack slogan "Misleader" (in reference to Bush). While the Dems are quick to pick that up and run with it, has it done any damage to Bush? Has it convinced anyone? The polls do not seem to indicate that any swing voters or undecideds have joined the Kerry camp because they feel that Bush is untrustworthy.

Consider the Kerry attack slogan "Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Time". That one is so anemic that Bush openly mocked it on multiple occasions during the debate. Can you even for a moment imagine Rove coming up with something that pathetic?

Now consider the Bush attack slogan "flip-flop". Insanely effective. The polls indicate that huge numbers of undecides and swing voters are now in the Bush camp becuase they feel that Kerry is not decisive.

I would not be surprised if "mixed messages" ends up having a similar effect.

When we get beyond the official stuff, I still see the Rep spin as being far more effective than the Dem spin. SBVfT changed the entire momentum of the race in a way that "AWOL from the National Guard" did not. When Kerry has been gaining in the polls, it mostly (or so it seemded to me) was due to bad economic news or bad news on the Iraq front. It never seemed like the Dem spin was having any real effect even though it was being repeated by everyone.

The flip-flop label started on the internet, not Rove, as far as I can tell, and the Swift Boat Vets, as you know, are not people I consider to be associated with Bush, even if they adamantly support him. That's why I don't think what's originated from the Bush campaign has been as effective as you think it has. I see other things that they've picked up on (or chosen not to, as in the Swift Boats case) as doing that.

My focus is not on what the campaigns have originated. My focus is on what they have chosen to use, regardless of origin. Bush's official spin is far more effective than Kerry's, even if Bush didn't come up with it on his own. Selection is a more important skill than creativity when it comes to spin.

Rove wisely chose to pick up and refine the flip-flop label. He was very smart to do so regardless of what you think about the veracity of the label. Kerry's campaign strategist (whoever that is) chose to pick-up the line "'W' stands for 'Wrong'". I'm fairly sure that didn't originate from inside the campaign, but it was still stupid to run with it.

As for the Swifties, I did try to delineate between what the Bush campain was doing and what various supporters were doing. My argument was that both were more effective than their counterparts in the democratic party. I was not there trying to imply that the Swifties were being coordinated by Rove.

That being said, if Rove isn't planting "grassroots" opposition to Kerry that is not officially connected to the Bush campaign, then he isn't doing his job. Rove is famous for running brutal campaigns that keep the campaigner's hands moderately clean. He has a reputation for being ruthless while providing a decent measure of plausible denyability. (Did you read the link associated with Rove's name in the post?) That is without a doubt why he was hired to run this campaign (and probably the last several campaigns that he has worked on as well). If he is not coordinating attacks behind the scenes, then he isn't doing the job that he was hired to do.

re not people I consider to be associated with Bush

I just feel compelled to point out that this opinion is highly debatable. There is a demonstrable connection to within one degree of separation. To say there's no direct link is one thing. But to say they aren't associated with Bush is embroidering the truth a bit.

The "association" is certainly a hell of a lot clearer than the one between Iraq and al Qaeda, which the Bush administration seems pretty darn enthusiastic about.

I didn't say it wasn't debatable. That debate already happened on this blog, and it took days and lots of words. I was simply shortening what I wanted to say by referring to the fact that I don't agree with describing it that way.

As for clearer than Iraq and al Qaeda, I vehemently disagree. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda had discussions about cooperating in various ways on multiple occasions, in one case having to do with Iraq providing safe haven for al Qaeda, in one case discussing their shared hatred for the United States but as far as we know not discussing any specific strategies for acting against the U.S. We also know that each discussion that we know of ended with one side bowing out.

We don't know of any conversations between Karl Rove and the Swift Boat Vets about cooperation in campaigning against Kerry (though we do know of joint ventures between the Kerry campaign and moveon.org, since both names were listed on ventures promoted on both websites). Karl Rove was once a very good friend of one of the Swift Boat Vets, but they've hardly seen each other for years. How that constitutes association in any way that's even morally ambiguous is beyond me. Karl Rove may have a history of doing harsh things in an election, but there's no evidence that he had anything at all to do with this, and even if he did that wouldn't mean Bush knew about it. I don't think it's accurate to say Rove is in the Bush Administration, either. He's a political adviser, not occupying any official government position.

I really don't feel like having this discussion again, so refer back to the post on conspiracy theories. There's likely nothing you'd say that wasn't already said there.

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