Friday, September 16, 2016

Not So Random Campaign Tactics

The campaign tactics that follow are also tools of the permanent campaign for support of one's own policies while in office or trashing of the opposition. The common thread in these tactics is a cynical view that politics is all about winning and losing individual battles with no long term perspective that a good government is a functioning government.

Tactic #11 -  accuse your opponent, deceptively or outright falsely, of doing what you do -- of using your tactics. This shifts the focus away from you and allegations of your wrongdoing on to your opponent. Your opponent is placed in a defensive posture, which makes you appear strong because you put him/her there and also weakens the argument when your opponent tries to accuse you of what you are actually doing because that looks like a weak counterattack - what, you could not come up with your own argument? This also extends beyond tactics. Examples: Trump accusation that Hillary Clinton started birtherism. McConnell claim of "the Biden rule" that Dems would have refused to consider a Supreme Court nominee after the death of a sitting justice when the President has 11 months remaining in office. Bush claim that Kerry supported his Iraq War policy with authorization vote and therefore could not criticize his policy.

Tactic #10 - Never back down. Backing down is a sign of weakness. Apologizing is the most salient sign of weakness because an apology is an admission of wrongdoing that functions as proof wrong doing. OK, you admit that you did wrong. We do not believe anything else you say because you are biased, but we believe you did wrong. That is proof. So you are bad - you did wrong. And worse than that, you are weak because you apologized. You should never be president. That would be a disaster.

Tactic #9 - trash the person, not the policy. Discussing policy permits consideration of advantages and disadvantages of policy particulars that could result in intelligent treatment of issues and compromise to resolve philosophical differences. Example: Trump campaign. Too many to list.

Tactic #8 - as a member of Congress, avoid compromise on legislation that you favor even if you believe it is important and makes America great because political opponents within your party could use it to make you look weak by mischaracterizing the legislation impact or, worse yet, your compromise could boost the legacy of the President of the opposing party. Example: Why The Senate Couldn't Pass a Crime Bill Both Parties Backed.   Other landmark legislation that nearly passed includes comprehensive and bipartisan immigration reform during Bush administration.

Tactic #7 - use derogatory labels for your opponent and make them stick with repeated reference. This serves double duty by diverting attention from real policy issues.  Examples: Crooked Hillary. Democrat Party. Obamacare. The Obamacare label was particularly cynical as an attempt to pin the policy solely on the President who had been made the target of a smear campaign to question his legitimacy. You see, when the ACA is eventually repealed or declared unconstitutional at the Supreme Court, that is fine, because it was really a one-man law that was never legitimate, like him.

Tactic #6 - declare that a majority vote in an election gives you a mandate. Example: Bush won 2004 re-election with slight margin over Kerry and declared that a mandate for his policies.

Tactic #5 - look back in anger. The tactical response to accusations that have merit, is to lash back with angry denials. The content of the denial is not as important as responding in anger. This approach resonates with those who harbor resentment and cultivate a sense of victimhood. Florida AG Pam Biondi responded angrily to pay-to-play charges based on the Trump campaign misreporting of a $25,000 campaign contribution that coincided with a possible investigation of him by her office. During the 2004 presidential campaign, on the issue of gay rights, John Kerry brought up the example of the Cheney's acceptance of their gay daughter, which prompted a strong angry reaction from both parents. Though Kerry's remarks were clearly intended as supportive of the Cheneys as loving parents, one side effect was to highlight the hypocrisy of Republicans who would accept homosexuality in their personal lives, but use it as a wedge issue in campaigns. The anger of the Cheneys was surely genuine, but was just as likely a reaction of "how dare you say something nice about us that showcases our hypocrisy!" Kerry went on to apologize to the Cheneys that he intended no harm because that sort of apologizing is something liberals do.

Tactic #4 - keep it simple and appeal to basic emotions like fear. Sounds simple enough, but conservatives are much better at this than liberals. George Lakoff points out this advantage of conservatives in Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Lakoff has since pointed out that conservatives attacked the Affordable Care Act with two simple phrases, "government takeover of healthcare" and "death panels". The Democrats who sponsored the legislation had eight talking points designed to explain this complex law. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman also comes to mind. Conservatives in political battles work within the thinking fast mode, being more intutitive.  Liberals try to convince voters with complex arguments on complex issues, being more analytical.

 tactics #3, #2, and  #1 to follow. [Added 02/05/2017].
See False Equivalence in His Hands.

These tactics suggest corresponding questions that reporters could ask, candidates or themselves, depending on the context.
For journalists - are we feeding a propaganda campaign with our questions of the candidate? Are we asking questions that only exist due to an investigation(s) orchestrated by political opponents? Are the questions irrelevant to policy interests, focused instead on so-called questions of character?If it feels like a response to propaganda, it probably is.
Are we avoiding questions that might highlight policy proposals of the candidate or are we asking questions by that are prompted exclusively by partisan attacks?
If a candidate is provoking hate and fear, are we calling them out on it and reporting that as fact instead of opinion?
Is a candidate using non-answers to end discussion of important policy proposals or a lack of meaningful proposals?
Is the level of anger in response to a reporter's question unusually high or are a candidates supporters unusually hateful?
If so, does the candidate seem to be calling for the elimination of their opponent?
Does a candidate control discussions with brutal tactics that brings the level of discourse down to a very low level?
Is there a constant drumbeat on an issue that has been thoroughly covered time and time again?
When there is disagreement on policy ideas, which is a legitimate area of discussion, are appeals to emotion being used as a weapon to foment anger, hate, or fear, as a way to avoid offering lucid arguments.

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