Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Negativity and the presidential campaign----insight from David Foster Wallace

Back in 2000, Rolling Stone hired David Foster Wallace to write a critique of John McCain during the Republican primary, and he spent seven days on the campaign trail during the South Carolina and Michigan primaries. His piece as first published can be found on the Rolling Stone website and was titled then "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys, and the Shrub--seven days in the life of the late great John McCain". The original unedited cut of the essay, more than twice as long, was published in 2005 in "Consider the Lobster" under the new title "Up, Simba".

Now anyone can read it who wants to do so. For anyone who likes politics it's a wonderful read, somewhat similar to Hunter Thompson's best political efforts but with better writing and no drugs.

The purpose of mentioning this here is to quote one of the major insights of the essay as follows:

In discussing how Bush's calculated negative attacks led to McCain's retaliation that escalated he wrote "the whole GOP race could quickly degenerate into just the sort of boring, depressing, cynical, charge and counter-charge contest that turns voters off and keeps them away from the polls, especially Young's maybe actually in the Schrub's own political self interest to let the GOP race get ugly and Negative and have voters get so bored and cynical and disgusted with the whole thing that they don't even bother to vote."

That's a snippet and there's much more to this thought in the essay. Bush did turn radically negative in the 2000 South Carolina primary following McCain's surprise win in New Hampshire. It was really over the top negative as only a Lee Atwater or Karl Rove dared to be, remember the fathering a black child out of wedlock lies and stuff like that. McCain was almost forced to respond and not be a wimp given that he runs on being a tough military guy who will stand up to the bad guys. McCain responded, and it was the turning point of the campaign.

McCain learned the lesson, and he's taking the negative path and that will only heighten in the coming weeks. Obama needs the inspired voters, the young voters and the new registrants. McCain gets the guaranteed Republican base vote, guaranteed now because of Sarah Palin, and his strategy is to dissipate the Obama vote by exaggerations and lies. It's worked before and DFW was the first to clearly articulate why.

P.S. DFW had the same mixed feelings about McCain as many have had until recently. He liked him in many ways but did not really know what he was about. In the preface to the republished essay he makes that clear and admits to voting for Bill Bradley in the Democratic primary that year.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, mccain got so negative today he decided to take his ball and to home. home needed some repairs in its roof and after 26 years of doing nothing about it he was immediately needed to take charge. leadership was needed. take that obama, you didn't think of this move before me, and now you didn't do it. this mccain is a tricky guy, or is he just senile. don't fall off that roof.

11:58 PM  

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