Can Obama win with half a messaging strategy and half a ticket?

More campaign analysis — full post here. Bottom line: No strategic counterpunch and a self-emasculating VP makes Obama’s job twice as hard.

For those interested in presidential campaigns, the post goes into what is probably the crucial way to understand which campaigns win and which lose. As psychologist and Political Brain author Drew Westen explained in a must-read commentary last month:

There is a simple fact about elections that has eluded Democrats in every presidential campaign they have lost in the last 40 years: that as a candidate, you have to focus first and foremost not on a litany of “issues” but on four stories: the story you tell about yourself, the story your opponent is telling about himself, the story your opponent is telling about you, and the story you are telling about your opponent. Candidates who offer compelling stories in all four quadrants of this “message grid” win, and those who leave any of them to chance generally lose.

I’d actually put it a little differently. You need a story about yourself and a story about your opponent. And you need a counterpunch to your opponent’s stories about himself and about you. Ideally, the stories can be boiled down to a catchy slogan (“it’s the economy, stupid”) or one or two words “compassionate conservative”) that make use of the memorable figures of speech from the 25-century-old art of persuasion (aka rhetoric). Same for the counterpunch (“He was for it before he was against it.”).

The word “story” here is roughly equivalent to two other popular terms — “narrative” or “frame.” It is also equivalent to rhetoric’s “extended metaphor,” which I argue is the most important figure of speech in my not-yet-bestselling unpublished manuscript, Politics, Religion, and the English Language.

The full post looks at how the “four stories” analysis applies to this campaign or should applied to this campaign if the Obama team understood the basics of strategic messaging.

7 Responses to Can Obama win with half a messaging strategy and half a ticket?

  1. Earl Killian says:

    I am skeptical about generalizations that can be made about elections. It usually comes down to strategic and tactical sense. In some elections considerations such as the above apply, but that is after the fact pattern matching to history. Usually as soon as a pattern is identified, it begins to fail, for similar reasons to the Maginot Line, or the January effect in the stock market. That is because the side with the superior strategic and tactical strength figures ways around. Unfortunately, the pattern since the 1960s has been that the Republicans have been evil and the Democrats inept at getting elected, which has led us to our present circumstances.

    I fear the red plague will once again sweep half the nation in November. It appears that prior infection does not confer immunity to each new more virulent strain. Symptoms include fear and even madness, and a tendency to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There are reports that infection originated in a secret laboratory known as the Ministry of Truth, but others called this notion vintage 1948 fiction. Preliminary indications are that this infection spreads via the airwaves, and healthy individuals are advised to remain wary of the electromagnetic waves they allow into their houses (i.e. practice safe, skeptical viewing). No cure for the red plague is yet known, but the possibility of a slow recovery for victims remains a possibility.

  2. paulm says:

    Obama should have chosen Hillary, too bad!

  3. Robert says:

    I am afraid that the Republicans are going to win. At the end of the day the average US citizen wants cheap gas and doesn’t give a s**t about polar bears. McCain is offering them what they want.

    Obama needs to learn to lie better if he want to get elected.

  4. Earl Killian says:

    Robert, McCain is not offering the what people want, but he’s being successful at lying to convince them that he is. What they want cannot be had with what he proposes. The fourth estate here does little to point out the contradictions of any candidate. To them news is the horse race and nothing more.

  5. Bob Wallace says:

    After listening to a piece on NPR this afternoon, some outtakes from a lengthy conversation with 16 likely voters from PA, I think racism is a much larger problem than we want to admit.

    An awful lot of voters are going for the “great white father”, even if the guy is an overall bad pick.

    I’m just hoping that enough younger, less racist voters turn out. It’s time to move the old racists, homophobes to the sidelines.

  6. Jim O' says:

    I don’t think these four stories are the real reason Democrats have problems winning the big election. The real problem is the incredible sophistication of the right wing propaganda machine which combines an incredible Madison Ave technology with ownership of the mass media to deliver their message which is stunning in its dishonesty but tailored perfectly to deceive people who have only a limited focus on politics which does not allow them to look past their hot buttons and predjudices.

    A significant portion of the critical part of the electorate (swing voters) are extremely suseptible to this. Why do I get hungry after dinner watching TV? Because I’ve just watched a pizza commercial and a hamburger commercial. This is scientific and proven – it works.

    Lies? No kidding. Big Big Lies are what these folks deal in – “Country First”? has there ever been an administration that has sold this country out more than the one we’ve suffered under these past eight years? NO.

    Ask any Republican friend: Would you vote for Bush/Cheney this year if they could run again? Answer: always NO.

    So why are you voting for them again? This, I think is the line of reasoning we have to employ and time is running short.

    Keep your chins up and fight hard – our country and planet can’t afford to lose this time.

  7. John McCormick says:

    Bob Wallace, I also heard that NPR piece and some of it sickened me.

    I heard air heads talking the line Rash Limbag-types feed them.

    Worse, I heard white women finding a justification for voting against an African American because they can say, in their hearts without feeling racist, ‘go girl’.

    Time is running out; and yes, Senator Obama would be ahead if Senator Clinton shared the ticket.

    It is mainly up to Hispanic and youth vote to deliver Obama. I wonder if they realize their importance and if the campaign is putting millions into absentee ballot and ‘get out the vote’ drives on campuses.

    McCain has the mindset to put us into another war and certainly expand fighting in Afganistan and soon in Pakistan. He is an angry man full of fight and doublespeak.

    John McCormick