Defeat Via Strength
As the Democrats prepare for their at-bats in the great convention game, we have the opportunity to examine one of the most lethal weapons of modern campaigns, used by both sides: don’t attack the enemy’s weakest flanks, but greatest strengths.
We saw the tactic full frontal in 2004 with the “swiftboating” of Democratic Sen. John Kerry running against incumbent George W. Bush. Kerry, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who became a strong opponent of that war, was well positioned to slam noncombatant guardsman Bush on the increasingly unpopular Iraq war—and to do so as a genuine American war hero.
But months before the election, a series of specious TV ads appeared, sponsored by “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth,” which called Kerry’s heroics a myth and claimed his medals were undeserved. They were aired again and again, despite “fact checkers” finding them to be lies, and even John McCain taking Kerry’s side. Kerry’s campaign stupidly decided not to respond until much too late. The ads were Krypton and Kerry’s strength was drained. Had he responded swiftly and immediately, the final outcome might have been different.
Flash forward to this year and we find Team Obama attacking Mitt Romney six ways from Sunday for his role as a job-cutter, outsourcer and tax evader while making millions as head of Bain Capital. Why? Because Romney’s one great strength is being the businessman who understands the economy and has the knowledge and skill to rebuild it, balance the budget and bring back all those lost jobs. (According to the Gospel of Mitt.)
Taking down Romney by hitting him at his strongest point is what has kept Obama somewhat ahead of the game despite unemployment numbers that should turn an incumbent president into burnt toast. (Of course there are other issues and other chinks in the Romney armor.)
One of Obama’s polling strengths is his handling of terrorism. Thus the Romney people launched an effort to downgrade Obama’s role in the killing of Osama bin Laden. They got some Navy Seals to say Obama took too much credit and his decision was not that courageous. But Obama was ready with a counterpunch from a top naval official.
Now the battle is over Medicare, with Obama originally viewed as protector of the program, while Paul Ryan’s original plan was to turn it into a voucher system that would be costly to the elderly. The Romney-Ryan team launched a smart (though not factual) offensive, accusing Obama of robbing Medicare of $712 billion, allegedly depriving seniors of benefits and thereby making their team the true protectors of Medicare.
The fact is that the money Obama transferred from Medicare to his health care program comes not from services to seniors, but from payments to insurance companies and providers. Nevertheless, there are indications seniors believe Romney-Ryan—at least at the moment—depriving the Democrats of their most powerful argument.
There is, however, still time for a counteroffensive, which is likely to determine the outcome of this election, whose narrative more and more appears to have been drafted by Lewis Carroll.
Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer