Repository of Factual Bitchslaps
While I appreciate the warm support my previous post has generated, there are a few minor misperceptions I'd like to address.
It seems that a not-insignificant portion of readers interpreted the letter addressed to the Kerry campaign as an exhortation to go absolutely balls out, rhetorically. This was not my intention. I actually believe that sticking to the relative high ground is a very smart strategy. Bush's approval ratings on almost every subject are plummetting - something that I believe was inevitable, given his policies, but that I also believe was expected by Bush's handlers to happen several months in the future, after the election. The best route to go seems to be to hold off massive fire on Bush, and build a strong following, person to person, in the swing states. This is exactly what Kerry appears to be doing.
My main concern is that since the President is in such trouble, his allies have begun a massive smear offensive against Kerry. As many people have pointed out, building Bush up seems pretty well beyond reach; what is left is to tear Kerry down.
It seems clear to me -- and from the response my last post received, many others -- that the Kerry campaign's response to this massive bit of mud slinging has been somewhat lukewarm. This is inexcusable, and, given the stakes involved and the margin for error, very dangerous.
My suggestion, stripped of the anger/annoyance I feel justified in displaying, is rather simple and, given the resources available to the campaign, quite workable:
1. Hire a group of people to immerse themselves in the media world of the Right. Listen to Limbaugh. Listen to Hannity. Read Rightwing publications. Read Rightwing blogs - particularly InstaPundit, The Corner, and RedState. Read Rightwing forums - particularly FreeRepublic. As a very poor shorthand, I will refer to these staffers as the immersion group.
2. Give these people some kind of access to the top level of the campaign - 15 minutes a day on the phone with Kerry himself would be nice, but is most likely unfeasible. A good chunk of time with top-level media staff would probably be a decent substitute, as long as they don't minimize the importance of the immersion group.
3. As the immersion group sees themes, quotes, and lines of attack move from the fringes into the semi-mainstream (for example, once something makes the jump from Free Republic to InstaPundit), have them coordinate with press staff (actually, I'd prefer it to be with Kerry himself - this is why I'd like them to have direct access, but again, I understand that it might not be workable) to get everyone on the same page and up to speed with what the truth is, and what documentation exists to prove it. This is no time to have multiple agents floating their own personal explanations which may conflict or need to be retracted later.
4. Set up a very user-friendly website where each individual smear is decontructed at length, with as much documentation and citation as possible. Put it on either johnkerry.com, or, if people who know better than I do think that isn't appropriate, put it on the DNC's website. This is so that it has an official quality, and cannot be dismissed as a "product of far Left fringe group." Such an accusation can still be used by Righties, of course, but the power of that charge is significantly lessoned when it is directed at an official party source.
5. Sum up each deconstruction/response in quick, snappy soundbite fashion, and forcefeed it to your spokespeople, every single day. Make sure they point to the website frequently.
This should go a long way in minimizing the impact of various smears, because it will:
1. Give your spokespeople grounds to speak with authority when refuting bogus charges, minimizing rhetorical gotchas and allowing your spokespeople to stand their ground and continue to push the message they are supposed to push that day.
2. Give allies in the media an authoritative source for refutation material, so that they aren't left floundering when someone on the other side gets backed into a corner and becomes dramatically anal about citations.
3. Give mainstream media sources an easy means of "balancing" their story if and when they decide to run wiuth a particular rumor. Spoonfeed them the definitive rebuttal, rather than hoping they quote the right part of a random spokesperson's response. If rebuttals are definitive enough, the campaign may even be able to prevent a rumor from being picked up at all. After all, the mainstream media prides itself on its important role in American public life, and even if you and I think they sometimes do a horrendous job of it, most of them won't knowingly run blatantly false information.
4. Allow anyone interested to access the rebuttal themselves. With the prevalence of blogs and other internet media, this becomes especially useful as an alternate means of rapidly distributing your information.
It is no longer useful to sit back and hope that the media is too responsible to pick up any given rumor. The Right has proved that it can inject damn near any rumor it wants into mainstream discourse by distributing it along its own media network and then having the respectable press -- pathologically adverse to being scooped -- scramble to catch up. The internet has accelerated this process to the point where something can go from faint whisper on the fringes to RNC talking point on CrossFire in a matter of days. However, because all of these sources are open to the public, they can be monitored and countered in real time, if the Kerry campaign is smart enough to use its resources to do so.