Desperately Seeking Compelling Narrative
The huge cover story from this coming Sunday's New York Times magazine is a fascinating fly-on-the-wall account of the last several months of infighting within John McCain's campaign as his senior advisors tried, increasingly desperately, to settle on and stick to one compelling narrative.
The campaign derailed after McCain agreed to sit in the caboose of the Straight Talk Express.
By July, a curtain was literally drawn to separate McCain from the reporters traveling on his plane. He no longer mingled with them, and press conferences were drastically curtailed. The Bushian concept of message discipline — the droning repetition of a single talking point — that had been so gleefully mocked by McCain’s lieutenants in 2000 now governed the Straight Talk Express.
Draper follows the campaign through its message changes, from "McCain is a maverick" to "Obama is a celebrity" to "Obama is a terrorist" to "McCain is a fighter, Obama is a socialist." His account of the vice presidential selection process is richly detailed.
Sarah Palin's instant fame nullified the "celebrity" knock on Obama, and her limited experience nullified the "Obama's not ready to lead" argument. Palin's selection forced another message change:
During the evening, Scully also traded e-mail messages with Matt McDonald, who had just gotten the news from Schmidt that the vice-presidential pick was someone who did not quite fit the campaign’s current emphasis on “readiness.” The story line, Schmidt informed McDonald, was now Change. The two of them, along with Rick Davis, talked through this rather jolting narrative shift. What they decided upon was workable, if inelegant. First, define the problem as Washington, not Bush. Second, posit both McCain and Palin as experienced reformers. And third, define Obama and his 65-year-old running mate, Senator Joe Biden, as a ticket with no real record of change.
We know how well that worked. These are the same genius advisers who did not see Sarah Palin's "lack of familiarity with major national or international issues as a serious liability." They dug McCain's grave.
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