Sunday, September 28, 2008

Love Lockdown

I've had YE's new track in my head most of the weekend. After the debate Friday night it trickled into my ears. Now Sunday rolls around and Andrew Sullivan tosses out at couple of posts on the new McCain ad and a blurb from James Fallows on the two presidential candidates' understanding of strategy versus tactics. So to use Kanye as an example, the strategy is the love lockdown while the tactics are how YE goes about doing that.
Stepping away from thinly stretched pop culture metaphors, I think Sen. McCain screwed himself when he lingered on the 'surge' and then put out an ad showing moments when Sen. Obama agreed with him on point. It shows a deep misunderstanding of what strategy is and someone like Sen. McCain should know the difference. Yet his entire campaign has shown a lack of strategic thinking. Instead, Sen. McCain seems to lurch from one tactic to another with no clear, overarching platform. From his flip-flopping to the Palin pick and the sudden message shift away from experience to one of change and then the literal implosion of his head Sen. McCain lacks a strategy for winning the presidency, or at the very least, beating Sen. Obama.
On the other end of this misunderstanding is Sen. Obama. He's had a clear strategy in mind since the beginning and where his campaign has taken hits has been in tactics. It's something few political bloggers and even fewer pundits have understood themselves. Michael Gerson wrote and op-ed piece for the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago on the 17th arguing that the Obama campaign is nothing but a reactive body with no strategy. This is immediately after Gerson points to Sen. Obama's own vision and steady hand. Gerson uses the cover of attacking the Obama campaign to attack the senator directly. It's not terribly well-hidden nor is it all that logical or thought through.
Coming from a former speech-writer for President Bush, I'm not surprised with Gerson. He, like many many others including Sen. McCain, have consistantly failed to see the strategy and the tactics of Sen. Obama. Sen. Clinton suffered defeat in the primaries due to the same lack of understanding. The whole campaign package is devilishly simple but one that few politicans could ever try.
The basic tactic Sen. Obama has relied on is the political version of the rope-a-dope. Ali used the rope-a-dope to wear down his opponents while conserving his strength. The result is a tired and usually demoralized opponent who keeps going back round after round, throwing his best and watching the punches seemingly slide off. By the end of the fight one boxer is slow, tired, and dopey while the other is ready to open up. At that point it doesn't take much to knock out the dopey boxer. Without being specifically told, the tactic goes unnoticed. It's genius in its simplicity but hard on the boxer using it. The rope-a-dope results in multiple hits to the torso that few boxers can take. Politically however, it's a brilliant tactic. It lets your opponent waste their energy punching away with their standard tactics, throwing money and people in all the ways that have worked before. Except in Sen. Obama's case few of the punches connect.
This is where Sen. Obama's strategy shows his own brilliance. He understands that the only way to kill an idea or beat an ideology is to supercede it--to make the old tactics and strategy obsolete. Sen. Clinton never got that and Sen. McCain clearly doesn't either. Both have tried to pull the campaigns down into a street brawl whereas Sen. Obama isn't a brawler and he knows that. In a position like that, you look for alternatives. Sen. Obama is fighting a guerrila campaign against the conventional warfare of Sen. McCain. The McCain campaign can shift tactics as much as they like. Until they recognize that they're using the wrong strategy then Sen. Obama will continue to inch further along in the polls. Sen. McCain will fall under the thousand small cuts Sen. Obama has put in him. The combination of a strategy that makes the old ideologies look like a Commadore 64 and tactics that slowly suck the life away from its opponent is winning for Sen. Obama.
Why so many people haven't gotten this is beyond me. But the longer they remain in the dark the better the chances of Sen. Obama winning are.