Election Analysis--Issues--Iraq--posted by Tony Garcia on 11/10/2006
The same thing everyone says this election was about is Iraq. I disagree. That is the easy, lazy assessment. Think more generalized. If the elections were about Iraq then why the bloodbath in races that have nothing to do with such policies? Mark Ritchie never mentioned Iraq or President Bush. Rebecca Otto and Mike Hatch and Lori Swanson (so far as I am aware) and I am willing to bet that most of the state level races across the country did not mention Iraq. Yet the bloodbath occurred at that level as well.
Yes, Iraq may be "important" to people and maybe even enough to make them vote one way or another. But, that is true for nearly the entire population regardless of their views. But what was the real goal in the voting behavior? Not ending our role in Iraq. Many people do not believe 'quitting' Iraq is an answer. Changing our plan, yes, but that is not what made people pull the lever.
Mark Kennedy made his race about Klobuchar…and then a pathetic effort to say, "I think there were mistakes made…" What is that position acknowledging? They all picked up on "change" is needed in each of the races. Not "change" in Iraq, Terror policy or foreign policy. Those were not the universal theme. Change from the "status quo" was the theme.
Oddly enough it was the Left's and Center's desire for "change" from the 8 - 12 years of status quo. It was also the Right's disappointment that the last 8 - 12 years continued the status quo they wanted to end in 1994.
Locally the theme was change. Change the Governor because of the social ruin being created. Change the Secretary of State because of partisanship and/or incompetence. Change the House because of the Twins bill or government shutdown. Change.
There were a few races where the War on Terror and Iraq were the central focus of the challengers, but that was also disguised as "being too close too Bush". Klobuchar made that charge but Kennedy was already running away from his Congressional record. That race was never about Iraq centrally. Tim Walz' main push was Iraq and he did win. Coleen Rowley was all about anti-Iraq. She got creamed.
No, despite what Hugo Chavez and the Socialists in British Parliament and the lazy analysts across the nation think, the message the bridges the elections was "Change from the status quo"…and it was the request from both sides of the spectrum.
Do not believe that the seeming feel of "unimportance" of Iraq or the War on Terror described above means these are actually not crucial issues in the world. Do not believe that the way many of the GOP candidates ran from their previously "at all costs" support means the War on Terror is not important.
Do believe that the nation does not really believe what it really cannot see. Partially blame the natural biases of the media. Partially blame the Democrats who have been diminishing the War's priority since December 2001. Partially blame American Society for being so screwed up in their priorities that they study the profiles of the American Idol finalists while doing very little to learn more about what happens in Iraq, with Terrorism, in the Middle East, etc.
But also to blame is (brace yourself) the Bush Administration's effectiveness in fighting Terror. There is no question that we would have seen at least one more major attack if we continued after 9/11 as we did before it. Only an idiot would think otherwise. However, Bush has been so effective (more than I seem to give him credit for) that there is no terrorist threat to really see. This creates two problems for him.
First, it leaves the impression with the people that all of these "tools to fight terror" the President is asking for may be too much…overkill. He's doing fine without them.
Second, the populace does not see the threat anymore because we have not been attacked again. Osama is nothing but hot air, the killing is "over there" and we must be either winning or have won. It is safe now to focus on important things like (fill in the domestic issue of choice). It is safe now to have celebrity divorces be a top headline during election night returns.
The first hint of this reality locally was last year, Fall of 2005, when Race to the Right held the first MOB Council. We talked about the 4 candidates for GOP endorsement for the 6th Congressional Race. Jay Esmay called in saying Iraq is THE most important issue. Mitch Berg responded with the explanation that Jay still needed to be "local" in his issues. What are his "local" issues and how is Iraq "locally" important. The public just did not buy anymore the reality of Iraq & Terror's importance…the MOB Council recognized it then. (Sadly, most of them abandoned that realization to the peril of their candidates.)
The bottom line is the people cannot believe a threat they do not see. Bush has kept the threat distant (in miles) while he and the GOP failed for years to articulate well that the threat is still here and real…keeping it important though it is still distant.
Adding to the complications of the public not seeing the threat so believing it is not important is the public's short attention span.
We get our news from "shorts". In the old days shorts were used to get you up to date until you got the whole story later (later that evening, that weekend, etc). The content of the shorts and teasers in the old days had the same amount of substance as our newscasts and stories hold today.
We don't have the patience to wait at McDonald's drive-thru when the ask us to pull forward for an extra 120 seconds.
It should come as no surprise to realized that our patience has run out with Iraq and Terror as they surpassed the length of World War II. "We should be done by now. We're not, so something must be wrong."
That is the general thinking. I know, it is absolutely wrong in its facts, assumptions and conclusions, but that IS the general thinking. Addressing those errors is the topic of another post, though, and not relevant in analyzing Election '06.
Short attention span.
I tried telling various campaigns, bloggers and insiders that facts vs fiction are not going to make a difference in campaigns. You MUST understand the perception and address it. The perception was "we should be done". Take that perception and, instead of fighting against those who believe that, embrace it as a possible assumption…convince the public why YOU are still the best person to fix that issue. Don't change YOUR assumptions, premises or positions. But connect to theirs.
People think the economy is horrible. The best strategy in a campaign is to tell them why you are the best candidate, your policies are the best even in, or especially if the economy is horrible.
Short attention span.
There have been no attacks. We must have won. Sometimes being too effective puts you out of a job. (Which is why poverty pimps do not fight for poverty ending solutions.) The War on Terror is a double-edged sword. Fight it well and people will think we do not need you anymore since we do not need to fight the War anymore. Fight it poorly and you will be not needed since you cannot protect us in the War.
At some point one edge or the other will catch up to you. With a nation's citizenry having short attention spans and poor education (contributing to their lack of interest in real issues) quickens the catch up.
Finally, how can you convince people that your top issue should be their top issue when you fail to address that top issue in the manner the people want you to?
Obviously the GOP was unable to answer that question properly. Otherwise they would have given a full effort and a complete solution to illegal immigration and border control.
There is not much that is necessary to point out beyond that. There are many, many examples that most are aware of.
Essentially, the GOP was more focused on retention of power. Hence pushing the issue off. Hence dragging out providing solutions. The subliminal message from the GOP, unintentionally, was, "Terror is not as important to me as I say. That is why we are not fixing anything now. That is why we are addressing things in a reactive fashion."
Coming next: Issues--GOP Strategy, A Tough Sell