Is The Right Letting Obama Win By Falling For His Distractions?
Earlier this week, Philip Klein argued that the Obama campaign is currently winning the opening rounds of the General Election fight by distracting the media and the right with dumb distractions:
Since that time, three stories have dominated the political news cycle. The first came when Hilary Rosen, a Democratic operative, said Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life.” The next came when the Romney campaign promoted a Daily Caller story recounting that Obama had eaten dog as a child in Indonesia. The most recent came as Obama decided to spike the football before the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing, releasing an ad suggesting Romney wouldn’t have made the same call.
In all of these cases, the Romney campaign has taken the bait, reacting to whatever Team Obama has decided to make an issue.
The hoopla surrounding Rosen came as a response to the Democrats’ “War on Women” campaign, begun when conservatives opposed the administration’s policy of forcing religious institutions to purchase drugs to which they had moral objections. The Romney campaign is still on the defensive about the gender issue, having releasing a statement on Wednesday blasting Obama’s economic record on working women.
Conservatives have had a lot of fun with the story about Obama having eaten dog, but it only comes in response to a story about Romney having put his dog on the roof for a family road trip, which the Obama campaign highlighted to make Romney seem callous.
As for the bin Laden killing, when Romney said “even Jimmy Carter” would have ordered the raid, it made him seem very petty. It made it much easier for the Obama campaign to continue to exploit it as a political issue.
If the campaign is about bin Laden, identity politics and silly controversies about dogs, an Obama victory is a lot more likely. To seize control of the campaign, instead of merely being reactive, Romney has to put Obama on the defensive about his own record.
Klein hits on a point that I’ve made in regard to the Hilary Rosen controversy, the “Obama eats dogs” meme, and the bin Laden anniversary and I tend to agree with him that the Romney campaign and its surrogates make a serious mistake when they allow themselves to be fall into what seem like rather obvious traps. It’s one thing when the Twitterati and the blogosphere waste their time on such matters, a point that Jennifer Rubin makes in a post yesterday, but when the campaign itself starts getting involved in silly season then they’ve gone off-message, which is exactly what the Obama campaign wants them to do.
Allahpundit and Ace Of Spades both argue that these distractions don’t really matter right now because voters aren’t really paying attention to the election right now. This is a point that I’ve made myself several times, and it is true that those of us who follow politics closely tend to forget that not everyone pays as much attention to these things as we do. At the same time, though, incidents like this are like the opening skirmishes in a football game when both teams are testing each other for weaknesses. If an offense realize that it can easily fake out the defense early in the game, then that’s clearly something they’re going to try later in the game. The fact that the Romney campaign specifically, and Republicans in general, fell so easily for these distractions makes them seem desperate and suggests that they might not be able to respond to the fast-moving pace of a September-November General Election campaign. As I’ve already noted, Romney’s path to victory is incredibly narrow right now and unless that changes there’s very little margin for error. Letting yourself get distracted by things like the Rosen flap, the dog thing, or by making inappropriately dumb comments about the President’s role in the death of Osama bin Laden is the kind of mistake you might be able to afford to make in May, but it’s not the kind of mistake you can afford to make once the eyes of the nation are really on the campaign.
As for the conservative “new media,” Jennifer Rubin is correct when she points out that they are just as bad about getting distracted by irrelevancies as the old media is:
Despite the proliferation of news and analysis on the Web, and the absences of length restrictions (other than readers’ patience) that stymie print reporters, the New Media are as obsessed as the Old Media with the trivial and the irrelevant, whether it is the wives’ wardrobe (I’ll fume in silence about the nerve of the media to critique their appearance and then slam them for glamming up) or Mormonism or polls months and months in advance of the election that have zero meaning.
There isn’t a lack of space for energetic reporting on the president’s record. There’s a lack of will and incentive to look at hard questions like: Why is the Obama “recovery” so weak? Or: What is the goal of the Obama energy policy? Or: What do the defense sequestration cuts entail?
In their frivolousness the media aid and abet Obama’s desire to make the election about anything other than his record. It is noteworthy that the same crowd that is always complaining about politicians’ lack of seriousness is, so far, covering practically nothing serious.
Part of this, I think, is because much of the blogosphere on both the left and the right has become something of an echo chamber where people of similar ideologies seem to spend most of their time talking about how great their ideas how are and how evil the opposition is. There are exceptions, of course, but it does seem as though more time is spent coming up with reasons that Barack Obama is the worst President ever than covering any actual details. Instead of wasting time on irrelevant stories about dogs, where are the stories about the topics Rubin lists? Or the extent to which the Obama Administration has even further expanded the powers of the Presidency, with the acquiescence of Congress of course, in the name of the “War On Terror”? If you’re going to complain about how little the old media covers these topics, then it strikes me that the answer is to do less complaining and more reporting. But hey, what do I know?
So basically what we have here is the Obama campaign distracting both the Romney campaign and its allies in the conservative new media. If they manage to keep that up, then both parties could find themselves very surprised come November