Saturday, February 24, 2007


An article in yesterday's New York Times discussed the fact that Rudy Giuliani has been limiting his campaign appearances to venues -- such as firehouses -- at which he'll be worshiped, not asked tough questions. This reminds the Carpetbagger Report's Steve Benen of a certain president of the United States, as Steve explained in a post titled "A New 'Bubble Boy' Emerges."

I agree that it's bad for democracy when a presidential candidate, or a president, makes public appearances only before people who think he's the bee's knees. The problem is, it works. It certainly worked for Bush in '04. Abu Ghraib? No WMDs? Escalating violence in Iraq? Bin Laden still at large? Bush had all this going against him, but he was Bubble Boy all through the campaign, and he won.

Remember what the point of the Bubble Boy strategy is: not to shield a thin-skinned pol from criticism (or not just that), but rather to convey the impression that the pol is really, really popular, and if you don't like him, maybe you're the oddball. It may not persuade everyone, but I'm sure it kept a lot of swing voters from rejecting Bush outright in '04 -- and it kept the worshipers pumped up, as night after night on the news they saw (apparent) validation of their opinions by big crowds.


When I think about Bush's campaign appearances in '04, I think about this bit of entertainment trivia I ran across years ago:

Jay Leno had what Oprah Winfrey might call "a light bulb moment" ten years ago when he brought his late night NBC talk show to New York for a week and taped it in a studio that seemed cramped when compared to his spacious work environment in Burbank. When Leno returned to Los Angeles he immediately ordered a redesign for his entire studio, with the primary mandate that the front rows of the studio audience be brought closer to his stage, within touching distance. Leno's changes brought renewed energy to "The Tonight Show" that had been missing following the departure of Johnny Carson, and its ratings began to climb.

So there was more energy flowing between Leno and the crowd. Did that make Leno any funnier? No -- but I guess it made him seem funnier, and made it seem, to the home audience, as if the crowd really thought he was hot stuff.

You can't blame Giuliani for doing this. All you can do is what the Times and Steve did -- call him on it and try to force him out of the bubble.


(By the way, I've always thought the Bush people might have known about Leno's getting-close-to-the-crowd trick -- if you look at photos from the '04 campaign, it's clear that his handlers wanted as many pictures as possible showing him almost packed into an admiring crowd. And remember that the Bush people also designed a "theater in the round" stage for the '04 convention.)

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