Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Some scandals and gaffes stick. Others don't. Matt Bai of The New York Times has a theory about this, which he explained a few months ago under the title "Krazy Glue Moments":

...Here's a political postulate for you: whether or not a bad moment sticks to the candidate depends on how closely related it is to the core rationale of that candidate or his opponent. In other words, if your gaffe goes directly to the main argument you are trying to make about yourself with the electorate, or if it substantiates the most relevant thing that your rival would have us believe about you, then it has the potential to become a serious problem. If, on the other hand, you do something completely idiotic that is tangential to what voters most hope or fear about you, then you tend to get a pass....

So how's that working out these days?

Well, we know that "what voters most hope" about John McCain is that he's a foreign policy expert -- yet twice recently he referred to Czechoslovakia, a country that hasn't existed in fifteen years, as a nation that currently exists. That would seem like a Krazy Glue Moment, according to Bai's theory. But nobody other than lefty bloggers is paying any attention, and McCain continues to poll extremely well as a potential commander-in-chief.

Prior to that, of course, he repeatedly confused Sunnis and Shiites. Again, seemingly relevant, and Bai himself thought he "undermine[d] his own narrative as the one candidate who gets the world." But, judging from that commander-in-chief poll result, nothing of the sort happened.

Another thing that "voters most hope" about McCain is that he's a straight talker. So you'd think his 61 flip-flops would stick. Nope.

As for Barack Obama, well, all kinds of things seem to be sticking to him. The belief that he's a bomb-thrower. And a Muslim. And a preppie.

...And, er, a guy with no sense of humor? Hunh? Why does that seem to be sticking? Is being funny relevant to "the main argument [he's] trying to make about [him]self with the electorate"? ("Change? I know where we need change -- airline food! Hey, what the deal with that?") Is a humor deficiency "the most relevant thing that [his] rival would have us believe about [him]"? (I thought the most relevant thing the GOP wants us to believe is that he's a Muslim preppie bomb-thrower.) Is it central to "what voters most hope or fear about [him]"? ("My house is in foreclosure, my kid might die in Iraq, I can't afford the gas to drive to work -- God, please give us a president with a relaxed, easygoing wit.")

No. The explanation is much simpler: Bai's theory is a crock. What sticks to Democrats is pretty much everything, simply because Republicans have an infinitely more sophisticated message machine and do nothing but crank it 24/7 during campaigns, throwing everything at the wall, to the delight of the mainstream press, whose reporters and pundits are always exceeding grateful to learn precisely what they need to say to relieve their own guilt about being members of the "liberal media" (though parroting the GOP line never prevents Republicans from calling these journalists liberal).

And hardly anything is sticking to McCain except the age issue, and that's sticking only because late-night comics (who are beyond being guilt-tripped by the GOP) have found that it's the one surefire topic for McCain mockery.

The public is capable of coming to negative conclusions about a Republican on its own, but usually only after the Republican has been in the national spotlight on a daily basis for years, which means we have to elect the SOBs before they can lose their luster. That wouldn't be true if political journalists paid even half as much attention to Democratic critiques of Republicans as they do to the reverse. But that isn't happening, and it won't anytime soon.

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