Thursday, August 21, 2008


I'm sick of this theory, which is now unquestioningly accepted by all political pundits:

... in politics memes tend to stick when they reinforce things that people already intuitively believe. Hence George HW Bush in the supermarket was a disaster because everyone already had the sense that Bush was a disconnected upper-class twit. I don't think many people feel that way about McCain, and even if they're exposed to lots of information about his wealth, he just doesn't come across as a pampered rich guy....

That's from Michael Crowley, and to give him his due, he pairs the McCain example with one for Obama that he thinks won't work (that Obama's corrupt because he was associated with Tony Rezko).

But is the theory even true? Do we never come to believe anything about a politician we don't already half-believe?

I think that's a crock. Americans saw Poppy Bush as preppy and a bit odd -- Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live saying "Nah gah do it" -- but he'd persuaded the public for years that he was an unpretentious guy, the suburban dad of his speech at the '88 convention, a pork-rind-eating country music fan with a down-to-earth wife, as opposed to his '88 opponent, whose policies he'd told the country were "born in Harvard Yard's boutique."

That was a reversal of image, too -- before Bush's negative campaign got under way, Dukakis was thought of primarily as a son of immigrants. So both Bush and Dukakis were brought down by memes that stuck even though they contradicted what people already thought about them.

Did anybody outside the looney right think John Kerry's tour of duty in Vietnam was dishonorable? Not until the Swift Boat liars went to work.

Did anyone see John Edwards or Eliot Spitzer as hound dogs on the prowl? Not until we learned that they were.

Perceptions of politicians aren't etched in marble, for heaven's sake. Why do we now believe it's impossible to change them?

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