I’ve been thinking about campaign strategy.
Elizabeth Warren has the Democratic base pretty much solidly behind her, and they are enthusiastic, and they will vote.
The problem we are having — and it’s a real one — lies with those we tend to characterize as “low-information voters”. These are people who don’t identify with either political party. They pride themselves on judging each candidate individually, strictly on that candidate’s merits. However, studies have shown that these people are largely detached from the political process. They pay little attention to public affairs, and as a result, when the time comes to make a decision, they have very little to go on. And like any of us in such a case, they tend to make their decision based on the most superficial criteria, because that’s all they have.
And this is really what Scott Brown is counting on. He is spending his efforts characterizing himself as a “nice” person — someone you could relate to on a person-to-person level. Someone who is reasonable. Everyone understands this, and in the absence of any other considerations, it can be very powerful.
Now it’s good to attack Scott Brown on the issues — that needs to be done. But the people I’m talking about are not even going to understand that there *are* issues until we get get past the “niceness” business. We’ve got to address that explicitly.
I think that just talking about the issues without addressing the matter of niceness will not be effective.
Of course it’s true that Elizabeth Warren is herself a nice person. She has a real way with people. But Scott Brown has his own personal charm, which he’s been honing for years now. There is just no way to “out-nice” Scott Brown. That charm has to be taken on directly. If we don’t, we’re just not going to reach these people.
All the door-to-door work in the world is going to be useless if people can’t see behind the charm and the niceness. (And in my experience, when campaigns start asking people to “redouble your efforts”, which I expect to happen soon, it’s a sign of thrashing, not of strategic thinking.)
What do I mean by taking this on “directly”? I mean naming it. Talking about it explicitly. And in doing so, demystifying it.
Here are two examples of ads that I would suggest. I think ads like these would be effective. I think ads short of this would not. And I think we need a lot of ads like this. We need to change the terms of the public discourse. We need to change the words that people use.
*** First Ad: This ad directly addresses the term “nice”. One good thing about this ad is that there could be many versions of it. Just change everything except the first and last paragraphs. The ad could be either a radio ad or a TV ad.
Scott Brown comes across as a real nice guy. And he probably is. And he says things that are reasonable.
So when Republican congressman Todd Akins said that a woman couldn’t get pregnant from being raped, Scott Brown said that was a terrible thing to say, and he got a lot of favorable press for saying that. It was a nice, reasonable thing to say.
On the other hand, the same Mr. Nice co-sponsored the Blount amendment in the Senate. This is the amendment that — if it had passed — would have made it legal for an employer to refuse to provide health insurance for anything that employer found objectionable — in particular, for contraception, and in fact for anything.
And Mr. Nice three times voted against jobs bills that would have provided Massachusetts with teachers, firefighters and police, and would have funded sorely needed public works projects and provided decent jobs in doing so. And at the same time, he voted against cutting taxes on middle-class families in favor of massive tax cuts to the 1 percent.
So Scott Brown may be a very nice guy. He might actually be a great neighbor. But he’s not running to be your neighbor. He’s running for the United States Senate. And his actions in the Senate have not been nice at all.
*** Second Ad: The purpose of this ad is to address the lawn signs with the slogan “Scott Brown — he’s for us.” It’s necessarily a video ad.
[Scene: Two people, somehow identifiable as executives of a large bank, are talking:]
P1: Wouldn’t it be great to throw money into some really dicey investments again? You know, the kind we then sell to some other bank before they blow up? Sure, I know it’s dangerous, and we drove the economy into a ditch the last time we did this, but, hey, if we win, we get the big bonuses, and if we lose, we’re too big to fail, and we still get the bonuses, right?
P2: Well yeah, but the Wall Street reform bill of 2010 said we can’t do that anymore.
P1: No — No! Scott Brown stepped in for us — and we gave him a lot of money for it. He held that act hostage in the Senate till it was watered down. And then even after it was passed, he made sure that the regulations were weakened. So actually, I bet we’re good to go. [Subtitles referencing the Boston Globe reporting on this.]
P2: What a guy! He knows which side his bread is buttered on, doesn’t he?
P1 [Slowly — with intensity — staring straight into the camera]: Scott Brown — he’s for us.
[And maybe then put up the words “HE’S FOR U$”. (with the dollar sign)]