I'll say it: Barack Obama is a liar. Surprised? Secretly happy? Are you shocked, and demand to hear some evidence? Well, Stephen Colbert has the evidence, and it turns out to be pretty flimsy: Obama recalled reading an article when he was nine years old, and it turns out it wasn't in Life magazine, as he thought, but in Esquire. But it doesn't matter. As Al Gore found out in 2000 and John Kerry found out in 2004, complex positions on issues and factual reality is trumped by attack labeling. By "attack labels," I mean those wonderful soundbites, usually just a few words and never more than a sentence, that are used to turn a politician into a caricature. It's similar to the doublespeak that has given us wonderful phrases such as the "death tax" and "we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." The fact of the matter is, Americans get their news from a wide range of media and sources that are in constant competition with each other for audience. Detailed, subtle analysis is not the best way to win in that marketplace. So the only way to get a message out is to make it short, memorable, and catchy. If your message can't be repeated at the watercooler in the time it takes to fill a paper cup, you've already lost. Any time spent making sure the message matches reality is time wasted. They went after Kerry with "flip flopper," among others, and they went after Gore because he "said he invented the Internet." The Gore label, for example, was originally based on a poorly-worded statement that Gore made. A fake quote was spread by mainstream media in a clear failure of the marketplace of ideas. Meanwhile Gore did deserve some credit for understanding and promoting the Internet from the Senate before anybody else, according to Vint Cerf. This was so effective that years later we still get to hear "funny" comments about Gore inventing the Internet from people who've never even heard of Vint Cerf. So it is inevitable that they will go after Obama the same way. The only question is, what will the attack label be? I think it has to satisfy a few criteria:
- It must be short, the shorter the better;
- It must be memorable and catchy;
- It does not have to accurately represent reality, but it must at least on the surface reflect some quote or action by the candidate; and
- It must have truthiness, so it "feels" like the truth. For example, Al Gore's pride goething before a fall sounds like a great story. It should have the qualities of an urban legend.
- Barack Obama is a liar. This is the one I talk about at the beginning of this post. The truthiness here is that Obama is too good to be true. The emperor has no clothes, and everyone was afraid to point it out because of the race thing. He's written a couple books, so it's just a matter of breaking out the fine-toothed comb.
- Barack Obama doesn't have enough experience. He certainly looks young, right? And, uh, he's never been a governor. The only way to dispel this one is to actually looking through his rather impressive resume, which takes time and effort and will therefore not happen. The truthiness here is style over substance.
- Barack Obama is too much of a risk. Now I would never say it would be risky to vote for a black person because I'm not racist, but think of all the dangerous racists that are out there. Do you think the KKK will take this sitting down? We must keep him out of the white house for his own protection. My gut tells me that this is a sympathetic viewpoint... it's not like a white president has ever been shot.