Branding Those Keywords

It must be tough to be a millionaire — especially when you’re a millionaire who who wants to be President.  I’m talking, of course, about McCain’s “senior moment” when he didn’t know how many homes he owned. Four?  More than four?  Who knows, right.  Well, it’s more like seven if you believe that “commie rag,” the New York Times. Does it matter that McCain really doesn’t know?  Sure it does because he’s been going around saying what an elitist snob Obama is ’cause, you know, he doesn’t feel the pain of average Americans.

To be fair, Obama is a millionaire, too — but only recently.  As his wife explained during the primaries, “If Barack didn’t write those two books, we’d have trouble paying our monthly bills.” She spoke of student loans, the cost associated with raising their children, and the usual monthly bills. Disingenuous talk from a kid who went to Princeton and Havard?  Not really.   Michelle and Barack were not born with silver spoons in their mouths, but they are strivers who have worked very hard to get where they are.  Michelle grew up in the south side of Chicago in a one-bedroom apartment, raised by a single parent.  And if you don’t know Barack’s bio yet, you can read one HERE.

It’s not too difficult to see that these two people have done what we like to call “bootstrapping” their way to success.  That is to say, they worked hard, played by the rules, made connections, and have achieved and impressive amount in their young lives. And now Barack wants to be President. Uh-oh. Here come the long knives.

At first, McCain was truly trying to run a different campaign. You know, dressing down that idiot at campaign stop who was trying to fire up the crowd with a repetition of Obama’s middle name (i.e., Hussein).  It was then that I thought this campaign just might be different if the Republican front runner was basically telling supporters, “Don’t be racist idiots.  Let’s stand on our ideas for the country.”


We all say we hate it, but really negative campaigning is effective in winning elections. When I was teaching political science, one time I brought in a couple of studies to class (culled from the journals of folks who study political psychology) that demonstrated people pay attention to what you’re saying when your tone is angry, negative, and loud.  Keywords used over and over to paint an opponent in an unfavorable light have the wonderful ability to brand negative views into the collective consciousness of voters.  Just think of the following words and see if they have a negative connotation:



Private beach in Hawaii



Now you might consider yourself a liberal, understand that taxes, while not pleasant to pay, are basically our monthly “dues” as citizens, know that in Hawaii all beaches are public, are not particularly fond of felons, but might like arugula.  But when you put these keywords into a political response, you get something like this:

The McCain campaign quickly fired back at Mr. Obama’s remarks, calling them a “personal attack.” Brian Rogers, a spokesman, issued this statement: “Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses? Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people “cling” to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who’s in touch with regular Americans?

“The reality is that Barack Obama’s plans to raise taxes and opposition to producing more energy here at home as gas prices skyrocket show he’s completely out of touch with the concerns of average Americans.”

The only keyword missing from this response is “liberal.” I’m not sure how well that’s pinging on the knee-jerk “they’re-all-communists” emotion detector, but I haven’t heard it as much as I used to.  It doesn’t matter much, though.  All that matters in the game of “smear your opponent” is that the right keyword produces the intended effect.

Hang on, kids!  We’re in for some rough waters from now ’til November.

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