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                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the CW wave

One the perils of 24h spin cycle politics is that by the time the folks involved in the build up of what becomes "conventional wisdom" get tired of it, or bored, or just plain worn to the ground by it...the real cementing of Conventional Wisdom has only just begun.

Clearly, the story coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire on the Democratic side has become some kind of campaign battle over "race." Democrats are sick of it, and quite a few within the party recognize the perils of this battle, including, apparently, the main players. (That didn't stop the Clinton side from getting numerous unfair digs in after the truce.)

However that may be, the rest of the country has just begun to notice. Tim Russert holding up a sheaf of papers purporting to be "a controversial memo" prepared by the Obama campaign (it was no such thing, btw) might be the first the general public may have heard about this brouhaha.

What I'd like to try to understand is that process whereby...almost like sidewalk cement drying...a story that has been buffeted about in the frenzy of the news cycle settles into a more permanent, hardened form. It seems to happen as mainstream reporters write "summary" stories and as op/ed writers take a controversy up in their weekly columns. (The Obama "you're likeable enough" line had pretty much died and become a non-issue until Frank Rich, ...to his discredit, imo...because he really misread the moment...relaunched it in his Sunday NYT column from where it was inserted into the Tuesday Democratic debate...as a direct quote from his column!)

What I'd also like to pay attention to is how the campaigns deal with this effect. Clearly, there is a huge opportunity to shape a story at the very beginning, to spin it as it forms; but there's also further chances to have an impact on the long tail over the course of a period of days, as well.

It occurs to me that the Clintons are very good at knowing and shaping and working this curve on both ends, but, for the most part, they clearly are out there in the trenches fighting for their "message" every day, especially the short end. They KNOW that there's a curve to be working. I don't see this from Obama so much. Savvy people I talk to seem to have respect for Obama's strategy of playing the long beat and working his structural advantages.

To be honest, Obama seems to be fighting almost all of his battles on the long beat cycle. He almost seems to have a cavalier attitude about the spin cycle.

In my first opinion, it seemed to me that Obama gave away the store to appear so conciliatory in the debate when unfairly confronted with the non-controversial SC memo and accused of furthering a controversy about race.

But, as a I thought about it I realized that since most debate viewers would have no idea what the SC memo was about and really could not come to any conclusion about the "race" issue at all since they had no knowledge of it...that what these viewers took from Obama at the debate was that he was conciliatory and reached out to Hillary Clinton with respect, an action and attitude in keeping with the overall message of his campaign.

In effect, what Obama guards most highly is exactly that, the overall message his campaign sends. He works the long beat, and shapes the CW working off his overall strengths.

It surprises me that Obama doesn't often personally try to attack Clinton for short term mistakes. And the Clinton campaign does make mistakes. In fact, the number of unforced errors from the Clinton camp is probably the biggest story of this primary season.

Will Obama's long beat strategy prove effective? I don't know. Watch as the CW cements and we will find out. My take is that the Clintons often appear to have a temporary advantage...until you look at how the bigger picture is settling out.


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