Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rebranding McCain

Apologies to all for being away so long. If you haven't heard, back in May, my family and I made a sudden decision to move to Tokyo for the year, which led to a distracting three months of preparations. We've been here now for two weeks, are mostly settled in, and are loving life in this overwhelming, crazy, wonderful city.

I've been meaning to offer some thoughts on where John McCain is most vulnerable to being rebranded, but I think that exercise might have been rendered academic now that McCain has chosen to commit Suicide By Palin. Still, branding and politics are two subjects that interest me mightily, and their intersection even more so. So here are a few observations.

I've finally finished watching the major speeches from the Democratic convention. I think the Dems mostly did a good job. Like Glenn Greenwald, I would have liked to see more about the current administration's radicalism and contempt for the Constitution. I also would have liked to see a more subtle and systematic attempt to rebrand McCain.

For me, a brand is the emotional connection a consumer feels with a product or service (for some earlier thoughts on the subject with regard to Clinton and Obama, check out Brand, Market Adoption, and President Obama). Brand is what the product stands for; it's why a consumer wants to be associated with the product.

What's McCain's brand? I think you can sum it up in a few phrases. War hero. National security expert. Straight-talking maverick. (Bear in mind that for the moment we're talking about brand, and not the extent to which the brand is supported or contradicted by the underlying product). Given that McCain's marketing team wants consumers to buy their product for the presidency, I'd call McCain's brand strong and appropriate to the task at hand. The challenge for the Democrats, therefore, is to change the brand. The question is, how.

Once a brand is established in the consumer's mind, it's difficult to change it in the absence of a change in the underlying product. Some brands can be extended in certain directions; the trick lies in knowing which brands can be extended and in what ways. As a general matter, you can't turn a brand into something entirely new. You have to build on, and subtly shift, something you already have. Even a relatively logical change -- and one supported by the product's name -- like Amazon's shift from online bookseller to online general merchandise shopping mall, was difficult and took a lot of time and effort.

So the Democrats would be ill-advised to try to take on McCain's brand head-on. What they need to do instead is to work with the brand as it currently exists in consumers' minds and then subtly reshape it. Republicans are generally good at this game. Look at what they've tried to do in rebranding Obama as a "celebrity." Obama's brand involves a rare kind of political charisma, and rather than deny that charisma, the Republican marketing machine has tried to shift the way consumers look at it. The pitch isn't, "He's not charismatic," which no one would accept; it's "Sure, he's charismatic -- he's a celebrity,after all, like Paris Hilton, who BTW isn't qualified to be president" (although I have to say, Paris is a lot more articulate than McCain, and marketing-savvy, too).

I think the way to rebrand McCain is first to not argue about the current brand. People who believe McCain is a national security expert because he can keep a straight face while uttering helium-filled platitudes like "I'll follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell" and "I'll be Hamas's worst nightmare" and "We are all Georgians now," while ignoring his belief that even in retrospect invading Iraq was a good idea, along with his proven inability, for example, to distinguish Shia from Sunni, or locate the borders of Pakistan or Iraq, or know that Czechoslovakia hasn't been a country since 1992, won't be persuaded by the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Similarly, people who believe McCain is a straight-talking maverick despite his reversals on Iraq, torture, abortion, tax cuts, offshore drilling, the religious right -- in fact, can you come up with a topic on which McCain has been consistent? -- are already letting the brand blind them to the facts, so pointing out the facts will be of limited utility. Nor is there any reason to hope that people who believe being shot down and held as a POW in itself qualifies a candidate to be Commander-in-Chief and insulates that candidate from questions about his qualifications are amenable to an alteration in their underlying worldview.

(On the convincibility continuum, people who continue to believe McCain is serious about national security -- that he puts "Country First" -- even in the face of his pick for vice president, are near clinical. The Wall Street Journal's attempts to justify the choice were particularly entertaining. They praised it as "a daring pick because Mrs. Palin has never faced national scrutiny and hasn't had to deal with foreign policy." Hasn't had to deal with it! Meaning, she might be an absolute expert on the subject; she just hasn't had the opportunity to demonstrate her awesome abilities. It's like calling a used car "pre-owned" -- sure it was owned, but maybe it wasn't ever driven? And this was great, too: "We suspect her record of fighting the status quo was uppermost in John McCain's decision." The woman part? Total accident! Fox and Cindy McCain have argued for Palin's foreign policy credibility because "Alaska is close to Russia," and no, I am not making this up. And here's a hilarious parody of right-wing attempts to justify this unjustifiable choice.).

What the Democrats need to do is accept all the premises of McCain's brand -- but then to ask, "What happened? McCain was all those things, and we loved him for it. But he's changed. He's not the man he once was."

Notice how small is the disagreement inherent in this pitch. It doesn't deny adherents to McCain's brand their fundamental belief; instead, it accepts and agrees with that belief. It's therefore able to get past defenses and open up a small question, a question which comes across as fair and reasonable given the overall broad agreement on which the question rests. "What happened to him?"

The only Democrat I saw do anything like this at the convention was John Kerry, who repeatedly contrasted Senator McCain and Candidate McCain. The contrast was useful, but I think it could have been more effective. It needed to be hammered home by more speakers, and consistently employed in service of the question: "What happened to John McCain?"

Once McCain brand loyalists accept that something has changed, they can start to see him more for what he really is (or, if you think I'm being too partisan, they can see him in the way the Democrats want him to be seen rather than in the way he wants to be seen). The emotional distance for such changed perceptions is short. It's not, "I was all wrong about McCain;" it's, "I was right about McCain... but he's changed." And that small shift would be enough. What matters for an election (or for the success of any product) isn't what the brand was; what matters is what the brand is on the day people are making up their minds about buying it.

"He's not the man he once was" is also obvious code for, "At 72 -- and 76, if he serves a full term -- McCain is too old." Democrats will be called on their use of this code. This would be desirable. It would be a backdoor way of creating nonstop coverage of McCain's age, in the guise of "Are Democrats playing the age card?":

Television Pseudo-Journalist: "You said, 'What's happened to John McCain? He's not the man he was.' Isn't this code for 'McCain is too old?'"

Democratic Spokesman: "No, it's not. Whether a man who would be 76 if he serves one full term is too old for the job is for the American people to decide. It's a comment instead on what happened to a once-principled politician. After all, John McCain was against torture before he was for it, he was against tax cuts for the rich before he was for them, he called theocrats 'agents of intolerance' before embracing them, etc. John McCain has made more misstatements, leveled more outright falsehoods, and changed his positions on more issues in less time than any politician in recent memory, and the American people have a right to know why. Is he just pandering? What does he really believe? What could we expect of him if he were to become president?"

In the midst of this kind of coverage, McCain's ongoing misstatements would have a framework in which they could be understood: "He's a national security expert, so if he's making mistakes on such fundamental points, it can only mean that he's slipping. Can we risk putting someone of such declining capacity in the White House?"

No, we can't.

I'm not a Democrat, and I'm not otherwise comfortable with the notion of the Democrats gaining a simultaneous lock on Congress, the Senate, and the Presidency. But if they're going to become a serious party again, the Republicans need a near-death experience. If you care about the party -- and about the country -- help provide that experience in November.


Anonymous said...

Looking at this through purple-colored glasses...

If the Democrats had a lock on the Congress, Senate, and the Oval Office, this could go one of two ways.

We could see a return to prosperity and international "well-regard" like we saw during the Clinton era. The Democrats could actually matter again beyond just the names "Clinton" and "Kennedy." The Republicans would HAVE to rethink their strategy for the next round of elections for all three in order to combat the renewed Democrats.

However... this could completely backfire on the Democrats. If all three are controlled by one party, and, instead of getting better, things actually got worse? All the posturing that has been done, about the need for "change", will come undone in a heartbeat. And, since they will be in control of the three biggies, no amount of damage control will be able to stop the backlash come the next elections.

Change is definitely needed. At this point, the Democrats seem to have the upper hand on change. This upcoming week will prove to be very interesting to hear how the Grand Old Party is going to respond to Barack's, in all honesty, terrific speech.

Natalie Hatch said...

It's amazing how just a little shift in focus can swing voters. Here in Australia politicians have been resorting to slander campaigns which have shown to backfire time and again. But then again we have compulsory voting, you are looking at jail time if you don't vote. Maybe that's what America should take up then it'll give those in office a whole lot more votes to rig. (sorry that wasn't a nice jibe was it...)
by the way congrats on the tokyo move, are you teaching your kids the language?

Sandy said...

Well, Barry, you wrote a very interesting post. I'm surprised, I would never have guessed you weren't a Democrat. Even some of your other posts I thought you were.

Okay, now to the branding, I definitely agree with you in how it should be done to show that McCain's brand has changed. However, my husand is 72, and he says all the time that McCain is too old. So, I think a lot of the older people are already thinking that about him. Any time, he stumbles over words or gets confused that's what people are thinking about him. Whereas, the same thing can happen to Obama and hardly anyone notices.

A very interesting post.

BTW, what a great education for the family to live in Japan for a year. I love learning about other cultures.


An Inspiring Agent said...

I like your take on it!!! In fact, I think you should send your views to the Democratic party!!! I think they will benefit a lot because I think that you are right!! I think that the maverick McCain ones was, died when he wanted the Presidency above what is right for his country!! Hence, when he started fighting Bush in order to get to where he is now!!!!

Anonymous said...

A VP pick (Palin) that continues the fiction that global warming is not a problem because it is inconvenient to business shows how little things will change.

There are now numerous visible signs of global warming.

Does anyone believe that the losing side in the next election will cooperate with the next administration?

Despite all the talk of change, there's going to be a lot of politics as usual -- let the other side twist in the wind to improve the odds of getting elected in the next election.

Arctic becomes an island as ice melts

"The North Pole has become an island for the first time in human history as climate change has made it possible to circumnavigate the Arctic ice cap."

Melting Arctic Ice Imperils Polar Bears

"Margaret Williams, who directs the World Wildlife Fund's Alaska office, says that during a helicopter flight Thursday she saw five polar bears, including a cub, in open waters.

Williams says though it's not unusual to see polar bears swimming, such ice conditions are unusual."

Arctic ice melting and not coming back: scientist

"Observers from the U.S. federal government doing a whale survey in mid August reported seeing nine polar bears swimming off Alaska's northwest coast.

The bears were between 20 and 100 kilometres from shore. Some were swimming north, apparently trying to reach the polar ice shelf, which was more than 600 kilometres distant.

While polar bears have been known to swim 100 kilometres, but can often become dangerously weak from the ordeal."

Australia drought withers small towns

"Australia is suffering one of its worst droughts on record, hurting wheat farming just as the world faces a food crisis. Australia is usually the world's third or fourth-largest exporter of wheat. But exports dropped 46% from 2005 to 2006, then fell 24% last year."

Anonymous said...

I'm always curious when people make statements like "I'm not a Democrat, but--" and then continue with something that could just as well have been written by the DNC. (The right-wing counterpart is "I'm not a Republican, but I agree with everything Rush Limbaugh says.")

Party registration is not the sole determining factor in partisanship. If you're not a Democrat -- why not?

Quacks like a duck, etc.

Joshua James said...

Tokyo for a year, huh? That's great! Next time I'm in Japan I'll drop word, we're usually in Osaka most of the time, but go through Tokyo to visit friends . . . and great post, too.

Take care,

Brian R. Sheridan said...

Great to have you back blogging Barry.

My thing is that Clinton is a baby boomer - Bush is a baby boomer. McCain is the previous generation. Does anyone think we would take a step backward?

PBI said...


Tokyo for a year sounds like a great opportunity!

Agreed on your take with regard to McCain's branding; some verbal jiu-jutsu is needed to use his perceived strengths against him. Interestingly, it seems that the RNC is engaging in some rebranding of its own, and is now in the process of trying to emphasize McCain and Palin's alleged reformist credentials over the foreign policy tack they were taking before the Republican VP was picked. This appears to be an attempt to negate Palin's complete lack of exposure to foreign policy - never mind actual experience - and even perhaps move away from the gaffe-riddled "demonstration of expertise" McCain put on in that arena.

I have mixed emotions about single party control from the Democrats as well. Unfortunately, the modern GOP has turned into a cruel joke and demonstrated no ability to be trusted with governing at the federal level. I think it will have to be Democrats alone for a minimum of four years to both help right the country and to give the Republicans time to marginalize the freakshow that has been at the head of their organization for the past decade. On balance, my preference is two centrist parties in contention with one another, governing together through compromise.

I'm not a Democrat either; I disagree with what was done with regard to telecomm amnesty, and I think the establishment wing of the party is nearly as bad as the GOP. That said, they are clearly the lesser of two evils at the moment, and in some ways actually a force for positive change. I remain independent because I have voted for Republicans in the past, and will probably do so in the future when the Dems inevitably start becoming too accustomed to power (assuming they win this year, which I think they will). Until such a time as the Republican Party cleans house, however, I will be voting Democrat for the foreseeable future.

Sensen No Sen

Anonymous said...

You know, Barry, I have to agree with the others about your “I’m not a Democrat” claim. Most of the topics and your points of view in your blog - and in responses to your blog - would indicate that you are a Democrat and that most of your blog readership is Democrat and very liberal at that. But if you aren’t a Democrat, why aren’t you? What’s so bad about the Dems that you don’t want to side with them?

And as for your “rebranding” of McCain – what’s so great about Obama? Why are you supporting him? Instead of attacking McCain, perhaps you should give us your reasons why Obama should be the next President? Why him? I mean, you’ve stated yourself that “…the Senator massively disappointed me today with his craven capitulation on warrantless surveillance and amnesty for law-breaking telecoms.” Doesn’t sound like Obama is very supportive of an issue that is near and dear to your heart. And his “I’m going to pull our troops out of Iraq” has fallen rather flat after his “as the ground situation permits” comment – which must greatly disappoint the anti-war advocates. Seems like Obama does a lot of backtracking and side stepping. And though you think they (the Dems) should have focused more on “…the current administration's radicalism and contempt for the Constitution” during the DNC - you seem very happy to throw your support behind a candidate that doesn’t support your political views – or at the very least ‘disappoints’ you.

We have heard all the anti-McCain rhetoric – give us some pro-Obama rhetoric.

Tell us what is so damn special about this first-term senator.

PBI said...

What's to like about Obama? At the most basic level, he isn't the chosen candidate for the people behind eight years of failed policies and the worst presidency in American history; he isn't "the guy" for the people who have driven the country into a ditch.

On a more positive level, his commitment to alternative energy, to open dialog with other nations, to diplomacy and cooperation, to education, to middle class tax relief and to the idea that a rising tide should lift all boats - not just the yachts - are reasons I'll vote for him over McCain.

Are there areas with which I disagree with him? Yup: telecom immunity, for one, and I haven't heard him go say much about going after the serial law breakers in the administration and their lackeys in various agencies, which I would back. He's not a perfect candidate, but it's unlikely that there will ever be a perfect candidate because of the compromise inherent in representative democracy. On the other hand, he's a hell of a lot less imperfect than John McCain.

I won't speak for Barry, but I'm not a Democrat or a Republican because I don't vote anybody's party line; I vote issues.

And as for what is so special about Obama, he appears to have all the conviction and charisma of a real leader. The nation needs one.

Sensen No Sen

Are you sure you really want to get into a comparison of flip-flops and side-steps if you're backing John McCain? He's taken hollow political expediency to depths rarely plumbed...

Anonymous said...

Okay, so basically you're saying that you’re voting for Obama because of all he is NOT - not necessarily for what he IS.

I was hoping that you would talk issues and solutions rather than blasting the current administration and the GOP. What I had hoped was that you could drop the "Angry Responsible American" rhetoric and concentrate on what Obama would do for America should he be given the opportunity.

Obama’s “commitment to alternative energy, to open dialog with other nations, to diplomacy and cooperation, to education, to middle class tax relief” are all shared commitments of his opponents. I think it is funny that you would think McCain is against any of those things. Which makes me think that your support of Obama is rather empty – you (and most other liberal minded individuals) have been pissed off for so long that all you can see is that the path before you is a hard and rocky one - and uphill to boot. Obama appears to be a different trail, but with Russia flexing its muscle, Iran promoting a nuclear exchange, oil prices, mortgage defaults, natural disasters… (the list goes on and on)… Obama’s trail still seems to be just as much of an uphill battle.

So far you haven’t given me any reason to believe that Obama is a better choice than McCain. Sure, Obama can give a good speech – but when since does being a good orator make you a leader. Leaders know what they value. They also recognize the importance of ethical behavior. The best leaders exhibit both their values and their ethics in their leadership style and actions. Your leadership ethics and values should be visible because you live them in your actions every single day. A lack of trust is the problem. If a leader never identifies their values, then the mistrust is understandable. That’s why Obama cannot pull ahead in the polls. People don't know what they can expect. And bit by bit, Obama’s values are beginning to show. (Don’t even get me started with his “punished with a baby” remark.)

I support McCain because of shared values and some of the moral issues involved. I am not a bible thumping religious nut. But I do have personal convictions and morals that more closely align with the McCain camp than with Obama’s.

PS: I find your flip-flop comment anomalous. Where have you, in the course of your life, not changed your mind? How many times in college did you change your major? How many times did you decide to pursue one relationship over another, whether just friendship or amorous? How many decisions do you make in the day that you later regret? I believe the ‘flip-flop’ argument itself is hollow. I would prefer a leader who is decisive and resolute but can also change his or her mind as needed. I do not want a leader that follows the popular opinion of the masses, because often enough the masses do not know what is good for them.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that so many are commenting on what I have privately observed from the beginning of this blog. Barry, you eschew the labels "liberal" and "Democrat" but you do so against the overwhelming evidence of the content of your essays on this blog.

That's not a criticism, by the way, but it does imply that I have a suggestion for you (which I'll come to in a moment).

There's nothing wrong with espousing or aligning with liberal or Democratic views, and it seems odd that you run from the what, I suspect, seems obvious to your readers--you hold very liberal views.

I know you've pointed to fiscal conservatism as your claim to being independent. But, c'mon Barry, that's a rather tired and unconvincing argument that's been used unsuccessfully by so many before you. Persisting in this diminishes your credibility, whether you realize it or not.

Why does it diminish your credibility? Because an important premise of this blog is the importance of truth and precision, and you appear to violate those principles with your too-frequent claim of independence. Candidly, it has a he-doth-protest-too-much quality about it.

So, my suggestion to you is this: Relish your liberalism, Barry! Rejoice in it! Come out of the closet, because everyone knows you're in there!

Anonymous said...


I'll tell you why I support Obama. A wise man once said that a president isn't elected to govern. He's elected to lead.

That's why character is a constant question in voters' minds.

It's not experience, because Cheney and Rumsfeld have the best resumes in Washington and look where that got us.

No, it's the ability to see the direction needed and to inspire the country to go there.

Obama has inspired millions to see beyond the past calculations of Rove, Atwater and, sadly, McCain.

You may scoff, and derision is an easy tactic. I know, I use it often. But I do believe Obama represents our best hope for reclaiming those ideals that made America Reagan's shining city on the hill, ideals that have been cynically abandoned by the GOP.

It's not that this is my first campaign. My first was in '64 with Goldwater. In the decades since I've been harshly taught that politicians can be frauds, charlatans and shameless pitchmen, but if you look at Obama's character, I think he's genuine. And genuine is damn good in my book. It's what I liked about McCain in 2000 and it's what I like about Obama now.

Hell, the guy didn't even tell Harvard he was black until after he was accepted. That tells me volumes about the man's character.

That, as briefly as I can state it, is why I support Obama and why I'm disappointed in McCain.

Barry, as an old ad man, I applaud you rebranding strategy. It's spot on. You ever think about working in an agency?

Oh, right, you did...

Have a good year in Tokyo and we hope to see you next year at one of the cons.

Barry Eisler said...

It's always entertaining when anonymous posters urge others to "come out of the closet" or otherwise be transparent...

Anonymous, for a second there, when you told Paul that he he seems to support Obama for what Obama is not, I thought you were starting to understand how someone could be for X because Y is worse (this dynamic is commonly known as the "lesser of two evils"). From there, I thought you might understand why I want the Democrats to win (or, more accurately, for the Republicans to be defeated) this year. But then you started up with your odd questions again, and my hopes were dashed...

I'm not sure why you're so invested in getting me to declare that I'm a closet Democrat. I might offer some evidence to the contrary, but why bother? You've offered no evidence in support; you've demonstrated an inability to grasp something as simple and obvious as the notion of the lesser of two evils; and the self-satisfied tone, irrelevant questions, and wobbly substance of your posts all suggest someone whose binary thinking and rigid worldview will almost certainly prove impervious to facts, logic, and argument.

But I only know you through your anonymous posts, and I could be wrong.

-- Barry

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's a holy war and a holy pipeline.

Palin: Iraq war 'a task that is from God'

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told ministry students at her former church that the United States sent troops to fight in the Iraq war on a "task that is from God."

In an address last June, the Republican vice presidential candidate also urged ministry students to pray for a plan to build a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in the state, calling it "God's will."

Anonymous said...

So, because someone has some liberal leanings in some areas, that automatically makes him a full blown "liberal" or a "Democrat"? Seriously?

I'm an ex-Republican. I have some liberal leanings. I have some conserative leanings. I lay claim to no party. How hard is it to imagine that just because Barry supports Obama in this election that he is not a Democrat?

See, this is why I got out of the party system. To quote the late, great George Carlin, "I have this idiotic thing I do. It's called THINKING." I know people who are so indoctrinated with both parties it's almost laughable, honestly.

Remember, just because Barry is supporting Obama in this election doesn't necessarily mean he's going to support the Democratic party in any future elections.

I get a lot of flack from people because I judge the issues, not a party line. But, you know what? I'd rather take flack than blindly follow a "party".

And yes, this election, like the last one, is about the "lesser of two evils."

Anonymous said...


I do not put my name/handle on my posts because I know you probably wouldn't post them.

Your "binary thinking and rigid worldview" comments are dismissive and condescending – you are refusing to answer my question of WHY you are supporting Obama simply because you think conversing with me is, somehow, below you, that my opinions/questions are not worth your attention. Hey, it’s your blog and you will most certainly do as you wish, but I certainly cannot fathom how you are able to ascertain my political world views and/or binary thinking in a simple short paragraph response. Fairly quick to harsh judgment there, Barry. Also – I cannot take credit for all the anonymous postings here, though I wish I could.

But let’s take a closer look at your “lesser of two evils” outlook on your political choice.

You’re basically saying that McCain is MORE evil than Obama – accepting the fact that Obama is evil, but somehow less so. It implies that you have looked closely at what each candidate stands for, their policies, there plans, etc. and have decided that Obama is less evil. I simply asked you to inform, educate, and enlighten me on what it is about Obama that makes him ‘less evil’ than McCain. And your answer is , “I might offer some evidence… , but why bother?” You immediately attack me for not offering any evidence of my own and stating, basically, that I just don’t get it. Get what? Help me understand you, help me “get it.” I simply asked that instead of attacking McCain so vehemently, why not give me a reason to vote for Obama? What is it that makes Obama the lesser of two evils?

I surmise that you don’t know. That’s why you don’t answer. David Terrenoire at least says that Obama is motivating; that he sees the direction we need to go and inspires us to go there. But what direction is that? Has that been spelled out anywhere? Does Joe Biden know about this new direction and if so, why hasn’t he moved in this direction before now? I am sorry, but it’s going to take more than charisma to sell me on this “new” direction. I have met many charismatic car salesmen, but have bought few cars from them.

“Obama represents our best hope for reclaiming those ideals that made America Reagan's shining city on the hill…” So this is change? Is this a step forward or a step back? And isn’t ironic that a democrat is embracing the values of a republican? And let me ask you this – since you seem so anxious to return to the Reagan era – how do you think Reagan (in his prime, mind you) would have reacted to the events of 9-11? I could well imagine how he would react to the Iranian problem and Russia – but would Reagan have implemented a War on Terror? My best guess is that he would have. And while we are planning to take a step back to Reagan era diplomacy – wouldn’t we all agree that between Obama and McClain that McCain most closely epitomizes Ronald Reagan?

And, David, you talk about being ‘genuine’ – could anybody ever get more ‘genuine’ than Sarah Palin? Did you hear her speech? I am sorry, but if I were to make a list of politicians who were ‘genuine’ – Sarah’s name would be at the top of that list. What a freaking breath of fresh air this woman is. And as the Democrats lament about her being just one heart-beat away from the Presidency – I think most would agree that this is a good thing.

Barry, I challenge you to write a pros and cons list for Obama and McCain and present it here on your blog. A fair and balanced comparison, if you will. Explain and educate us without getting into all the anti-government and anti-Bush rhetoric. I believe that you will find that your choice between two equally unpleasant options is a false dilemma. It is a false dilemma because McCain is not as evil as you think and Obama is more evil than you are willing to admit.

Barry Eisler said...

Anonymous, forgive me if I find your latest post a bit maudlin. If you want to be taken seriously, present yourself in a serious way (after all, isn't an embrace of personal responsibility one of the hallmarks of being a conservative?). In this case, "serious" means not just stating an opinion, but presenting evidence and argument. Opinions consistently offered without evidence and argument are manifestations of narcissism: the writer assumes he's so fascinating that what matters is what he thinks, not why he thinks it.

Don't understand what I'm talking about? Go through just your latest post and try to identify the topic sentences. Then try to identify the evidence you offer. What you construe as argument is in fact a collection of feelings, cliches, and generalities -- opinions offered in support of other opinions. Here, I'll translate your penultimate paragraph, which is emblematic of the way you present yourself:

Sarah Palin is genuine (topic sentence).
She is genuine because ("because" is a great word. It connects the topic sentence and the evidence in support thereof):
1. She's at the top of my list of genuine politicians (do you see how this is just another topic sentence, not evidence in support of your first topic sentence?)
2. She is a breath of fresh air (again, do you see how this is just another topic sentence, as well as a meaningless cliche?)
3. "Most would agree" that Palin as VP is a good thing (another topic sentence, without any argument, and no support, statistical or otherwise, behind your claim about "most," or even a hint about "most who" -- most Americans? Most theocrats? Most people from Wasilla? You just assume that whoever "most" is, everyone must understand the vague term in exactly the way you do)

So here's your "argument" on Palin:

"Sarah Palin is genuine because she's at the top of my list of genuine politicians, because she's a breath of fresh air, and because most would agree it's good that she's VP."

So yes, I find your comments boring. How could I not? There's no substance to them, and the emotional gist always seems an infantile need to make yourself feel smart and special by adopting a condescending tone to The Weak And Stupid Liberals. As I've said, I don't know you except through these posts that you refuse to sign, so I certainly could be wrong. But that's the way you come across to me, and if you want to make a different impression, stop whining about how unfairly you're being treated here, show some initiative, and take some responsibility. And if you want me to do something (like, say, write a blog post), find a way better calculated to persuade me than juvenile, narcissistic "challenges." Unless, of course, the fact that you're unable to get what you want is all someone else's fault, and no responsibility of your own.

FWIW, I haven't written a "here's why I like Obama" post because it's been done ably elsewhere and I don't feel I have much original to add. So if it's really just information you're after, you can start with Andrew Sullivan's piece from the December Atlantic Monthly. Of course, if it were just information you were after, you could have found Sullivan's article yourself. In fact, what you really seem to long for is some sort of personal engagement, which as you've explained is why you continue to post anonymously here. I don't understand your urge. There are about a million other blogs out there where I'm sure your evidence- and argument-free writings would be welcome.

Here's a suggestion. That article you want to see? Write it yourself, and start a blog where you can post it. But first, spend a few months reading columns by Daniel Larison, Andrew Sullivan, and George Will (just yesterday, Will offered some interesting conservative observations about Palin). Read Thomas Barnett and Dorothy Rabinowitz. Read something by Andrew Bacevich. Take some notes on what makes these writers liberal and what makes them conservative, and what the terms mean in your own mind. Practice following statements of opinion with the word "because." Talk less and listen more. Accept some responsibility for the impression you give. And stop taking things so personally.

-- Barry

Anonymous said...

Barry, you dismiss Anonymous' most recent comments as narcissistic, and then you launch into a condescending discussion of topic sentences and point out that "because" is a word used to connect topic sentences with evidence.

Geeze, Barry, you might want to reconsider your tone. It certainly isn't helpful to your argument, and I suspect it isn't helping you win friends and readers. (I'm speculating here, so feel free to dismiss this comment but please don't lecture me about the proper construction of an argument).

P.S. BTW, I'm one of at least 2 anonymous posters on this topic. There is clearly more than one of us here, but I agree with the other person's comments.

P.P.S. I'm the one who pointed out that your views are consistently liberal, they are consistently aligned with those of Democrats, and you shouldn't hide from your liberal leanings. You changed the premise of my argument to, "Barry is a Democrat." Talk about a disingenuous response to my statements.

Barry Eisler said...

"Barry, you dismiss Anonymous' most recent comments as narcissistic, and then you launch into a condescending discussion of topic sentences and point out that "because" is a word used to connect topic sentences with evidence."

I'm starting to have trouble knowing which anonymous poster is which. I'll call you A1 and the other guy A2 (assuming you're different people).

A2 doesn't know how to construct an argument. Rather than continue to subject myself to his unsubstantiated opinions and perseveration, I offered a remedial lesson.

"Geeze, Barry, you might want to reconsider your tone. It certainly isn't helpful to your argument, and I suspect it isn't helping you win friends and readers."

If my goal were to win readers and friends, I wouldn't blog about politics. As for my tone, remedial instruction can definitely seem condescending, but in this case the condescension was secondary and, given the necessity of the lesson, unavoidable.

"(I'm speculating here, so feel free to dismiss this comment but please don't lecture me about the proper construction of an argument)."

Who are we talking about, A1 or A2? As I suggested to A2 in my previous comment, take some responsibility for the way you're treated. If you don't want someone to lecture you about how to construct an argument, show that you know how to do so unassisted.

"P.P.S. I'm the one who pointed out that your views are consistently liberal, they are consistently aligned with those of Democrats, and you shouldn't hide from your liberal leanings. You changed the premise of my argument to, "Barry is a Democrat." Talk about a disingenuous response to my statements."

With the profusion of anonymous posters here (who to my ear sound alike), I can't tell who's who. And while it seems irrelevant to my point whether I quoted you (or whoever it was) as "Barry is a Democrat!" or "Barry is a liberal!", if you trouble yourself to read through the anonymous comments you'll see there are plenty of both.

Still, I salute you for attempting to back up a topic sentence with evidence. For the next exercise, I would recommend using evidence that's relevant and accurate.

Do I sound condescending? I'm actually trying not to. But I'm human, and if you pester me enough with thoughtlessness and banality, even after I've tried to politely ignore you, you can succeed in getting me to respond more directly than I would ordinarily consider polite. I regret that, and again I urge you, as I urged A2, to stop blaming others, to take some responsibility for the reaction you've produced, and to try a different approach -- or to feel free to post somewhere else.

-- Barry

PBI said...


Firstly, if you can't be bothered investigate the differences between the WAY that Obama and McCain approach - for instance - foreign relations and alternative energy, I'm not going to do your homework for you. The idea that McCain and Obama are aligned on those topics in either specifics or methodology is patently ridiculous. What is needed at the top of any organization - public or private - is an individual with a clear vision who can inspire others to buy into it, to follow him or her, and to achieve the goals of that vision. Barack Obama has that quality; McCain, to me, pales in comparison.

Secondly, I didn't bring up the issue of "side steps" and flip-flops; you did. And please don't play the ingenue - I think every intelligent human being recognizes the rather stark contrast between changing one's position based on new input - which I favor completely - and pandering out of expediency. John McCain is repeatedly guilty of the latter - whether it be cozying up to the religious right whom he once termed "agents of intolerance" or violating his own campaign finance laws, as he is currently doing without repercussion because the FEC does not have a quorum to pursue action. (In fact, if you'd like a handy list of the reversals that make me think the influence-peddling John "Keating Five" McCain is a hollow politician at his worst, this one is pretty thorough.) If you truly believed that, as you say, "I do not want a leader that follows the popular opinion of the masses" then it seems to me that you wouldn't be backing McCain; he is a product of pleasing the GOP base and that alone, as was his pick of Sarah Palin for VP.

Third, you're damned right I'm pissed. I have watched George W. Bush and his lackeys in the House and Senate tear this country down and desecrate the very pillars of the nation. They have violated the law and the Constitution, they have wrecked our international reputation, started a wholly illegal and unnecessary war of choice, engaged in some of the worst corruption in U.S. history, only narrowly avoided completely shattering the economy (at least so far) and made human rights violations part of national policy. What do you expect me to do? LIKE it?

At this stage in the game, I believe that if you're not pissed, you're part of the problem. And frankly, if your world is informed by blind party loyalty and cheap labels like "liberal-minded" - not to mention apparently looking for some kind of daddy figure to save us all ("... because often enough the masses do not know what is good for them.") then backing McCain makes sense, I suppose. But why you believe that one of the guys who helped get us into this mess should be trusted to get us out is wholly beyond me. That level of trust is a nice quality, I guess, among "masses who who do not know what's good for them," but that sure as hell isn't me.

Sensen No Sen

Anonymous said...

Great idea, Barry. Looks like someone took you up on it, too!

Anonymous said...

I like what you say about the Republicans needing "a near death experience." That's in line with what I've been saying for a few years now, that they need to lose so badly that they remake themselves. As they currently stand, they offer no true value to the country, do not lead but instead pander to the worst elements of our society (I define that element as people who would force their views on others via law, have no respect for the rule of law, and do not adhere to reason or rationality).

The democrats are not an especially wonderful party either, but they are substantially better at this point in time than the only viable alternative, the republicans. That's why we need an opposition party that values individual rights, does not pander to irrational people, and is honest. Neither party has done that much in the past, but I think if the republicans lose really badly, they might just have a chance to reform themselves into something worth voting for.

--Ron Robertson (not wanting to sign up for yet another account somewhere, so probably will show up as anonymous)

ZenPupDog said...

Barry! I'll be back in Tokyo the 9th and returning to beautiful Santa Monica on the 11th. So a round on me if it can be done.

On McCain, I'd disallow the brand. If he plays the POW hero card - the answer is:

“How many loyal American soldiers died in Vietnam because you talked Songbird?”

To me - he's a mean potty mouthed racist with a short fuse. I don't trust him. I'm hoping the RNP dismissing Community Workers will work against them. And I expect some Conservatives to unleash the previous attacks on McCain from 2000 just because Palin isn't appeasement enough.

- Alan AKA Sparky

An Inspiring Agent said...

Oh Berry, I love Jon Stewart just as much as I enjoy you posts!!! Let me tell you that after speaking with my European friends the reaction was intensified to the boiling point!!! I still can’t believe that women across America will find themselves in position of seeing Sarah Palin as a role model or something to be look at.

It is true that she has move herself up the ladder in a men’s world but maybe it has too do more with that pit-bull lipstick and her cut throat approach of get on board or get out of my way!!! But all she has done with her life and the issues she stands behind goes against that entire woman has fought for all our life.

Sarah Palin is like one of my friends like to call her a prehistoric figure, the embodiment of what we use to be long ago. We as a society have come so far, controlling deadly diseases by using protection and educating our citizens and she is against it. We find that in Alaska, we don’t only find the biggest state but also the highest high school student STD rate in the nation.

Another thing that really worries me is her judgment when choosing to get pregnant at the age of 44, hence exposing an innocent child to come to this world that is already a tough proposition, with a physical impediment that will make his life even more of a challenge.

In all, Sarah Palin seemed to be driven by, the notion that if you have good intensions, God will intervene and somehow make it all better for you. In my opinion people can believe whatever they want to believe, but I want my President and my Vice-President to rule following the foundation of our nation, state and religion separation. In doing so, they can rest assure that everyone’s rights can be protected and that on the day of our final judgment it is us, not our state who will be condemned or redeemed. But I fear that it is not Obama who feels that he is bestowed by God to “turn the waters” or “heel the world”, it is she who thinks that teaching children to obey by abstinences in order to protect themselves from STDs and unwanted pregnancies, will safe our world. It is Sarah Palin that somehow seem to have a problem with the idea of helping our batter communities to get back on their feet and it is Sarah Palin that thinks that drilling our untapped oil supplies, will some how solve our financial crisis, and hence stop global warming.

I believe that Barack Obama was right when he said that McCain was out of touch with the American people and in my opinion he is completely out of touch with the American woman. But as democrat and as a feminist, I am glad McCain made this mistake, it just goes to show you how prehistoric his vision of the world is and how much it will hurt our free world if we allow the republics to continue destroying our empire. I see an apocalyptic vision, when I imagine what will be of us if they were to take the White House hostage and I pray that people of America can see beyond her intoxicating red lipstick and her long legs and make the only violable alternative that is Obama and Biden.
It was very scary to see the hatred, the archaic world views and the bully personalities of the speakers at the republican national convention and if that is a preview of what it is to come, God help us….because that is a recipe for a disaster that will put us in a path of self destruction and outer failure for decades to come.

Thanks for your post….