Cheat-Seeking Missles

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Public Opinion, PR and Alito

The most blogged about story this morning is probably WaPo's Republicans were masters in the race to paint Alito. It's WaPo at its best, dishing out inside dope about tactics, closed meetings on the Hill and wound-licking laments that other papers just don't have as much access to.

But the real story, the one not told by the Post, is the utterly predictable failure of political PR to move public opinion in matters as personal and important as this.

WaPo tells the story of a slugfest, with Ralph Neas of People For in one corner, with his corner men (persons) Nan Aron and Wade Henderson. Facing Neas, Alito handler Steve Schmidt backed by Ed Gillespie. Thrown during this fight were emails, web sites, blog posts, press leaks, a few gross of Rolodexes, some ads, a lot of arm-twisting -- all the old Borking weapons, plus the best of the updated electronic arsenal.

And what happened? A predictable party line vote. Neas, having blown through millions to accomplish nothing, made excuses to his directors:
"Because of the Herculean efforts of the progressive coalition and our Senate champions, we will all be able to look ourselves in the mirror and know that we did everything possible to avert this constitutional catastrophe."
Not true. They did every old thing possible, but never stopped to ask themselves if their target audience was interested in every old thing. Instead, they simply expected too much from negative, attack PR campaigns that are supposed to influence public, and personal, opinion.

Some History

People point to Bork as a model for such campaigns, but the real model was the War Bond campaign in World War I. Molding public opinion was a new concept then, and a group of wizards did a masterful job of whipping up a national frenzy to buy bonds.

After the war, they thought they could use the same methods to sell soap. They quickly found they couldn't. People are just too smart. They make their choices based on their priorities, so they bought bonds because American victory was a priority, but they didn't buy Duz because the fragrance and feel of Sudz was a priority.

Today, the American priority is increasingly to get away from petty divisiveness and return to sound and sage governance. We want John Adams, not John Kerry. Neas missed this point entirely, and went about his typical Borking strategy. Kennedy and Kerry didn't help him, as they put pettiness and bitterness first.

Schmidt, however, reminded people that a freely elected president has won the opportunity to appoint Justices cut from his cloth. Yes, he had to paint Alito as in the mainstream, but his main message package was one of tradition, not doom.

Doom isn't playing well in America today. Too many dark predictions have been made by the schills of the Left, and too few have come true. So, in the end, precious few Senators moved, but the movement was in Schmidt's, Alito's and Bush's direction.

Will Neas, the DNC and the Left notice? In the interest of soundness and sageness, one hopes so. In the interest of winning 2006 and 2008, one hopes not. The latter motivates Washington and the blogospere, the former motivates Main Street.