There’s sometimes a definite point at which a candidate becomes a joke, loses all credibility, and might as well terminate his campaign. Michael Foot, who might have been an outstanding Labour Prime Minister, was ridiculed for appearing at the Cenotaph in what people called a “donkey jacket” (there’s no US equivalent, but think of it as a road-worker’s overcoat made from a coarse, still, black fabric, and with vinyl or leather shoulder patches). Michael Dukakis just looked silly in a tank and helmet. Al Gore was ridiculed for claiming to have invented the internet. McCain may have reached this point. It depends on how far the memes that evolved on Letterman’s show spread into the wider culture. Letterman’s very popular, so I don’t hold out much for McCain’s chances.
“This doesn’t smell right. This just doesn’t smell right.”
“Here’s what happens, the economy is about to crater. You’re a senator. You’re a fourth-term senator from Arizona. You go back to Washington. You handle what you need to handle. Don’t suspend your campaign. You let your campaign go on, shouldered by your vice presidential nominee, that’s what you do. You don’t quit…”
“Somebody’s putting something in his Metamucil.”
John McCain lying in the phone saying he’s canceling on Letterman because he’s rushing to the airport to save the country, then being seen on a live feed having makeup applied so he can be interviewed by Katy Couric. As we watch the interview, Letterman says, “Hey John, I have a question. Do you need a ride to the airport?”
I think I might get that put on a t-shirt: “Hey John! Do you need a ride to the airport?”
Two points. First, it doesn’t matter if the shark-jumping incident really happened or not. Dukakis did sit in a tank and a lot of people thought he looked silly, and that’s a personal judgment, but personal judgments are what elections are about. Michael Foot was not wearing a donkey jacket (officially it was a short overcoat) but on certain photographs it looked unflattering and made him look clumsy. Gore did not claim to have invented the internet — that was an invention of a reported at Wired. But people were willing to believe these things. The memes evolved legs.
Second, the reason these occurrences are important is that much of our decision-making is made with the gut and not with the head. This is something that liberals generally fail to understand, but that republicans have down pat. The GOP leadership uses fear to get its way (“be very afraid of the terrorists”) and also offers reassurance “I, McCain/Bush am STRONG and can protect you.”) These are emotional messages, crafted to bypass the logic circuits in the brain and to go straight to the gut. Meanwhile you have someone like Kerry saying over and over, “I have a plan…” If MLK’s speech had been “I have a plan…” rather than “I have a dream…” he’d have been forgotten by now.
The trouble is that since liberals don’t understand the power of emotions they may not take the memes they’ve been handed and run with them. It I were running Obama’s campaign I’d be having millions of buttons and thousands of “Hey John! Do you need a ride to the airport?” t-shirts made. I’d be getting everyone on my team to use that line. McCain could make the most brilliant point in a debate and if someone said “Hey John! Do you need a ride to the airport?” you’d crack up with laughter and no one would take the man seriously. Just saying.