Tuesday, January 27, 2009

THE PERMANENT CAMPAIGN. Michael Goldfarb was interviewed at CJR about his experiences as a McCain campaign blogger. Throughout the course of the thing, it's clear he thinks he did a great job. When a political flak's cause fails as badly as Goldfarb's did, you'd expect he would think up ways he might have done it better, at least to show prospective employers that he isn't committed to losing strategies. But maybe winning this election wasn't as important to him as it might seem.

Goldfarb portrays his disastrous appearance with Rick Sanchez, in which the CNN host had some sport with Goldfarb's inability to say the name Jeremiah Wright out loud, as a "mistake" but also, astonishingly, a moment of glory:
I was summoned to the office of the campaign manager and given a slap on the wrist. We had a clear directive that we were not to discuss the name of Rev. Wright, and I tiptoed right up to it but I wasn’t allowed to cross it. But when I walked back into the communications room I got a round of applause. There was a lot of support among the rank and file; I think it was obvious to anyone that seriously followed the campaign what was going on there. I can’t tell if people were being willfully ignorant or if they generally don’t believe that [Obama] associated with those kinds of people. But that was a mistake from a communications standpoint.
Why were his colleagues so pleased with his mistake? Perhaps because the playbook Goldfarb was following had nothing to do with getting McCain closer to the White House. Here's what I noticed when I looked at Goldfarb's blog in its early days:
...promising on its June 6 launch to "provide quotes and information you won't be able to get anywhere else," the McCain Report has by this writing posted a video of McCain denouncing Obama, a video of ABBA (McCain's a fan), a Weekly Standard denunciation of Obama, a video of Obama headlined "Everybody But Obama" accompanied by a Weekly Standard denunciation of Obama, and, finally, a post devoted to praise — of [Obama primary opponent] Hillary Clinton ("it's clear that John McCain and Hillary Clinton respect each other — and there is a genuine affection for her here at McCain HQ").
Attacks are part of any campaign operation, but even in sunny June, Goldfarb was more interested in getting Obama than in talking up his candidate, who'd secured the nomination three months earlier and might have benefited from some good getting-to-know-you publicity.

At the end of the interview Goldfarb says, "it was something I was good at. I was a cudgel. I pissed off the media. They were furious about it. That was the effect the campaign was looking for." Really? Piss off the media was the strategy? Presumably if they'd gotten Katie Couric to foam at the mouth they could have declared victory and quit early.

This isn't the behavior of people who are trying to win elections. It's the behavior of culture-warring true believers whose real job (as Goldfarb's overtly is, out of election season) is not to build up or bring down a candidate but to defame an opposing political philosophy. When a serious operative would have tried to push the ball forward, Goldfarb was pursuing his own permanent agenda. This is not a moral issue -- if the McCain campaign was dumb enough to keep him on, they deserved what they got -- but a sign of how far off the beam conservatives have strayed.

No wonder that now, as the country waits nervously for Washington to do what it can with the economy, they focus on getting contraceptives out of the stimulus package and who's going to replace Billy Kristol at the Times ("The choice to replace Kristol should indeed be someone who drives liberals 'crazy'"*). They have entered, as Doghouse Riley likes to put it, their ghost dance phase; they chant and spin and pray to the Great Spirit for restoration as the world transforms around them.

*UPDATE. In comments Aziz Poonawalla reminds me that his full quote goes, "The choice to replace Kristol should indeed be someone who drives liberals 'crazy' - but not in the Limbaugh sense, as Ruffini would have it, but rather as Kevin Drum (a liberal) says 'because he makes such compelling and hard-to-refute arguments for conservative ideas.'" I was just grabbing for an example, and would have done better to pick this or one of a hundred others. I regret even the faint implication that Poonawalla is as crazy as they are.

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