September 12, 2008
Will Chotiner's Law Work in 2008?By Paul Shlichta
Murray Chotiner, who successfully managed Nixon's campaigns in 1950 and 1968, was the Ty Cobb of political campaigning, a ruthless and brilliant exponent of the philosophy that "politics is war." What would he think about this year' election?
In 1964, he predicted that Goldwater would lose. His general rule was that the party whose candidates do the most fighting during the primaries almost always loses the election. His argued that the mutual accusations and mudslinging during the primaries causes bitterness that prevents a united front against the other party during the final campaign. Moreover, the other party's candidate has the benefit of all the mud and dirty laundry that his opponent's former rivals dug up about him.
More often than not, Chotiner's law has prevailed in presidential elections. Will it work this year?
At first glance, It would seem to predict a Democratic defeat. Therefore, in order to overcome the Chotinerian disadvantages they incurred during the primaries, the Democrats would have to (1) bury the hatchet, (2) bury the evidence, and (3) bury the opposition. Let us consider these three tasks in detail.
Burying the Hatchet
Going into the conventions, the Democrats seemed to be at a severe disadvantage. Hillary and Obama engaged in a long and bitter wrestling match, state by state, with Hillary hanging on until she was arm-twisted into grudgingly admitting defeat. Afterward, they kissed and made up but the smiles were somewhat forced. One felt that, as Dorothy Walworth once put it, "they buried the hatchet, but in a shallow well-marked grave". Hillary's supporters, such as PUMA, were defiant right up to the convention and some of us even suspected that Hillary and Bill might attempt a coup d'etat at the convention.
Meanwhile, McCain had his own problems. He won the nomination quite early and the other candidates made their peace with him in a gentlemanly fashion. But he was still regarded with tepidity, if not downright suspicion, by the conservative wing of the party. And the voting public viewed him as old and dull while the media virtually ignored him.
At this pivotal point, the election became very much like a war. I don't mean the ferocity that Chotiner advocated, but rather with regard to the importance of generalship. We have already noted that elections are a test of political virtues such as stamina, persuasiveness, and negotiating skills. But at times, they can also test a candidates military skills -- the ability to make quick and forceful decisions, to take risks, to minimize or contain ones losses, to capitalize on surprise and opportunity, and to fully exploit an enemy's weaknesses. In their choices of running mates, Obama flunked this test and McCain passed with flying colors.
Admittedly, Obama had a tough bullet to chew. Campaigning with Hillary (not to mention Bill) would be no picnic. Working with her for four or eight years would be worse. But it's been done before. The bond that holds the Democratic Party together is a lust for power that is stronger than pride or self respect. Democrats have long been adept at calling each other nasty names and then working together to win an election. Kennedy and Johnson despised each other but were able to form a winning coalition in 1960 that gave each of them a tour of duty in the White House..
Like a general forced to sacrifice a regiment to win a battle, Obama had no choice. Restoring party unity and reinvigorating the campaign mandated an Obama-Clinton ticket. But because of personal pride, residual rancor from the bitterness of the primary campaign, or shear arrogance, he flunked the test, choosing a bland nonentity for the vice president slot, and losing (as Victor Davis Hanson put it) "a savvy experienced campaigner, who had successfully wooed the white-working class, [and] cemented the Democratic woman's vote".
In contrast, McCain, having attained the strategically superior later date for his convention, exploited it brilliantly. Using classical diversionary tactics, flying around conferring with one VP possibility after another, he kept the media guessing about his real choice, to the point where it even drew some attention away from the Democratic convention. Then he dropped the Palin bomb, simultaneously defusing Obama's post-convention surge, placating the conservatives, attracting the blue-collar voters, wooing the Hillaryites, and bringing enthusiasm and color to a hitherto lackluster campaign. It was a gamble but it worked; it reminds me of Grant at Vicksburg.
McCain's choice of Palin also gave him the political equivalent of the high ground: the attention of the media. Whether they speak good or ill of her, their attention is focused on her (and him) and away from Obama, thus effectively undermining the media blackout of McCain's campaign.
Therefore, on the count of party disunity, Chotiner's law will probably apply this year -- but only because of the deft way that McCain exploited it.
Burying the Evidence
During the primaries, when Hillary and Obama were calling each other names and making accusations, Republicans were tempted to gleefully shout, like the old man in the story Lincoln used to tell, "Go it, woman; go it, bear!" They counted on using all of that pre-slung mud on the ultimate nominee.
But then the mud began to mysteriously vanish. Hillary's website was carefully cleansed of all the nasty things she said about Obama. The AP report of Obama's private reassurance to the Canadian government that his criticism of NAFTA was just campaign doubletalk has mysteriously evaporated from AP's archives. The Obama organization has found George Orwell's "memory hole". Having already used it to erase Obama's personal history , they are now using it to obliterate what he said during the primaries. And there is some evidence that Google may be helping him, in the way that they collaborated with China in censoring Internet searches.
Republican bloggers have saved many of these buried embarrassments on their sites, but what are they to going do with them? They can show them to one another but that won't change many votes. Non-conservative voters simply don't visit those websites.
Thanks to the blatant bias of the mainstream media and its reporters, the nasty things Hillary said and the extremist things that Obama said during the primaries are for all practical purposes buried and forgotten by most of the voting public. So Chotiner's law probably won't apply on this count.
Burying the Opposition
This is not part of Chotiner's law but was part of his life -- politics as no-holds-barred warfare. Obama has inherited Chotiner's cloak and a double portion of his ferocity. The Obama organization and the fringe are using of all the dirty tricks he learned from his associates in the Daley machine and a few new ones of his own devising, such as:
Moreover, I fear that worse is yet to come. Note for example the viciousness of the comments by pro-Obama readers in a recent assessment of the election in the Washington Post. Note also that liberal bloggers met at a recent Netroots Nation convention to hear speeches by Pelosi et al. -- and to coordinate their activities for the election campaign. Don't be surprised of conservative websites start experiencing vehement hacking and denial-of-service attacks during the next few months. I'm afraid we're in for an unprecedented mudbath this year.
Therefore, in this year's election, Chotiner's law will probably be offset by Chotiner's tactics, as ruthlessly employed Obama's organization and as enabled by the liberal-controlled media. This pool-pah (as Kurt Vonnegut called it) can only be countered by the conservative rank and file, which is energized.
Somewhere, Murray Chotiner is smiling.