Despite its 2008 successes, 2009 has already been a grim year for Democratic messaging. Yesterday’s “Mob Ad,” which made the rounds on conservative websites, drawing outrage, is no exception.
Regardless of the ad’s factual merits, discussed below, the ad violates a prime rule of messaging, with no discernable excuse: it seems almost calculated to infuriate more people than it’ll convince. There are ways to capitalize on the GOP’s apparent inability to control its lunatic fringe, rapidly becoming its base (birthers, etc.): this ad was certainly not it. Indeed, it’s almost the most offensive way to make a mediocre point. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. The public relations successes that powered Obama’s election need to be the rule, not the exception. Anything less gives the GOP a chance to capitalize on its own incompetence.
That said, I neither understand nor much respect the GOP outrage over the ad, which appears to stem from the misconception that it targets all Republicans who disagree with President Obama’s policies, rather than just the lunatic fringe. From the ad’s own context it clearly targets only the birthers and other GOP flash mobs, “grassroots,” “astroturf,” or otherwise, bent only on disrupting real policymaking without adding any real substance to the debate. No doubt there are Americans, of any party, concerned or otherwise disturbed by Obama’s policies, and more power to them for raising their voices. Disagreeing with the government is every American’s birthright and patriotic duty, and I would no sooner criticize someone for voicing their opinions, earnestly held, than I would retroactively mock myself for starting this blog. Still, the “Mob Ad” isn’t about them: Twitter notwithstanding, they are not the mob. As you can see by watching the ad, it’s about only the birthers, and people who use Nazi symbols or lynched dolls to make their points, and we should all be able to agree that everyone is better off without them.
Call it DHS-Gate redux, but this is another case of Republicans mistaking a criticism of the fringe for a criticism of the whole. No-one would deny Republican congressmen or constituents the right to raise valid concerns and contribute to the debate on health care, etc. But there are GOP mobs actively frustrating the debate. Not all of the “town hall” mobs are as benign as RedState suggests – again, there are the birthers, the “Obama’s a Nazi” crowd, and more. It’s okay for we Democrats to call them out for the distractions they are, but it’d be more than welcome for the GOP to save us the trouble, by throwing them under the bus themselves, rather than actively helping them. Until they do, it shouldn’t be anathema or a cause for outrage for us to call the GOP out on elements of their side that are hurting the country, and actively making their own party look bad, too. Criticizing the fringe needn’t always implicate the center, and in fact, it rarely does, when done tactfully.
And so we return to the beginning. This ad was not a model for tact, especially knowing, as its drafters should’ve, that the GOP has thin skin. As any first-year law student knows, the defendant takes the plaintiff as she finds him. In building its ad campaigns, the DNC should’ve predicted and avoided this little war, and should in the future scrupulously avoid even the appearance of condescending against dissent.