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This is an admittedly somewhat silly idea born of frustration with Republican attack ads in the 2004 election. I'm posting this partly for comic relief, and partly because I think the scenario I'm describing actually isn't so far fetched. (Not that anyone should take me seriously!)

The gist is: The Democrats should invent a dummy independent candidate to bear the brunt of the attack ad machinery. Ultimately, the dummy candidate disappears, and a legitimate Democratic candidate easily beats the Republican nominee in 2008. MORE AFTER THE FOLD.

Listening to Ira Glass's interviews with undecided voters in red states on This American Life gave me an idea. Due to months and months of attack ads, negative impressions of Bush's opponent were so widespread, and so reflexive, that they became like breathing. Many people thought of Kerry -- without realizing where the impression came from -- as at once "the most liberal Democrat in the Senate" (very far from true), and a terrible flip-flopping, bin-Laden loving Frenchman with ketchup in his veins instead of Bush's blue blood.

Kerry's considerable advantages, as well as Bush's many deficiencies, were completely nullified by the targeted sliming of Kerry for so long and in such a widespread way.

So for next time, I nominate the creation of a dummy candidate to draw Republican fire. What he'll do: first, break publicly with the Democratic party -- on live TV, during the primary debates. He'll be a populist, gun-toting, anti-Seinfeldian hero. He'll be rigorously anti-outsourcing and pro-American labor. Maybe he's also a soft libertarian ("I believe people should be able to smoke in bars, have as many rifles as they want, and marry whoever they damn well please"). He's in favor of "bringing every one of our boys [sic] home on January 23, 2009."

I'm not thinking Howard Dean, I'm thinking Jesse Ventura.

He immediately becomes wildly popular, third in the polls, and only a little behind the Democratic candidate. He draws equally from Republican and Democratic bases. The Dems, with Hilary Clinton as their sanest option, seem to despair. The Republican candidate John McCain -- who is using Karl Rove as his chief election advisor -- is extremely worried. The Republicans don't know how to attack someone like this. John McCain's own history as a "straight-talker" and a "maverick" are by 2008 distant memories, as 8 years of smiling next to Bush on camera have taken their toll.

Still, once our sneaky third-party candidate gets above 30% in the polls (and passes Hilary) the character assasination attack ads fly. And the attack ads against Hilary, who is seen as less of a threat, do not. By October, our independent candidate seems to be running a bit ragged, after being attacked for his 1982 DUI, his Vietnam draft-dodging, his two divorces, and his hunting accident (to add a little spice). His supporters, somehow, cannot shake the negative impressions created by the McCain team, despite the fact that Bush too had a DUI hiding somewhere, and a very shabby service record of his own. John McCain, of course, is a decorated war hero.

When the scandal of Bush's steamy affair with Karen Hughes breaks (it took place in the summer of 2001, in Crawford! phone transcripts on!) in the middle of the spring of 2008, neither the dems nor our independent candidate can find a way to make damage from the allegations stick. After all, "John McCain is not George Bush."

And then... and then... 20 days before the elections in 2008, our mystery candidate disappears. To be exact, he shows up at a press-conference blind drunk to announce his immediate withdrawal from the race. He puts a rant on his website against politics, where he scorns the very idea of ever holding public office. And he heaps scorn on his main opponent, John McCain, and especially the Republican party. The language is extremely over-the-top; the document soon becomes a cultural monument. College students print it out and post it on dorm room walls. People at "water coolers" recite the most damning phrases incredulously, jokingly. But over time, the phrases set in.

Then our dummy candidate, his service completed, flies in a jet furnished by MoveOn PAC to a small Caribbean island owned by Joe Trippi (now an internet billionaire), where he lives happily ever after. His name gets pulled off voter rolls.

The McCain team, shocked and exhausted, has no time to redirect its energies.

Hilary Clinton, who suddenly seems like an angel sent from heaven -- and who was a good candidate from the start -- wins the election in a landslide, bringing a democratic congress with her.

Republicans, distraught, worry for the future of their party.

Originally posted to amardeep on Sat Nov 06, 2004 at 10:54 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm still hoping (none)
    My wife and I are still hoping for our cut from the International Jewish Conspiracy. Not sure I have time for more than one vast conspiracy.

    Seriously, I have been trying to organize a leftist conspiracy for four years now.

    Delenda est Sinclair!

    by mole333 on Sat Nov 06, 2004 at 10:55:18 AM PST

    •  The trick is... (none) actually needs to be a real conspiracy!

      For my dummy candidate I'm talking complete secrecy, swiss bank accounts, guys in dark glasses, the works. Not a nice, liberal conspiracy -- a real one.

      Then again, I'm just joking. The serious point I'm trying to make is, is there some way to circumvent the damaging effect of endlessly repeated attack ads?

      •  I did get it (none)
        Didn't meen to be flippant. But it struck a cord that I responded to with sarcasm.

        How do we deal with the attack ads? We might want a two pronged strategy. Maybe the party as a group should take the high road, but still say "There you go again. You are repeating lies." At the same time maybe can do attack ads back. The Dems can even scold MoveOn for being negative, but we get both messages out.

        The other side is we have to retake the media. The negative attacks work because the media treats lies as equal to the truth. If Bush said the earth is flat and the Dems said it was round, the media would say "Debate rages over the shape of the Earth. Dems disagree with our President."

        The media ignores the fact that there ARE verifiable facts. They figure if two sides say different things they have to give equal time and maybe give extra weight to Bush because he's Pres. We need to change that dynamic by holding the media accountable for lies using letters to the editor and letters to advertisers. Let's punish advertisers on Fox and Sinclair and patronize advertisers on Air America.

        Those are my ideas. But there's only so much I can do until I get my check from the International Jewish Conspiracy. Still waiting!

        Delenda est Sinclair!

        by mole333 on Sat Nov 06, 2004 at 12:10:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  lol (none)
    To be exact, he shows up at a press-conference blind drunk to announce his immediate withdrawal from the race.

    This is great.

  •  Good idea (none)
    It's how Bill Clinton won two terms.

    But, dude - nobody will believe that anybody had a steamy affair with Karen Hughes.

    Virtue cannot separate itself from reality without becoming a principle of evil.

    by badger on Sat Nov 06, 2004 at 12:37:26 PM PST

    •  Hmm, good point. (none)
      I was imagining it as an ironic twist on Monica Lewinsky -- except when the Republicans get in trouble for deviating from "family values," it seems to matter less.

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