I recently posted a YouTube video that I made which brutally attacks McCain on everything from his military biography, to his adultry, to the Keating 5 to his latest rhetorical gymnastics. It is presented in the same snarky and mean way that Republican attack adds are. In fact, it was originally intended to be a spoof titled "Republican attack add."
While this video has been successful, I want to address some of the criticisms, because I think it is fair to be shocked by the brutality of this approach. The most common criticisms are:
- It is mean, taking the low road, making us no better than them.
- It goes below the belt by attacking McCain's Navy and POW biography.
- It doesn't provide references.
I'd like to address these concerns one at a time.
First, though, I would like to express my profound appreciation to everybody who has helped spread this video around on the web because you are all helping me to test my suspicion that netroots distribution may be closer than ever to competing with TV commercials, or a swift boat book, as a messaging tool.
The video has done really well on YouTube getting nearly 70,000 views in the first 5 days between the two versions (one draft version released prematurely but with more viral momentum and one final version with corrected titles and slowly catching up).
As for the criticisms:
Andrew Sullivan said it best when describing this video: "If Karl Rove Was a Democrat Wouldn't We Be Seeing Adds Like This?"
Yep. Thank you Andrew. You read my mind perfectly.
This video is intended as a Republican style attack add that uses their tactics against them. One of the things that I believe Republicans have tapped into is that meanness works. A large body of people in modern politics don't want to be informed, they want to be impressed and entertained. They want to be "wowed" by aggressive moves and audacity. They want dirty little rumors they can marvel at and talk about in their own circles. When an aggressive campaign targets this desire it gains a lot of energy in gossip circles, grapevine talk and viral web activity. It is the new nature of the game. The need for ratings on television and readers in print has turbocharged this phenomenon. By blurring the lines between news and commentary they have molded political campaigns into an entertainment packaging resembling something more like professional wrestling than Jefferson's Democracy. The result of this new political culture is that the politicians who play dirty often "wow" a segment of people into voting for them. Issues? Who cares! He kicked his ass!! This is the stage that has been set for us. We don't like it, and we didn't create it, but I believe that we must now decide if we want to act upon this stage or be eaten by it.
Politics used to be like fencing or boxing. It was a sport like activity that used "violence" but there were approved moves and an honorable way to go about competing. Dirty fighting has been around forever but it has always been more of a fringe activity, not the norm. Somewhere along the way however, Republicans decided that any tactic that leads to a win is justifiable: "The ends justify the means," "The Noble Lie" Liberals were turned into lying godless communists and any tactics that defeats these "devils" are just fine. As a result the game changed. It went from a sword fight to a gun fight. It went from boxing to a street fight. . . for Republicans anyway. The Democrats are still waving their fencing swords and taping up their boxing gloves with the expectation that we are still playing the same game. Obama calls dirty fighting "the politics of the past." I would submit that it is, in fact, the fair fight that is the real politics of the past. I don't believe that people moved by these tactics will just one day get sick of this no matter how much we want them to.
Democrats and liberals believe in a noble philosophy: that the road to victory is just as important as the victory itself, even when you face an enemy who cheats. In a time when low blows are the exception to the rule, this is a worthy philosophy. This is not that time however. Todays political environment is sociopathic, not reverent. Dirty politics has been institutionalized through deep roots in think tanks, media outlets, publishing houses, Astroturf organizations and the slow erosion of the safeguards to our election systems. The smearing of a key opponents character happens on the assembly line of a well oiled machine.
In todays political environment I think borrowing from the language of Abraham Lincoln is appropriate: The high road is not a suicide pact. People of good conscience and noble character do not like to play dirty politics. They also don't like to go to war or to use violence against another person. Unfortunately, there are times when survival depends on it and it is a solemn duty to take on the tactics of the enemy as self defense. When in a gun fight there is no choice but to build a better gun to defend with. This is my philosophy when creating the tone and character of this add. There is one important difference, however.
As I said, this began as a spoof of Republican tactics. The more I researched the information for the video, however, the more I discovered that there was a whole lot of true information out there on McCain that was as surprising and troubling as any innuendo or made up facts could be. This led me to an epiphany: What if, in fact, this was the Achilles heel of Republicans? What if there was enough true dirt out there about many of them that we could make attack adds that were just as vicious and biting as theirs without the need to make stuff up? What if the only thing stopping the use of this information is the unwillingness to step over that line by digging it up and using it? Could this be the better gun?
Nobody wants this kind of politics to go on forever. . but the Republicans have laid down this gauntlet. Shouldn't we pick it up and let them have a taste what WE can give them if THEY want to go down this road? When you are being bullied isn't the best way to stop it to give them a bloody nose? If they still beat you up then shouldn't plan B be to make it such a painful victory that they think twice about going after you again? I believe this is where we are right now. The Democrats have had a big target on their backs that says "pick on me I don't fight back" and the bully mentality has been having it's way with them for 20 years. It is the people's disgust with George Bush that has helped them, not their own tactics. I believe it is high time for Republicans to taste a little of their own medicine and see if it is something they want to start drinking regularly themselves. A good old fashion standoff may, in fact, stop this poisonous behavior faster than anything else.
2) Attacking the war hero:
The next criticism is that I have gone after McCain's "war hero" status which most seem to believe is untouchable. I submit that this is exactly why it must be assaulted. This is another tactic that Republicans have adopted that Democrats are too civil to do themselves. Right now the culture in Washington requires all candidates or surrogates who wish to challenge McCain to first say how much they honor his service and how noble and heroic he is. This puts them in the position of creating a framework for McCain's qualifications before they try convincing people he is unqualified. McCain has benefited again and again from this. Attacks against his stance on the war or his foreign policy are softer because he is "a war hero." On several occasions he, or his surrogates, have shut people down by invoking his service or his POW status. This makes McCain's military biography both a shield and a weapon in his political ambitions.
It is the Republicans who have decided that nothing is sacred if it is helping the Democrats politically. They have, with no squeamishness, attacked 9/11 widows, 12 year old kids who speak out about health care, victims of Parkinson's, the war biographies of their political opponents and ordinary citizens at Daily KOS who simply want to be engaged in the political dialog of the day. Even McCain "the war hero" is willing to endorse the use of wounded soldiers as props to lie with in his political adds. NOTHING is below the belt to them. NOTHING is off limits. Ann Coulter justified attacking 9/11 widows all over the media by saying that "Libruls" use people who are untouchable to hide behind politically and that doing this opens up those people to criticism. Malkin said the same thing when she stalked a 12 year old boy and smeared his family. At the time they were saying these things, Republicans all over the place were nodding their heads in agreement. This is the standard philosophy for them. It is all out war and there is no such thing as dirty tricks in war, there is no such thing as a sucker punch, only winning tactics.
The image that outraged me the most was the purple heart band aids at the Republican convention. I very nearly used a real picture of one of those band aids as the band aid in my add. I decided to change it, however, and make it more about McCain because I view the Republican band aid as an attack on the purple heart medal itself. That was the real outrage for me that they would use a the medal that symbolizes a blood sacrifice for our country to score political points. As tempting as it was, I refused to cross that line myself even as retaliation for the Republicans use of that tactic.
It is also worth pointing out that my attacks on McCain's military background were not made up by me. The US Veteran Dispatch is a POW/MIA advocacy organization that has been very critical of the politicians who have used their "war hero" status to shut down the efforts of POW/MIA families. I used them as the primary source of the military criticsm. The politicians they have worked to expose include John McCain, John Kerry, and "Swift Boat veteran" Bud Day. They are not a liberal think tank or an astroturf organization taking one side or another when it comes to their criticism of fellow veterans. They, in fact, don't like Obama at all. Their motivation is that they believe these men are using their military background in corrupt ways that have, and still may continue, to actually harm other veterans and their families. If McCain's war hero status is the kind of emotional and patriotic symbol that might win over some voters on those merits alone, shouldn't these organizations who are critical of that term be heard so that we can see both sides?
Finally, we have the issue of providing references for my work. If only we had a reference to the people who claim Obama is a secret Muslim (besides misquoting his books), or that he canceled his wounded soldier trip because he couldn't bring cameras, or that he blew off soldiers who wanted to greet him. . or that he wants to kill babies. Where are those references? The innuendo is so bad out there that I often wonder if there is a think tank basement somewhere with 500 people at computers sending out sock puppet emails and posting on message boards? Once again, we want to follow our own high road standards when the standards being used against us are much lower.
For what it's worth, however, you can look at the Wikipedia entries on John McCain HERE and HERE which are very well referenced by footnotes. You can also look at The US Veteran Dispatch website to see the material I brought in from their research. One thing that is worth noting is that much of the details of McCain's story that we have heard and read, including large parts of Wikipedia and other encyclopedia entries, are accounts told by McCain himself. His POW accounts are not a testament to his honor and honesty, it is a test of that honor and honesty as he told his own story. So the footnote references for the war hero stories in the mainstream like the circumstances of being shot down, torture, suicide attempt, collaboration etc. are. . in fact. . John McCain.
I honestly debated with myself about putting some references in the end as credits but I came to the decision that I would leave them out as another sort of statement about politics today. I figured I would provide all the context in the comments for the videos and/or the other materials I write such as this one. I don't know that this was a wise decision at this point or not but it is too late to change it. It is certainly a fair question to ask for references and I have never been slow to provide them when asked. The feeling at the time was more about the narrative flow and the Karl Rove style presentation. I suppose if I wanted to be really authentic I could have put in bogus references such as footnoting liberal opinion websites or myself as a source. This is what the author of the new "Obama Nation" book is doing.
The purpose of this video was to create a tool for the netroots to launch that creates buzz and conversation re-examining John Mccain much like the Swift Boat style books do for their subjects, only through viral marketing rather than paying to publish a book and then buying it back from myself in bulk. I am not the only one making videos like this and my hope is that eventually one of these efforts will hit just the right chord at just the right time. I believe that this video, and others like it, have a similar kind of "shock value" as those books while also providing, at least in my case, information that I believe to be mostly indisputable. I also believe that the more controversial claims are at least worthy of debate and discussion because these issues have become the hook of McCain's electability to many voters. I am hoping that, if one of these videos can become a large enough viral success, these facts about McCain may actually enter the national conversation, beginning as emails and websites and slowly working their way to the water cooler and maybe even people talking about it on TV. I don't know that I am the one to reach this goal but I will do the best I can and I know others are as well. It is you, the audience and activists who must decide in the end if we are ready to take on the sad duty of turning the Republican tactics against them in order to bring balance back to the game.
The Republican message machine has a huge, institutionalized, infrastructure behind it. Our secret weapon, however is the web. This medium is getting more and more powerful every day as a messaging tool. The power brokers have money, radio and TV but we, the web activists have the power of our numbers and the freedom of the internet. We should never underestimate the power we are gaining to push back against the tactics being used against us. Our chances of finally pushing over the top grow stronger every day that YouTube and blogging exists. We should always be testing the potential of this tool. The time is rapidly arriving when we will finally and fully be able to neutralize these underhanded media tactics and speak truth to power on our own with no fear of swift boat money and no help from the entertainment driven old media sources.
Thank you again for your support of my work and the great work of others who are reaching for the same goal.