Video from the Presidential Campaign, Republican Division

My fall class at ITP has been tracking the creation and distribution of video produced by people other than political professionals, and I wanted to share some of the things they found here. The story of 'Obama <3s teh internet <3s Obama' has been told many times; less well appreciated is the effective Republican/Conservative use of video.

There is a certain (inevitable/dangerous) triumphalism in the Democratic win, because losers always take better lessons from the battlefield than winners. (It's hard to remember now, but before the 2004 election, much the political conversation was around describing the dominance of the warbloggers.)

Looking at Republican uses of video that my students analyzed was quite instructive in this light, because a) those strategies weren't just weak mirrors of the Democratic camp, they were strong but different ones and b) these strategies are going to become much stronger in 2010 and then again in 2012. I'll point to a few of these examples while I'm guest blogging.

First up, and my vote for the single most affecting video of the election, is Dear Mr. Obama, above. I am an anti-Iraq-war Democrat, and it nevertheless brought tears to my eyes (and I don't cry easy --'s Yes We Can left me fairly cold.) Watch it all the way through, or, if you can't, skip to the end before you close it.

This is a video made by people who knew exactly what they were doing. Stuff like the American flag draped just in frame looks hokey to the godless/ sodomite/ baby-killing wing of the Democratic party (my people), but is part of a "plain speaking and right thinking" package that clearly hit just right with the target audience. It was seen 13 million times in 3 months, which topped Obama Girl in absolute views, and I've got a Crush...on Obama was up a year and a half.

This is why this video is really really important: the simple message and Blair Witch production values (good enough to be effective, bad enough to seem unplanned) made this video like Democratic kryptonite. The video was largely circulated via homophilous forwarding along conservative channels. Despite the incredible viewership, I'm betting that the ratio of BoingBoing readers who have seen Obama Girl to those who've seen Dear Mr. Obama is at least 10:1. (When my students presented it to ~100 NYU students on election eve, something like 3 of them had seen it.)

The lovely non-partisan view of voting -- make your case to everyone, see what happens on election day -- masks the fact that there are really three different voter games being played in elections. The first is 'Mobilize the base' -- at ~50% voter participation, there's a lot of juice in just being able to get people who want you to win out to actually get to the polls. The second game is 'Swing the undecided.' There is, to a first approximation, no such thing as an 'independent' voter. People who don't make up their minds until late in an election are less political, less involved in the issues, and less likely to vote overall than partisans, so their minds have to be changed with something emotionally engaging. And the third game is 'Depress the turnout of your opponent' or, at the very least, to avoid enraging them to the point that they are willing to do something rash, like vote.

And in that regard, Dear Mr. Obama was a trifecta. For the base, a muscular but polite attack on the very issue that brought Obama into the spotlight. For the undecided, the emotional charge is much likelier to sway them than argumentation. And for the Dems -- nothing. The video might as well not have existed for all it was seen in Democratic circles. Since the video's sole speaker can't be criticized without making the criticizer look churlish at best, almost no Dems forwarded it, linked to it, talked about it.

For most of the life of the Republic, it was not just possible but imperative to say different things in different places -- what politician would tell auto workers and orange pickers the same thing! That old world had a stake driven through its heart by the Macaca Moment; every politician knows that anything they say to anyone, they say to everyone everywhere.

Now, the job of saying one thing to one group, and something different to another, falls to the supporters. The social solidarity of weblogs and mailing lists replaces the old world of media buys and Chamber of Commerce speeches, recreating through the echo chamber what was once the province of geography and cost. Dear Mr. Obama was music to Republican ears while being inert in Democratic hands; expect it to be a template for 2010.


  1. well,yeah. But everything he says in the video is either stupid or a lie. I am stuck with a brain that processes actual content and meaning.

  2. Funny, when they were Swift-boating Kerry, honoring sacrifice took a back seat.

    (Incidentally, deploying our firefighters to ‘save’ the children from the burning building of Vietnam – also not a mistake?)

  3. LOL… I love this video… it clearly shows what is wrong with war. This is not an american war!!! why make it one? why do we have to be the worlds police? I’d say if this guy loves the people over there so much, then he should move there, and fight for them as one of them.

  4. Interesting that he cites that old fallacy that being against the war automatically equals disrespect for the soldiers. It simply doesn’t, it equals disrespect for neocon politicians. I’m certainly impressed at the level of his sacrifice for what he believes in, but it’s a bit of a cheap shot to tell people off for not believing the same just cos he lost his leg.

    The whole thing also reminds me of that other great paean to ‘demoracratic’ war:

    Freedom isn’t free, It costs folks like you and me;
    And if you don’t throw in your buck oh five, who will?

    Ooohh, buck oh five.

  5. I was really expecting more from the description, like being moved by vet’s personal story. Instead I was thinking, “Uhhhh, nope.”

  6. You guys are making Clay’s point. You can disparage this video all you want. You can claim that people who believe it have checked their brains at the door. But that doesn’t matter.

    I’ll speak strongly in the next few paragraphs for effect. I’m not as angry as this will sound, but I know plenty of people who are.

    (a) This apparent soldier isn’t lying: at worst, he’s giving his opinion about the correct way to interpret something that Obama actually said. At best, he’s calling out the One — the guy who claimed that we’re bitter and cling to God, guns, and bigotry — for his blindness to the truth of Iraq and his arrogance toward our servicemen.

    (b) The Swift Boaters made a fairly strong case that John Kerry’s purple hearts were dishonest grandstanding; his videocamera, demonstrably false memories (or lies, as many will interpret them) about being in Cambodia at Christmastime, and vile Winter Soldier testimony proved that he is a cretin. Thus this man’s service — clearly real, what with the blown-off leg and all — is both more tangible and more clearly honorable than Kerry’s.

    (c) Servicemen are generally intelligent and honorable, at least no less so than the general population. Impugning soldiers’ intelligence makes you look like a stupid jerk, not them. C.f. Kerry’s “You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

    (Speaking personally now, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Kerry really was trying to attack Bush rather than the troops. But even if you accept that, it shows that Kerry wasn’t very smart: Bush and Kerry were equally (un)successful at Yale, and if this really was a “botched joke” then he simply proved (again) that he’s prone to stupid gaffes, too, much like the person he misunderestimated in his run for President.)

    Now, you can say that I’m wrong about all three of the above, but plenty of people believe that I’m right and you’re all a bunch of elitists and godless sodomite baby-killers. And for those people, this video is a lot more effective than all of your condescension.

  7. I can’t do anything about idiots being idiots. I can try to do something about bad, smart people who know how to control idiots.

  8. As I was watching this I made a bet with myself that as the person walked away the speaker would be an amputee. Surprise! I won my bet.

    You know another commercial that made me cry? Cindy Sheehan’s commercial. The first one, in black and white, where she talked about her dead son and wondered what he died for.

    Sincee [sic]the video’s sole speaker can’t be criticized without making the criticizer look churlish at best, almost no Dems forwarded it, linked to it, talked about it.

    It was really nice that nobody on the right criticized her at the time. Oh, wait, that’s not right, they did. Viciously. Constantly. With malice. Did you bother to study that commercial? Because maybe that one would be a better comparison than Obama girl.

    Yes we can play the tugging at the heart strings game as well as the Republicans. And we should, when it counts. The right have no problem pulling out the emotional stops, neither should we.

    Remember all the photos and video’s of the dead innocent babies killed in Iraq that were shown constantly on the news? It seemed like every day there was a new photo or video of a child whose leg was blown off in the street. Oh, right, that didn’t happen. Should we have made some videos like that? I think we should have, let’s tug on some heart strings against the war. Why not? We can use the exact same music and a vet with an amputated leg with a flag in the corner who talks about why this will stop happening under Obama.

    I agree we can learn from the Republicans use of emotional videos to target people’s feelings of anger, pride, fear and hate as well as their love of the people who protected us from treats. Even when that treat WAS NOT the same as the real threat. The Republicans used the best and the worst impulses of Americans to get their war in Iraq. They have promoted war and John McCain in both honest and profoundly dishonest ways.

    If it’s just about emotional appeals we could use old AT&T “Reach out and touch someone” videos to figure out how to hit people in the heart.

    Finally, as much as I appreciate your self depreciation of “my people” as the “godless/ sodomite/ baby-killing wing of the Democratic party” please keep in mind that your humorous indulging in the right wing stereotype of the left simple reinforces their talking points. Some of us on the left ARE “plain speaking” who DO believe in God and don’t kill babies. What I do in the privacy of my own home is really none of your business.

    I also don’t see the flag as hokey and I don’t appreciate you thinking that I would as a way of showing your solidarity with the left. The right doesn’t have exclusive ownership of the flag, no matter how often they pretend they do as then then proceed to misuse it and wrap themselves in it for fun, profit and war.

    I get what you are doing with the comment, but it is really kind of obnoxious and not funny. I’m an proud American too. That flag is as much mine as it is a pro-war John McCain voter.

  9. Then, Takuan, you’d be better off listening to Clay to find out how to fight them rather than saying disparaging things like “well,yeah. But everything he says in the video is either stupid or a lie. I am stuck with a brain that processes actual content and meaning.”

  10. If you want to think I’m touchy, that’s fine, but it’s both false and irrelevant. I’m just noting that you’re proving Clay’s point. Your condescension is literally worse than worthless in the face of what he describes.

  11. Maybe I’m just hanging out in the wrong social circles, but I don’t find that elitists and godless sodomites do very much baby killing. US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have cornered that market.

  12. JDFreivald – The Takuan ~does~ listen – it listens and it waits… and it has access to the sewers… check your toilet ~every~ time before you sit on it… EVERY TIME… I know I do…

  13. The speaker in the video is obviously not an idiot and has, just as obviously, what he considers to be valid and compelling reasons for his support of John McCain. That said, I find it less surprising that a wounded veteran from Iraq would support McCain than the fact that so many in the military communities chose to support Obama.

  14. Well I watch for ~anything~ untoward, bubbles, ripples, unexplained cloudiness – and if I’m in any doubt I crap in a pan and tip it in at arm’s length. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

  15. I only ever use one ~particular~ pan for crapping in, JDF, I only ever use it for cooking as a last resort.

  16. @#18- Sm wld rg tht spprt fr brtn wld b qt bt f bby kllng. ll dpnds n hw y dfn “bby”, spps, bt wld pt th lft frmly hd n bby kllng by th rlgs rght dfntn.

  17. A aolid, thoughtful post.

    @10 – Excellent points.

    @12 – Excellent rebuttal. However, I think your “H” key is stuck. I don’t like anyone protecting me from treats, real or imagined ;)

  18. I guess Mr. Shirky is right. I’m basically of “his people” as well, and I barely felt anything. And what I did feel was of the eye-rolling, head-shaking variety. And while I am, indeed, out of touch (I guess) enough not to understand the person who would be swayed by the soldier’s argument or moved by the swelling country music, I do know enough to see that my making fun of it is *exactly* what the video’s makers want from me, as it would make me look (to the intended audience, anyway) like exactly the kind of Culture War opponent the right likes to portray. It’s dumbness (to be frank) is the bait. Very sophisticated stuff.

  19. President Bush took us to war by claiming that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the United States. That was a mistake.

    Vice President Cheney claimed that we would, in fact, be greeted as liberators. Also a mistake.

    President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended in May, 2003. You see where this is going.

    While we can completely understand the soldier’s desire to believe that his leg was not destroyed in vain, his reasoning is specious at best. President-Elect Obama was not mistaken when he called the war a mistake.

    I don’t in any way mean to slight this soldier’s horrific wounds, or the wounds and deaths of the other thousands of Iraq veterans. However, if we let these wounds blind us to the fact that the Iraq war was waged under false pretenses, then we run the risk of being blindsided again.

  20. Even more than the casual drape of the flag along the edge, what I noticed most was the avenue of trees. It screamed “southern estate” to me. And since so much of the past election made me think of the deep divide we faced when the southern states declared war on our country, it was an unsettling image to me.

    I believe that subliminal message was meant to be there.

  21. I take exception to #20. There is no overwhelming evidence this person is intelligent or informed.

    Also, anyone looking for outrage can read the article about KBR serving spoiled food.

  22. That brought a tear to the posters eye? *L*

    That brought my dinner back up to my throat.

    Is this considered inspiring to americans?

    Just the fact that this is being highlighted as effective makes me feel sorry for the u.s.

    I guess the country that votes george bush in twice also find this sort of dumb patriotic nonsense to be effective.

    Sad … really sad …

  23. *HORF*

    btw, I saw Lee Greenwood perform “God Bless the USA” during halftime at a recent Titans football game. I don’t know which was funnier: the drunk rednecks that stood up and waved their hands in the air when he sang “And I proudly stand up!” or the fact that Mr. Greenwood was singing Karaoke to his own song.

    Again, *HORF*

    Oh, and as a Tennessean that lives in Nashville, I have to say that I was disappointed that our state went to McCain but pleased to see that the places where the people live (like Memphis and Nashville) went to Obama. So don’t write all of us off as undereducated idiots…

  24. I could buy the concept of losers ‘learning their lessons’ better than winners in an election, but I do not see that it matters. The Republicans are in disarray. Whatever the fact of the situation in Iraq may be for the people (and who can tell if it is better or worse?), it has irrevocably tarnished the United States in a way that cannot be undone. We already angered the Arabs keeping troops in Saudi Arabia (a factor in Osama bin Laden’s attacks), and now we have engaged in a dual occupation mirroring Israel. f by mkng ths pnt ppr, s CHRSKY s bsrdly clms, ppr chrlsh, thn t s bcs ppl wnt t rmn n dnl. I am not making any statement about whether Israel’s occupation is right or wrong in saying this either, merely that the manner in which the United States invasion of Iraq (this is not a war – the United States prefers to merely invade, for the last several decades) has been enacted has cost us in foreign policy and in money in a way that has not and probably will never be recompensed, and indeed seems as if it will only grow into a larger deficit. Good will is very hard to gain back.

  25. While we can completely understand the soldier’s desire to believe that his leg was not destroyed in vain, his reasoning is specious at best.

    But Ryan, the point of this video is that his reasoning *doesn’t matter.* Even you can’t post about this video without hurrying to assure us you don’t mean to slight the speaker, and it is that very caveat that kept the emotional appeal pure and out of the range of Democratic fire.

    Takuan, as one would expect, misunderstands this first and best — his opening reaction — “Well yeah” — is all you need to see to understand how this video works. If even Takuan feels he has to throw in that comment, he’s acknowledging the emotional appeal. The fact that he personally disagrees is, again, irrelevant, since there was probably little doubt as to his allegiance before the video.

    Spocko, like it or not, the flag is currently a symbol of the conservative movement. We can wish that it was not this way, but it is, and you know as well as I that doing things like having a flag draped out-of-context in a forest scene is a trope of the right. Your not appreciating my reference to this suggests that you’d rather not believe it, but I assure you a quick tour of YouTube’s political channel will provide enough counter-evidence to change your mind.

    Jdfreivald @10: Thanks.

  26. Clay, why do you imply the “Dear Mr. Obama” video was contrived by Republican operatives? I can’t find any evidence of party participation, apparently it’s a genuine grassroots message put out by the vet and his father.

    Also, why do you think this video would have no resonance with Democrats? There’s a substantial percentage of Dems who are hawkish on Iraq, especially among many of H. Clinton’s supporters, who McCain was trying to woo away from Obama.

  27. Condescension is a two-way street.

    I’ve read right-wing columns that were dripping with condescension for liberals, urbanites, peaceniks, you name it. I remember in 2003 when anyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq was an idiot.

    Now, I don’t believe it’s a wise idea for Democrats to talk or act like they think the average GOP voter is Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. Not only is it insulting, but it’s bad electoral strategy to turn off the people whose votes you want.

    But if you say Democrats are snobs who look down on GOP voters and act like that somehow represents a difference between the Dems and the GOP… well, that’s just dishonest.

  28. I still don’t understand what Clay is conveying here. To me it is obvious that the tools to achieve political ends are just that: inanimate,non-human,amoral and neutral levers and buttons that cause specific outcomes in human perception and behaviour. The can be used in evil ways for evil ends – or not.

  29. I take issue with the poster’s main premise that we need to pull out the sentimental bullshit card just because they do. If the problem is that there are a lot of easily duped people that will vote with their guts instead of their minds, then catering to their guts is just treating a symptom instead of curing the disease.

    The real solution is to get people to use their minds instead of their guts. I know it’s not nearly as easy as trotting out a bunch of manipulative, tearjerker ads every time we have an election, but getting people to actually THINK about an election just might lead to them thinking on a regular basis.

  30. If you assume that the video was done with intent, with careful thought behind it, then it’s laughable for the unsubtle and unprofessional execution.

    Assume that this is a refreshingly sincere and unpolished young man who just wants to get his message out there. He is (or knows) someone who’s got just a little technical know-how, and spent a long time getting it as nice as he could, because he cares enough to make it to the best of his abilities. He takes pride in his workmanship. He cares about the Iraqi people, and believes in John McCain.

    It is, as Mr. Shirky says, perfect. Neither side sees a damn thing that the other does, in part because they come in with different viewpoints. And because of the stereotypes of those different viewpoints (cynical, unpatriotic liberal and gullible, flag-waving conservative), if you even stop to think about how the other side will react, you immediately dismiss its accuracy out of hand.

    Doesn’t matter whether it was professionally done, either.

    @Chgoliz: He has a southern accent, also. It’s probably a little intentional, but Southerners are proud of their broad, tree-lined driveways. They’re pretty. But you have definitely picked up another point in favor of the clip. It’s got The South.

    In Republican mythology, The (sanitized) South is a simple place, filled with moral folks who just wanting to work hard and live a quiet life, and go to church on Sundays. No elaboration on that image is necessary, since shades of gray aren’t part of that strong moral code in the first place.

  31. James, I certainly don’t mean to imply that it was contrived by Republican operatives. In fact, I say in the first graf that the subject of the class was to study “the creation and distribution of video produced by people other than political professionals.”

  32. While I disagree with almost everything the vet in the video said, I appreciate the fact that he was respectful. If this is the future of political campaigns, I think the US may become a more pleasant place.

  33. @ 38: That’s what I came in here to say. Commercials of wounded vets politely asking the public to support the war is nothing new. Canned YouTube videos just don’t seem to be very significant in the overall scheme of things; not much different than regular old tv commercials.

    “Gotcha” videos, a la ‘macacca’ and and Rev. Wright, seem to me to be a lot more interesting. You can now say mean things about your opponent and *prove* that you’re not lying.

    But most of all, Obama’s use of the internet as an *organizing* technology as opposed to a *message* technology is the real game changer. In ’00 and ’04, Rove and co thought they perfected micro-targeting. In ’08, Obama crushed the Republicans at their own game.

  34. That’s funny. In Georgia they just reelected a guy who questioned the patriotism of a man who gave three limbs for his country.

    Republicans are vile, despicable people. Don’t give them anything. Just push them until they snap, and the fence-sitters will listen to reason.

  35. Ah, I see now. A misunderstanding. To ascribe normal emotional motivations to myself is a false assumption. Best think of me as Bizarro-Karl Rove.
    With ALL that implies.

  36. I agree with Clay 100%. I do recall that this was produced by an individual with high end video skills who had previously produced conservative videos.

    As someone who’s worked political campaigns, I’d say the left equivalent would be the first video. It did nothing for me, and I voted for Obama early and often, but I was surprised at its virality.

  37. Hmm. I understand what he means about how this video works… It’s nothing that teaching people some basic critical thinking skills before they are allowed to vote won’t fix.

    Critical thinking REALLY needs to be taught at the HS level as a required course.

  38. @40- “The real solution is to get people to use their minds instead of their guts.”

    This would also seem to require chastizing the people who were happy and enthused while chanting “Yes, we can” and similar sentiments.

  39. Rampant @34:

    If by making this point I appear, as CHIRSKY so absurdly claims, I appear churlish, then it is because people want to remain in denial.

    It’s not absurd, although it depends a little bit on how you make which points. Consider the following.

    I’m a conservative. I voted against McCain because he’s far too liberal. I live in New Jersey and work in Manhattan, both of which are strongly Democratic. I have direct knowledge that most Democrats around here “vote with their guts instead of their minds,” in the words of Chip @40. (I’ll provide anecdotes if you like, but this post is already long.) For every hillbilly who knee-jerks Republican I’ll show you a metrosexual who knee-jerks Democrat. In an almost one-to-one ratio, in fact, as the popular vote has shown.

    This knowledge inoculates us against the claim that “The real solution is to get people to use their minds instead of their guts” (again, Chip @40). That tack is as unlikely to move people to the left as Ann Coulter’s book, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans, is unlikely to move people to the right.

    Because of that, we will not meekly accept your point if it is that the Iraq war “has irrevocably tarnished the United States in a way that cannot be undone”. If you say it politely, then you might not look churlish. Conservatives will argue with you: for instance, the most recent post on Iraq the Model ends by saying

    America is the best ally we could possibly have. Even though Iran holds a few strings, most of the strings now are in more capable Iraqi hands backed by the mighty United States of America

    …and conservatives will say that (say) France holds no moral authority over us (perhaps because of American exceptionalism, perhaps because of France’s handling of the Cote d’Ivoire), and thus their esteem has no value and can be discarded. They will say that Europeans love to despise us while they rely on us for the things that only we can do. But they will probably not think you churlish.

    If, on the other hand, you say what you did (“they just want to remain in denial”) or Chip (that soldier only thinks with his guts and not with his head) or Takuan did @38 (that soldier has used video in evil ways for evil ends) or 0XDEADBEEF did @45 (“Republicans are vile, despicable people”) then you will, indeed, appear churlish, and the polite young man with the prosthetic leg and the American flag will eat your lunch. You will be summarily dismissed from the conversation. Your words will have no authority, and your arguments will not compel.

    In short, this thread is, for the most part, a perfect example of why this video was a strong weapon in the hands of Republicans. Not only did it anchor their base, but it could have encouraged Obama supporters to make statements that would alienate conservatives and many moderates. As Clay says, no wonder it didn’t get passed around. “Democratic Kryptonite” indeed.

  40. Ads don’t matter. I predicted prior to the 2004 election that whichever party won it would lose in 2008 because national elections are decided by the economy, and the housing bubble would have burst by then. And that’s exactly what happened.

    If the economy’s recovering by 2010, Obama will get a second term. If not, he won’t.

    Clever ad campaigns (on either side) won’t change the political fundamentals. Pay attention to the fundamentals and you will rarely be surprised.

  41. “When you call the Iraqi Was a mistake you disrespect the service and the sacrifice” blah blah bullshit. Point is: Mr. Obama said the war was a mistake before the war happened. You can’t disrespect the service and sacrifice before the service and sacrifice. I think President-Elect Obama has been quite clear on his respect for the soldiers in Iraq, so politely fuckoff, Joe the Soldier.

    Time to come home, boys and girls. Too bad we ever got you mixed up in this alleged fight for freedom. Or was it WMDs? I can’t remember now.

    Enjoy your vote. Hope you’re patriotic enough to support the service of your new Commander-in-chief.

  42. I should add that it’s funny that Clay (you’re welcome, by the way, and thanks for sparking this thread) is talking about a specific use of a specific technology to spread a specific message, but people keep talking just about the message. That alone shows that you’re missing the point.

    It’s the marketplace of ideas, after all, and marketing takes a lot more than just a message. Talk about segmentation, packaging, competitive differentiation, and so on — then you’re getting somewhere. Obama successfully marketed himself during his campaign, but we’re not learning lessons from that on this thread at all.

  43. TurgidNoodler @44, were you frustrated by Obama’s failure to come down hard on some of McCain’s obvious weak points during the debates? That’s what you and I would have done. But every time I got a look at the immediate post-debate pollling data, I’d see that Obama was wiser.

    Elections aren’t won by scoring more irrefutable points in candidate debates. They’re won by getting more people to feel motivated to go to the polls and vote for you.

  44. Takuan @56: “never said that. The young soldier is the one used.”

    Unless the soldier believes what he’s saying. The tool, video, is mindless, but the soldier isn’t. If he wanted to create this video, then he was among those using the tools — for, you implied, evil ends.

  45. There is a bottom line. Unfortunately, not all hearts and minds are worthy of winning.

    If human life is sacred and must be protected and cherished, what defines human and what do you do with that that is of human form, at least, but works against human life either by intrinsic evil (sociopaths like Cheney) or simple lack of capacity to understand the consequences of their actions – like the simple minded ignorant that nonetheless can vote and even carry a gun?

    Elitist? Any who have children know that it is the luck of the draw what their child’s capacity and ability might be. Do we despise our own child that lacks? Or do we shelter, carry and protect as our own flesh, regardless?

  46. and Rampant in #34, “Cshirky” you understand, is of course our guest, Mssr. Clay Shirky. We honour, protect and do not eat our guests. Leastways unless they request it of us.

  47. Some commenters have said that this thread “proves” that Democrats can’t hold it in. I call BS. Democrats held it in like a padlocked leather corset for the entire campaign. So some of them are gloating a bit now. Big deal. Probably not the best use of their time, but who cares.

    For some classy gloating, read Requiem for a Maverick over at Rolling Stone. Very funny.

    I don’t give a toss about this stuff. The guy believes what he’s saying, but he’s wrong. I think he displays a serious lack of information about the world, viewing it through a Fox News filter, but I recognize that my disparagement (call it condescension if you will) isn’t going to change many minds. jdfreivald is right about that much (although that doesn’t mean he’s going to eat my lunch, jd. We won the election. That lunch is eaten. Incidentally, not sure voting for the more-liberal Obama was the best way to disapprove of McCain’s liberalism, but it was your vote, I guess)

    What *might* change things is if the left seizes this opportunity to develop a reinvigorated rhetoric and ideology, and reclaim some ground in the war of ideas. An example would be the Republican framing of healthcare, which dominates the discourse, but is frankly stupid (not to digress, but having grown up in Britain, where a visit to the doctor takes 10 minutes and no paperwork, I laugh when US conservatives talk about the dire perils of bringing “big government” into medicine. The US medical insurance system is more bureaucratic than the NHS could ever be!)

    Anyway, I find very little to be edified by in this video. It’s just a sincere, misguided, dog-whistle youtube clip for the right. Big deal. We won, let’s move forward and build on the substance we have, not obsess over the failed tactics of the right.

  48. Then again, cshirky (as jd says) has a point about the style:

    For the base, a muscular but polite attack… For the undecided, the emotional charge is much likelier to sway them than argumentation. And for the [opposition], nothing. The video might as well not have existed… [except as bait]

    I would really like to see the same sort of treatment for topics like healthcare, or (indeed) pacifism.

  49. I have noticed this thing that Clay points out with this video–that is: There is a divide (call it “Right” and “Left”, inaccurate as those terms may be) in this country, and increasingly they are speaking different languages. Also, the idea that presidential elections should be reasoned debates about the issues and events of our times is just quaint, instead it’s all about emotional manipulation. I see very little that can be done about either of these things.

    In this thread, the way people are reacting to the video, just proves the point. If you deconstructed it, and found it wanting intellectually, then you’re not the target audience. The Cindy Sheehan video mentioned by Spocko, same thing. It’s not about engaging in debate, it’s about finding the emotional message that will get people to vote for your candidate.

    Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama use certain phrases in their speeches that have religious meaning to certain groups. These phrases mean a lot to those people, but are ignored by others. It’s a way of courting religious people without doing it overtly. There are countless little things like this that go on during a political campaign that are meant to manipulate on a sometimes subtle (sometimes not) emotional level.

    As my brother always reminds me when I complain about Obama not living up to my expectations, like when he voted for the FISA bill: “It’s not about you, he already knows he has your vote.” And, I guess that’s what irks me the most–my considered opinions about the war are (to most people) moot in the face of the emotional appeal from a vet with a blown off leg. I can tell you why you should be more concerned about your lack of privacy than a terrorist attack, but all someone need to do is say “September 11th” and people will agree to give up their constitutional rights. It’s all about emotional warfare.

  50. Thank you for this. Your analysis of the three aims is one of those things that I had never explicitly thought of, but upon reading seemed like something I’d always known.

  51. Thanks for this great post. I know it’s tedious to complain about media bias, but it seems like if this got more views than Obama girl it probably should have gotten some press coverage during the campaign. I feel really embarrassed that I had never seen this until now.

    Boing Boing commenters are not exactly covering themselves in glory here.

  52. The only way to deal with this kind of message is to refute it point by point with facts.

    And then reply with other videos, equally emotional with people in a similar situation, supporting the point of view you want to advance.

    You only need to get an equally maimed war veteran that understands why the war is wrong and, flag in view, produces a similar video in support of Obama.

    I frankly don’t see why this video has any significance, media manipulation was born with the media itself, that somebody finds it groundbreaking now because it is in YouTube is frankly laughable.

  53. The counter to this video is simple.

    The video of the young Iraqi boy whose arms and legs were burned off by an American bomb, that same bomb killing his parents and other family members.

    Voice over from Dear Mr Obama about how glad the Iraqis are for the American invasion and occupation.

    Voice over from Dear Mr Obama about the sacrifices made by American soldiers.

    Voice over from Dear Mr Obama about how their sacrifice will come to nothing if the U.S. ‘loses’ the war.

    Video of the boy, followed by a montage of the dead Iraqis, the ‘collateral damage’ as they are called, the murdered women, the tortured and murdered men, Abu Ghraib pictures.

    Voice over: “and how do we honor the sacrifice of the innocent Iraqi civilian non-combatants, dead by our actions. Dead by the actions of those we have enabled by this war based on lies.

    How do we honor the horribly wounded, both Iraqi and American, shattered in body and spirit?”

    Who is actually responsible for this horror?

    Image of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Powell and all the other GOP neocons and enablers.

    Close up of the Iraqi boy, with “Proud to be an American” swelling in the background.

    It’s easy to counter that ad. It’s hard to get it to the people that would have needed to see it, though.

  54. Aww, applesauce!

    This gent is a wounded warrior and is deserving of respect for his loss. But, he volunteered for service, and combat promises both glory and destruction. His opinion is no more or less supported by his lost limb.

    I can feel for this man’s maiming but still disagree with him. He’s wrong about the war, period. To say only those who have been there can understand it and have an opinion about it is similar to saying only those who have been derivatives traders can have an opinion about the market. They may know stuff the average Joe doesn’t but we all deal with the fallout. When the fallout sucks, we all get hit – those who are up close may get hit worse than others but they wanted to be there.

    Mr. Obama is correct, the war was a mistake. If America is such a purpose-driven nation, why aren’t we in North Korea or Eritrea? We choose our fights where there is a clear-cut national interest and Iraq 2003 just wasn’t it. It’s our mess now so we have to handle it but we really didn’t have to be there. The human tragedy is terrible but there is no point in throwing more lives and treasure into a bottomless pit. Have a parade, declare victory, argue about it at family gatherings but please, let’s just call it a win and go home.

  55. I agree with the basic premise of the post, but I disagree with the electoral timeline you provided. Just following the discussions between the more prominent republican opinion makers they seem to feel that they nominated the most liberal candidate of the entire playing field and as a result that’s why they lost(let alone they ran as much to the right as they could, abandoning their candidates own central immigration bill).

    Additionally, the timing of this was way off. During 2006 this would’ve worked in several local elections for the house and senate(not targeting the president of course, but the local opposition), however the specter of September 11th has since begun fading with great intensity since 2005 and both sides tend to ignore veterans they disagree with(the right going so far as to berate the very men they claimed to support). And if Obama handles the duties of his office with an air of grace and competence(no terror attacks, economic cratering slows down) a serious presidential opponent for the GOP won’t show up until 2016.

    This election wasn’t an analogue for 2004, it was one for 2000. As a result I’d expect the field for 2012 to be full of surprisingly unimpressive ideologues who’ll go as far to the right as their spine will allow. If history is due to repeat itself the smarter moderates in the party will wait it out to allow neocons and culture warriors alike to run the party as they see fit for the cycle and then step in when they fail. It’s what Nixon did in ’64 by making no effort to recapture the nomination that year, and instead let Barry Goldwater and the libertarian faction of the GOP run amok and eventually fall flat on their faces.

  56. If this were “Democratic kryptonite”…wouldn’t the Democrats have lost?

    At 46/52, it was still a close shave. The War on Reason was almost won.

  57. #43: Excellent point, and one I hope future Republican (and Democrat) campaigners can learn from. The success of this video proves that flaming invective is not necessary to reach voters.

    As for the message in the video: I’ve taken the time to read a few warblogs, to get an idea of how the average soldier’s mind works. And yes, like #29 implies, among the “boots on the ground” there is a need to believe that they’re doing good things for the country. At a micro level, they do. They get their medics to look at sick kids, help grandmothers get around, etc. (On a larger scale, however, the country is measurably worse off than before the invasion.)

    For this reason I’m quite careful not to discuss war with U.S. servicemen and women (who I seem to run into quite often). Even if I thought that I could convince them of the wrongness of the entire Iraq fiasco, I’m not sure that I would want to take their sense of self-righteousness from them. They seem to need it.

    I’m sure their families need to feel the same way. I would wonder what proportion of the viewership of this video is made up by the near and dear of the deployed.

  58. the discussion cshirky begins here is exactly what we should be talking about. EVERYONE believes something. it’s important that we realize this and shift the focus from simply laying out our beliefs to an effective presentation of them.

  59. @Chris Tucker #73
    That would be a huge misstep for any supporter of a democratic candidate. It takes what(even if you don’t agree with the message, and I don’t) is a somewhat quiet, graceful repudiation of a candidate for office and turn it into what amounts for a fear based ad aimed at an audience for whom it would evoke no fear. And,for the same reason all non documentary Iraq War based movies have failed, Americans don’t feel this war in the same way they felt Vietnam. There isn’t a draft, everyone who goes in volunteers and we aren’t being asked to sacrifice anything.

    Even though a majority of those polled at this point feel the war to be a horrible allocation of blood and treasure none would feel that the shame of it belongs to anyone they know. The pols blame spoiled intelligence, the people blame the pols, the people blame the pols, conservatives blame liberals for hamstringing the funds, liberals blame conservatives for going with a poor strategy, and those who were sent to the sandbox in the first place don’t have anyone to point the finger at. Since this shame can’t stick to anyone, an effort to exploit it in such a melodramatic way would have no effect in a electorally positive way and devastating to any candidate it supports(imagine Osama endorsing Kerry in 2004).

  60. Daemon @#51

    Critical thinking REALLY needs to be taught at the HS level as a required course.

    chip @#40

    The real solution is to get people to use their minds instead of their guts.

    What we’re witnessing here is the result of an experiment often referred to as the “liberalization” of public and private educational curricula. I use quotes because even though the term is deployed as a packaged fear-word by the right and as a packaged approval-word by the left, both sides are referring to the same thing.

    Namely: the weakening or outright elimination of required formal instruction in Logic (concerning the thing as-it-is-known), Grammar (concerning the thing-as-it-is-symbolized), and Rhetoric (concerning the thing-as-it-is-communicated).

    This was accomplished over the past four decades or so under the aegis of various fashionable theories of education, which were in turn reflections of political developments. The expressed goals included the reduction of undue Western or patriarchal influence (i.e., “Dead White Males”), introduction of greater diversity, empowering the student, and so on. However laudable those intentions may have been, the outcome has been successive generations of students who have ample self-esteem and are increasingly unable to think.

    Dorothy Sayers put it another way before the effort truly gained momentum:

    …modern education concentrates on teaching subjects, leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one’s conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along; medieval education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.

    Just requiring that every student complete a class in Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric that is thoroughly grounded in Plato and Aristotle during each of the final four years of his or her public education would eventually have an astounding impact upon the intellectual health of this country. There is nothing going on in the modern world that was not addressed by those two, and the very nature of their work, properly taught, provides tools of thought rather than ideology or conclusions.

    After exposing the wee minds to those tools for two years, throw in ancient Near and Far Eastern philosophical concepts in the 3rd and 4th years. Then they’re out of the public system and off to college where they can get exposed to the meaninglessness of intent and whatever else the academy has belched forth. But they’d have the means to deal with it.

    Would every student benefit? Of course not. But it would eventually raise the polity’s overall level of rhetorical competency, which is what’s really at issue here. And it would be a hell of an improvement over the morass of mushy, noncommittal fluff we’re tentatively suggesting that Our Youth might want to consider thinking about learning, if they’re so inclined.

    So! That’s my plan for fixing everything that’s wrong in the world forever and getting Democrats and Republicans alike to make effective videos that appeal to the noodle rather than the bowels, and what it is, too. You’re welcome. :D

  61. “God Bless The U.S.A” – you guys just don’t get it do you? It’s time you started thinking GLOBALLY not just of your own selfish interests. Videos like this make me want to puke. Of course this poor deluded fool wants to think losing his leg was not in vain. It was for “freedom”. What “freedom” would that be I wonder? Thank God Dinosaur McCain and Drill Baby Drill didn’t get up. Then the world really would have been in trouble.

  62. When I look at how this video tries to pass jingoism off as respect, I am reminded how lucky we are that Obama won. We have had seven long years since 9/11, and anyone who cares about their country knows that we should have gone after bin Laden in Tora Bora instead of Saddam in Baghdad. If they want to stand in front of a camera and dishonor their service by trying to tell me differently, that’s their choice.

  63. I think it is a tremendously effective video. He clearly believes strongly in what he is saying. There is conviction in his voice, respectful and muted passion. It is natural to resist believing that you have sacrificed for naught. His indignation is reasonable and entirely justified given his world view.

    Even I, a committed progressive, had to remind myself while I watched it why he is misguided.

    We Democrats and progressives ignore this at our peril. We must be ahead of the conservative movement with emotional appeals like this.

    An MUCH more effective video that has gone through the conservative movement was done precisely as the stock market tanked, just when people where looking for explanations to what caused the crisis.

    This was a comprehensive explanation with “facts” (complete with dramatic screen shot close ups to news articles) that showed that Carter and the Democrats, and poor people where to blame for the financial crisis. The original one has been taken down (song copyright infringment) and is now replaced by an updated one that has more focus on Obama’s connections to the democratic perpetrators(and a less effective classical music soundtrack).

    The new version has 1,721,493 views in its various incarnations. Who knows how many the original one had.

    This is effective propaganda. Masterfully done. Propagated mostly via email, not via searches on youtube. And most effective because it explains the “real facts” with data and documentation.

    This is extremely important to study and counter. So effective that it sent a chill done my spine, worried about not us not matching these simple and sophisticated techniques.

    Original was: 10 min. youtube – EXCELLENT explanation subprime mortgage history

    Updated: Burning Down The House: What Caused Our Economic Crisis?

  64. Great post!

    What makes this a hard lesson is that to learn it we have to first accept a few things:

    1) That it doesn’t matter whether the Iraq war is right or wrong. (Well, of course it matters, but not in the context of learning from this video.)

    2) This isn’t something with a “solution”. (As some other commentators seem to say.) It’s an effective video because it plays on human nature, and we aren’t going to change human nature.

    Sure, I agree with the Chip and Iwood. Teaching critical thinking, will help. In fact, it’s essential for a strong democracy.

    But better education won’t change the fact that people are a lot less rational than we like to believe, and marketing/advertising techniques are a lot more effective than we’d like to believe. (And, yes, I include myself as a “people”.)

    In my opinion, the key to the effectiveness this video is that the soldier is a real person, speaking honestly from his perspective (ok, or a good actor, but I doubt it).

    And that’s something that gives me hope because it shows that we don’t have to be advertising professionals to change people’s minds. It brings democracy back to “we the people”. With a caveat – we can’t just vote, we also need to advocate for what we think is the right choice.

  65. You’ve just elected the most egregiously intelligent president in living memory and you’re worried about the effectiveness of mushy emotional appeals like this? Chill out — most (though not all) Americans appear to have decided not to be fooled all of the time. I, and according to The Economist magazine, most of the non-American world, think you may have come to your senses. Appeals to emotion that contradict obvious facts turned out to be less effective than the truth, strongly presented.

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  66. Lauren O @75: If this were “Democratic kryptonite”…wouldn’t the Democrats have lost?

    No, no more than Superman did when kryptonite was used; the metaphor includes the possibility of victory. The important thing about kryptonite is that it is a weapon that can be used by the B against A but not vice-versa.

    More generally, it is a category error to assume that electoral loss invalidates all strategies used by the losers. Indeed, the general confidence among victors about their innately superior strategies and tactics is one of the things that eventually turns them into losers again (as with the Republican fixation on tax cuts in this electoral cycle.)

    Other things being equal, we should see a net loss of Democratic seats in the House in 2010 (though they will almost certainly still control that body.) Now in the current climate, things may not in fact be equal in 2 years, but if there is one thing at which American democracy excels, it is in changing horses mid-stream. If that happens, I am betting part of the strategy will be the Republicans sharpening things that worked this time.

    Oh, and jdfreivald FTW! (and this from a knee-jerk metrosexual…)

  67. Try filming a response video by Tammy Duckworth (lost both legs in Iraq) or Max Cleland (lost three limbs in Vietnam, and also his Senate seat after having his loyalty to his country questioned during the campaign). I’m sure that they could both make a better case for our side than this sad young man, reading off a cue card in a monotone, made for his.

  68. Takuan: like the simple minded ignorant that nonetheless can vote and even carry a gun?
    Me: LOL
    Takuan: mocking the cannon fodder jd? de classe indeed.

    I almost didn’t respond, but I really don’t want anyone to think that I was laughing at Dear-Mr-Obama Guy. I was laughing at you, Takuan, not him. And your response calling him “cannon fodder” is just as bad. These are people who disagree with you, not objects used by evildoers.

    StevenZ: You’ve just elected the most egregiously intelligent president in living memory and you’re worried about the effectiveness of mushy emotional appeals like this? Chill out — most (though not all) Americans appear to have decided not to be fooled all of the time.

    I assure you that in the Northeast at least there are many, many people who voted for Obama because of mushy emotional appeals and not because he’s “egregiously intelligent”. Smart people want to see his victory as an intellectual triumph, but that is precisely the kind of thing you should *not* take away from this election if you want to win next time.

    Halloween Jack, Cleland is from the wrong war and doesn’t have much moral authority. Too many people have heard that he lost his limbs by being incompetent with a hand grenade. (Whether that’s true or not I don’t know and don’t care.) Your ideal responder is young, white, and Southern or Midwestern.

    That is if you wanted to respond to this video at all. You might want to learn lessons from this and do something entirely new using what you learned. Otherwise you’re a me-too.

  69. Ian Holmes: Incidentally, not sure voting for the more-liberal Obama was the best way to disapprove of McCain’s liberalism, but it was your vote, I guess)

    I voted Constitution party. It didn’t feel all that great, but it showed that my opposition to McCain came from the right.

  70. I received this video (I’m a Dem) from my brother-in-law who had sent it to EVERYONE he knew.

    I quickly replied-ALL and pointed out that the leg would have been still attached to the soldier’s leg if Kerry had been voted in (heck, even Gore!).


  71. Crickets because they were too stunned by your overwhelming intellect to argue?

    Or because you appeared to be too churlish to be worth responding to?

    Once again, Clay’s point…

  72. Speaking from my usual perspective as the Hoosier liberal, this was damned effective video. I disagreed with every single thing he said, but I know plenty of people who would have looked at that and said, “Damn straight” and voted McCain.

    This is yet another illustration of the basic point that you can’t use rationality to counter identity politics. You can disagree with everything there, and say so, and be 100% right with documentation — but your argument will not be heard, unless you are the Right People. And given that part of the definition of the set of Right People is agreement with the worldview, that’s really, really difficult.

    It’s not always possible to impose change from without. (It’s usually not at all possible, but I’m trying to be positive.) The voter who votes on the basis of that video can only be done by somebody else in his/her own social group. And most of you here aren’t it. That’s just reality.

    Clay’s right, 100% right. This is politics, and politics is not a rational craft.

  73. but we already knew that. Anyone with any intelligence has just finished an eight year course in that. Yes, the gullible can be gulled. Yes there are a lot of them. Yes, If we descend fully to level of those so far manipulating the gullible, we become like the users. The only hope for educating the gullible is to rebuild the schools and social institutions that were systematically destroyed. That takes much longer than it did to ruin them. In the interim,the devil’s tools must be used gingerly. As they were for this election.

  74. ehhh– you can say that because I’m on the left that I “just don’t get it” but there is a certain lack of logic in this video.

    The “are they better off now than 2002” argument is simply wrong. Let’s say we could ask that question to all the dead or exiled (the estimates I’ve heard are all over the place, but we’re talking around 50,000 dead, and maybe up to a million exiled.)

    Conservatives had no trouble supporting Saddam in 1988 when he was just as much a tyrant, they had no trouble supporting ANY tyrant/despot/dictator during the cold war as long as he was on our side.

    It is no more dishonorable to pull the troops than it was to send them in in such small numbers (well under what the Pentagon said they needed), and as poorly equipped as Bush did. I think allowing Halliburton to rip off the taxpayers and provide the troops with contaminated drinking water (in a desert, no less) was far more dishonorable.

    “Promoting democracy”– well WHAT does that mean? The majority of Iraqis want the US out (hell– the majority of Iraqis may even want a theocracy like Iran, how likely is it that our occupying force will allow them to vote on that?)

    The reasoning on the right for keeping our troops in Iraq is just self-serving BS. I understand that this video appeals to those on the right, but what does that say about the right.

    I suspect there are lots of vets who don’t justify their missing limbs with this kind of tortured logic.

  75. Thanks– worth seeing! It moved me too, and I believe with him that most of the people there have been trying to promote freedom and improve people’s lives– and it bugs me when this isn’t appreciated.

    One quibble– you say:
    “People who don’t make up their minds until late in an election are less political […] so their minds have to be changed with something emotionally engaging.”

    That’s part of it, but my impression is that these people mainly want to join the rest of the flock in voting for the winner. And the best strategy for doing that is to:

    1. Wait until the last possible moment to decide, in order to gather the maximum amount of information about what others will do.

    2. Finally (possibly in the voting booth) make a massive left-brained integration of everything you’ve seen, heard, and thought so far, how you think other people are feeling on that day, not just in your circles but throughout the country, etc.

    So there’s very little that can be done to influence them from further than 100 yards from the polling place, and even an emotionally-resonant video will get buried in the mix if it isn’t genuinely what *everyone* is talking about, rather than just one side. But that’s good– without such ultimate hive-mind integrators, we’d fragment impulsively and go extinct.

    (I haven’t read “Here Comes Everybody” yet, but am looking forward to it!)

  76. I break it down this way. You either fear the unknown or you want to understand it. If you fear it, your first reaction is to fight it. If you endeavor to understand it, well, you may still want to fight it, but at least you have considered other options as well. The way we initially process an unknown is deeply rooted and (I believe) comes from how we were raised, but may, MAY, be overridden by subsequent education. This is not nature vs nurture, but initial nurturing vs secondary nurturing. Those of us who wish to wage war have (usually) let their initial fear of a foreign country take hold. A very good friend of mine, who is perhaps the smartest person I personally know and who used to think Noam Chomsky walked on water, could not decide who to vote for in this election. I was speechless when I learned this, thinking ‘how could such a well-educated person not know how to vote’. But what I interpreted from his explanation was that, basically, he fears the unknown and his reaction is to fight and he has stopped trusting liberal thinkers. I guess I am essentially saying that we can clamor forever for education and to teach people rational thinking, but there will always be the fearful who let their fear guide them.

  77. Granted, I haven’t read through all 101 comments yet, but I have hit about 60% of them, and I can’t help but wonder if there’s a major point here that hasn’t been made.

    The call to appealing to one’s emotions to win an argument (which an election essentially is) is older then Socretes. The reality is that emotional appeals are more persuasive then intellectual appeals- especially in the short term.

    Ultimately, there are two types of politicians- those who’s sole goal is to WIN; and those whose sole goal is to BETTER SOCIETY. While the line between the two is foggy at best, and of course there is overlap, the degree to which a politician chooses to resort to propaganda is very dependent upon which end of this spectrum he is closest to.

    Is propaganda effective? Yes. But we can’t take away the fact that emotional appeals like these are ultimately the nemesis of truth- not because they are lies, but because the render truth obsolete.

  78. Just a suggestion…

    It might help the case, that lefties are not condescending elitists, if you would stop instantly dismissing everyone who disagrees with you as an idiot or moron.

    You see this tends to turn people off a bit. Do you think you can educate by smacking people over the head or by belittling them into submission?

  79. You can’t do any good until you are in power. You KNOW the opponent will do evil. Every politician faces this dilemma: How much evil is too much?

    They all start with good intentions.

    The basic fact and truth is any who are candidates for high office are irredeemably compromised by what they have done to get that far. Vote for them as they make their own choices: the lesser evil.

    If dog and pony shows, bread and circuses and political pageants are what the majority of voters demand, give that to them. After you are in, they return to their lives since they don’t really want to be political anyway. Sure, use emotion. Just don’t believe your own propaganda.

  80. I’m an individual who identifies as more or less on the left to a degree that most decent, hardworking folk (or conservative pundits) would find appalling.

    This video hit home, and it hit hard. The amputation, though expected, resonated. The simple “candidate, I have contributed to something of value in which you seem to find no worth. I fin worth there, as did many other folk” appeal is just as strong as it needs to be. It’s hard to attack this without coming across as an asshole (or elitist, or churlish). And so it’s damn good kryptonite.

    I had a hard time figuring out what the left could do in response. My immediate reaction was towards something like the above-mentioned “play this over sad pictures of civilians in Iraq”, and that just feels empty, co-opted. It’s choir-preachy, and the left is already damn good at choir-preaching.

    And then I remembered the one ad I enjoyed during the election. It’s 33 seconds, and it was an ad for the incoming democratic senator from my home state (New Mexico). The ad can be found here:

    This ad isn’t really kryptonite. It doesn’t attack. But it also provides an unassailable position. Here is a man who gave up most everything for his country, and came this close to giving up his life. And here is the progressive democratic candidate, who in office provided the money to take care of this mans war wounds. The ad does not once speak of Tom Udall’s opposition to the war. It doesn’t talk about the toll on civilians, and it doesn’t really do anything more than show a man who sacrificed near everything thanking the man who didn’t support his war but supported him. With both taxpayer dollars and an arguable pork-barrel expense.

    It isn’t kryptonite, but it doesn’t have to be. Kryptonite doesn’t work nearly as well when superman’s sitting pretty in the batcave.

  81. I have no problem supporting the troops, or promoting democracy, but is that REALLY what’s going on in Iraq? Just because the troops think that’s what they are doing, doesn’t mean it’s the truth.

    We weren’t originally told that “promoting democracy” was why were were going in, that was only trotted out after they couldn’t find the WMDs we knew were there. Are we in any other countries with troops “promoting democracy?”

    Essentially this ad is actually (unwittingly) saying “we can’t leave until we fix the mess WE made” and I’m all for that, but what will the final price be? And not just in terms of American (or Iraqi) lives, but in the blow to our economy to be flushing billions down the toilet every month in a country that may never exactly be the beacon of democracy we want it to be.

    Or another way of putting it, is Obama unpatriotic for being realistic about Iraq?

    1. is Obama unpatriotic for being realistic about Iraq?

      Since I consider patriotism to be a flavor of tribalism, I certainly hope that he’s unpatriotic.

  82. We weren’t originally told that “promoting democracy” was why were were going in, that was only trotted out after they couldn’t find the WMDs we knew were there.

    OT, because it’s about the politics rather than the medium, but this common idea is false. Promotion of democracy, stopping human rights abuses, and prevention the Iraqi death and misery that arose from UN sanctions were all goals of the Bush administration — along with WMD, which was emphasized more — well before the war began.

  83. #54 jdfreivald, if anyone would be turned off or on of a certain brand of politics in an election because of the words espoused here, then they are already a voter who is not going to vote in a ‘meaningful’ manner, other than the fact that one must account for those people too, unfortunately. Although I suppose this might quite prove your point of why this video is effective.

    As to #65 Takuan, if I had said anything that was hate filled or trolling in appearance, then I could understand you stating that, but I said nothing of the sort. I do find it extremely absurd that it is stated anyone will come off as churlish for daring to disagree with this video’s worth or message or whatever else. They will appear churlish to sensitive or overly sympathetic or easily moved people or whatever else, but if pragmatic conversation ever appears churlish to someone, then those people do not sensibly approach politics, although that again summarizes my closing of the address to #54 that it proves the video effective.

  84. Look, the guy got blown up. He’s got to justify it, find a reason that makes his loss worth it. I knew (and know) guys who could come to terms with their wounds, and I knew sad angry motherfuckers who couldn’t. I’ve got some creds on this, although I never got blown up, and I assure you it’s a painful journey to get to the place where you realize you were played for a sucker. He’s got demons enough to battle without taking on the load of guilt and anger waiting for him.

    It’s beyond pitiful for him to continue to be used by the same evil bastards ultimately responsible for crippling him. He’s just another disposable soldier looking for some appreciation. Damn it, it’s heartbreaking … and it never stops, war after senseless war, victim after victim.

  85. ZIPPYSPINCYCLE@95 — True, that was a pretty crass shot and I wasn’t surprised to be punished for it with a disenvowelment.

    But then again, the guy volunteered for it twice, first when he went off to fight a bad war, the second time when he allowed his consequent injury to be exploited in defence of a policy that promoted unjustified war of aggression. He is about as wrong as it is possible to be and obviously hasn’t learned anything worthwhile from his obviously appalling experiences.

    Or do you think misguided sincerity should entitle him not to have to put up with personal sleights, even if he himself is milking his situation to promote a mistaken agenda?

    The soldiers I feel far more sympathetic towards are the ones who fought in my generation’s bad war. Conscripts died and were maimed in Vietnam — compared to that, what does the guy have to complain about?

  86. JD@108: the WMDs were emphasized *way* more. Colin Powell did not go to the UN and talk about promoting democracy.

    I noticed that you didn’t mention the Oil, a factor that was significantly *under*emphasized by the Bushies at the time, but was clearly up near the top of the real list — right up there with “Long-term American bases in the Middle East (outside of Saudi Arabia, which is Becoming a Bit of a Problem)”.

    You seem very intelligent and rational, but this sort of cherry-picking of noble causes (while ignoring the quite obvious but less-marketable pragmatic ones) is symptomatic of a general right-wing tendency to believe your own hype (oh, I’m sure that we left-wingers do it too, but thankfully we have you there to call us out on it; happy to return the favor).

    To be fair, you are at least acknowledging that WMDs were sold more, but in doing so, you are understating the extent to which the entire public case for war was clearly a rampant, twisted distortion of the true agenda.

    And no, I don’t think it’s off topic to discuss the politics behind this guy’s message. One can never completely divorce presentation from content. Emotive nationalism, and a tendency to smother actual accountability with schmaltzy hyperbole about American values, are at the core of my problem with this video AND your comments.

  87. Sorry video dude; the fact that you and some of your comrades(many soldiers didn’t) bought into the Iraqi Freedom lie doesn’t make it so. It’s a godda*n crying shame you lost your leg, too. That’s the real pisser; it was business as usual for the republicans, the defense and oil industries, but through the republican propaganda(hell, LIES)and through the very few choices a lot of these young soldiers have or don’t have)they enter the military and since they sacrifice SO much, they cannot believe it is for naught. Again, it’s godda*n crying shame, actually it’s a godda*n CRIME and we know only too well who the criminals are.

  88. Ian, I see why you think I’m cherry picking, but that wasn’t my intent. I saw an incorrect statement and corrected it giving the three reasons I heard most. Whether WMD was emphasized more is not relevant when the claim was that the justification of spreading democracy didn’t appear until later.

    There were lots of reasons discussed for going into Iraq, and many that may have been tacit. I didn’t mention the possible personal agendas of Bush & Co because of Gulf War I, though I personally think that had at least some part in it. I didn’t mention hubris, though I think that had some part, too. The three that were advanced by the administration as justification, though — which was what Ill Lich @106 was referring to — were the ones that I mentioned. That’s not cherry picking, it’s addressing the error in comment 106.

  89. jdf, could be i didn’t cut you enough slack.

    tak, it’s quite an apt poem really (excuse the partial quote, the full thing’s linked below)

    The soldier armed with sword and gun
    Palsied strikes the summer’s sun.
    The poor man’s farthing is worth more
    Than all the gold on Afric’s shore.
    One mite wrung from the labourer’s hands
    Shall buy and sell the miser’s lands,
    Or if protected from on high
    Does that whole nation sell and buy.
    He who mocks the infant’s faith
    Shall be mocked in age and death.
    He who shall teach the child to doubt
    The rotting grave shall ne’er get out.
    He who respects the infant’s faith
    Triumphs over hell and death.
    The child’s toys and the old man’s reasons
    Are the fruits of the two seasons.
    The questioner who sits so sly
    Shall never know how to reply.
    He who replies to words of doubt
    Doth put the light of knowledge out.

    He who doubts from what he sees
    Will ne’er believe, do what you please.
    If the sun and moon should doubt,
    They’d immediately go out.
    To be in a passion you good may do,
    But no good if a passion is in you.
    The whore and gambler, by the state
    Licensed, build that nation’s fate.

    for the full thing:

  90. I was thinking more about this thread today.

    Don’t remember how long ago now, but BB had a thread about a WWII US Army instruction booklet created to help our military recognize the differences between Chinese soldiers (allies) and Japanese (enemies). As you can imagine, it was filled with stereotypical and prejudicial claims about the supposed physical and mental attributes of the two nationalities.

    Our military continues to receive that kind of training. Our allies are GOOD; our enemies are SCUM. Everything that soldier thinks he knows about the war and the Iraqi people has been very carefully trained into him to guarantee the results his chain of command wants. He is as ignorant about Iraqis (and the war itself) as our WWII soldiers were about the Chinese they fought with and Japanese they battled.

    Indoctrination doesn’t only happen in the military, of course. It’s a cornerstone of religions too. A majority of people in this country are absolutely convinced that what they know is true. This boy is one of them, completely.

    The only way to reach them is generational: educate enough of their children that the balance shifts over time.

  91. Our military continues to receive that kind of training. Our allies are GOOD; our enemies are SCUM.

    You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. I always hate to see such ignorant things said with such confidence.

    When I went through training in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a ton of “hearts and minds” training. The populace is just like you in its basic humanity; many of them are afraid of Americans because of propaganda, but when you treat them with respect they may help you; there are bad guys in there, but there are a lot of good guys, too, and you need to be careful in trying to see which is which; when the war is over, we will want a healthy country that likes us, not a cremated one filled with people who hate us.

    These were core teachings out of which a lot of doctrine spun, including strategy, tactics, and so on. That kind of training has increased, not decreased, because we know that it’s hard for typical Americans to distinguish one Arab or Persian from another. There’s even discussion of the fact that many people serve Al Qaeda because they’re afraid, or jobless, or whatever.

    I would wager that there has never been a military that treated its opponents with such respect — as humans, not just as warriors — as ours.

  92. When I went through training in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a ton of “hearts and minds” training.

    Well, that would explain it. You were trained before the Bush administration dropped the bar for entering the military. You were trained when criminal backgrounds and serious mental health problems kept the government from handing you a gun. You were trained before the White House authorized the use of torture. Welcome to the New US Military. You might as well be talking about the army under George Washington.

  93. That’s just not true, Antinous. I have friends in Iraq and Afghanistan, and friends of friends. As I said, “That kind of training has increased, not decreased.”

    1. Yes, jdfreivald, it is true. The military is admitting soldiers who were previously barred for criminal or psychological reasons. Look it up. But try opening your eyes first. It’ll make it easier to see.

      In 2003, the year the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, 4.6 percent of recruits — most of whom had committed either multiple misdemeanors or a felony — had to be given a “moral waiver” before being admitted into the Army. By 2006, 11 percent of new Army recruits had a criminal record and needed that same moral waiver. In 2007, that figure had jumped to 13 percent.

  94. The only problem with this video and the reason Democrats frown at it is because Democrats have been advocating for veterans, especially special-needs veterans like the brave man in the video, for years. It is the Republican leadership that has ignored veterans’ issues over the last few decades because it’s been politically inconvenient in times of war. The people who work with Democratic veterans and amputees Tammy Duckworth and Max Cleland see the “effect” in this video everyday. They don’t need a video to remind them that our veterans aren’t being valued as they should. McCain should have known better.

  95. I disagree with the opinion of the speaker in this video–which is not at all the same thing as dishonoring his service. Of course one can act nobly, heroically, in a purpose that is in some sense unwise. To think otherwise–to agree that “fighting for freedom is never a mistake”–logically obligates the thinker to wage war everywhere freedom does not reach the thinker’s desired standard. Should we fight China? Russia? Pakistan? The client states we cultivated among the former Soviet republics after 9/11?

    I get that the writer is arguing on behalf of the clip as an emotional appeal rather than a logical argument–vouching for its truthiness, one might say. But it’s really nothing more than a mirror, presumably a conscious mirror, of the arguments McCain made during the foreign policy parts of the debates. He never really defended “the mission,” perhaps because nobody can so much as define it anymore, or defined the “victory” he seeks, perhaps because that too is basically impossible. He just kept appealing to the gut–to what he saw in Iraq among the Iraqis and among the soldiers.

    The last eight years have demonstrated what happens when a nation is guided by all gut and no brain. While I admire McCain’s service and I admire the service of the young man in the video, I would not want either of them setting policy based solely on their gut values. Progressives are here, among other things, to remind the country to THINK, not just FEEL.

  96. 1) Clay makes an excellent point, and I agree with him in large part.
    But in reading this:
    #93 POSTED BY CWCLIFFORD , DECEMBER 5, 2008 10:01 AM
    I received this video (I’m a Dem) from my brother-in-law who had sent it to EVERYONE he knew.I quickly replied-ALL and pointed out that the leg would have been still attached to the soldier’s leg if Kerry had been voted in (heck, even Gore!).

    I would normally think that this sort of combative, common-sense approach would not work. But it is also the sort of combative, common-sense logic that the right thrives off of and understands. (Like blaming inner-city blacks for their own problems.)

    I think a two-tiered approach is sensible: 1) countering this with a Tammy Duckworth video, as someone else suggested (and she is effective, and fought in Iraq) and 2) polite and super-respectful but common-sense rebuttal. What CWclifford did may actually be more effective than trying to sugar-coat it, PROVIDED there is a two-tiered approach.

    But Clay’s original point is spot-on. I just think the right is also receptive to logic – when deployed well.

  97. Standards will soon be raised for enlistees. Pickings will be better because of all the fine young people on the streets without jobs or prospects. We can maybe have enough to start a couple new little wars.

  98. jdfreivald @ #123:

    You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. I always hate to see such ignorant things said with such confidence.

    I was married to a Marine, only recently retired.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this issue.

  99. If American soldiers are trained to respect Iraqis as human beings, why did they kill so many of them? I think any Iraqi, if asked, would like their country back. Their oil too. But we know they won’t be asked.

    This whole discussion is about using emotional manipulation by the manipulated to manipulate the population of the USA. That is a legitimate abstract subject for discussion on its own, but so also was the technical discussion of furnace specifications at Wannsee.

  100. My only question is why does the flag look like the old circular (13-star) flag? Is that just the drape, or it is a deliberate sign?

  101. Oh, yes, I can “criticize” without being “churlish,” from a place of genuine open-hearted sadness. I only need to reference, with great tenderness for this young man and the human condition, the most famous of soldier’s poems from World War 1, by Wilfred Owen (and we democrats too love our country with a fierce proud love). It is that poem that ends by conjuring experienced warriors not to propagate “…The old lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”

    War is sometimes necessary, but those that are unnecessary, like the Iraq war, are crimes. It is the old men who start unnecessary wars who are criminal, insensitive, and morally wrong – they take advantage of young mens’ heroic instincts and yes these soldiers do die in vain. If we don’t speak this truth, as Obama did, however painful, we are complicit in the continuation of the crime and next year’s brave soldiers’ deaths.

  102. Though I understand this post is on amateur type ad, the Tom Udall ad was by far the best this cycle. That ad actually did make me cry.

    It didn’t attack Steve Pearse, it praised Udall for a genuine accomplishment. It also drove home an anti-war point without going into the kind of direct attacks that this ad does.

  103. I think everyone is forgetting the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Obama did the Dear Mr. McCain thing better, it was called the 30 minute infomercial meant to hit Repubs on all social issues, tugging at emotions (do Repub really want to fight the poor widower, the arthritis pained old people, etc)

  104. Antinous, you are arguing @127 against a point I didn’t make. Perhaps I should have qualified what “it” means in “it isn’t true,” but I specifically targeted CHGOLIZ’s statement (comment @122) that “Our military continues to receive that kind of training. Our allies are GOOD; our enemies are SCUM.” I am talking doctrine and training here, and your comments do not reflect one way or another on that. I reemphasized that I was talking about training @125.

    CHGOLIZ @131: I was married to a Marine, only recently retired.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this issue.

    We don’t have to disagree: facts are facts. If you and your husband have different information than I do, then I want to know. But then I also want to be very clear about your claim. Do you mean to say that:

    * Marines are trained to think that our allies are good and our enemies are scum?

    * There are not trained to win over those who might be sympathetic to our enemies by appealing to their core humanity?

    * You said they “continues to receive”, as if there is no disconnect between the WWII training and now. You also said that your husband recently retired, which means he’s been in for at least 20 years. Is it your claim that this kind of training has always been present in some form or other during your husband’s career?


    Takuan: If American soldiers are trained to respect Iraqis as human beings, why did they kill so many of them?

    Because the mass of Iraqi soldiers were a tool in Saddam Hussein’s hands, and we cannot let our empathy for the individual soldier blind us to the fact that they will kill us, as ordered, if given the chance. The respect for Iraqis as human beings does manifest in the treatment of POWs. I know that the initial reaction will be to call out Abu Ghraib and torture; I am not an apologist for either, but (a) highlighting only those two items overshadows the generally helpful and humanitarian work done by Marines and soldiers over there, (b) the people responsible for the Abu Ghraib misconduct went to jail, and (c) as I understand it, special teams inflicted waterboarding and the like on the masterminds of Al Qaeda, which therefore does not affect the reactions of typical Marines or soldiers toward ordinary citizens. I’m not justifying waterboarding by saying this, merely pointing out that you can despise it while not tarring all American military staff with its brush.

    I think any Iraqi, if asked, would like their country back. Their oil too. But we know they won’t be asked.

    Some want us the hell out. Others — I refer you again to Iraq the Model — consider George Bush a liberator, and want us to remain strong allies.

    Halliburton isn’t stealing Iraqi oil and selling it. It’s being sold by Iraqis, and its use is part of the reconstruction effort.

    Not only will the Iraqis be asked, but we have just updated the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to include a drawdown of American troops.

  105. Anonymous @137 posted a reply to “Dear Mr. Obama”. That video got about 53,000 views. That’s why I don’t think a reply is effective. If you want to learn something from “Dear Mr. Obama”, learn from it and do something new: simply replying to the video with a “me-too” will be ineffective.

  106. “less well appreciated is the effective Republican/Conservative use of video”

    Lost in the debate here is a fundamental question: was this video “effective”? In the ultimate metric — the electoral college — it was not. The number of viewings is perhaps the most superficial metric: it gives no indication of whether viewers were influenced by the video, positively or negatively. So I am curious how Prof. Shirky determined that this particular video was effective.

    Later, Prof. Shirky claims that this video hit the “trifecta” of mobilizing the base, swinging the undecided, and depressing the opposition. Yet the video itself (with its extended coda, complete with schmaltzy Lee Greenwood music), and the distribution patterns described by Prof. Shirky, suggest this video was primarily aimed at only the first of the three, mobilizing the Republican base. What evidence was there that this swung undecided voters? The fact that few Democrats had heard of, or responded to, this video suggests it failed miserably in the last part of that trifecta.

    It’s possible that a recut version of this video that ended with the veteran silently walking away might have been more effective with swing voters: at the very least it wouldn’t have seemed so clumsily overbearing. Yet, it the end it still probably wouldn’t have mattered, since Iraq and foreign policy were all but forgotten in the election because of the economy. This video fought the last political war, and lost.

  107. ok, i’ll take the bait and sound churlish; you gotta be kidding me clay, that made you cry? I thought about 14 seconds into watching the video for the first time that “i bet they pan back at the end of this to reveal this guy lost a leg or something”. The lines sound like an off-off broadway staged reading of a Michelle Malkin blog post. It wasn’t widely circulated outside republican circles because the video, like the GOP campaign itself, was a content-free grasping-at-straws attempt to equate support for the troops with patriotism and any administration decision regarding the war. Lame, unfocused and boring. If this made you cry, you are a sucker of immense proportions.

  108. #32
    “I guess the country that votes george bush in twice also find this sort of dumb patriotic nonsense to be effective.”

    Many would disagree with you, and state that he wasn’t voted in twice… considering his popular vote count and all.

  109. Anon @144: The fact that few Democrats had heard of, or responded to, this video suggests it failed miserably in the last part of that trifecta.

    On the contrary. Democrats are, almost by definition, people you’d like to *avoid* having conservative messages go out to, so as not to generate replies, or, worse, to persuade them to actually vote.

    As for the critique that, since the Dems won, nothing the Repubs did was effective, that is exactly the mechanism by which winning parties slowly become losing ones. Repubs made the same mistake with tax cuts, which worked to generate support under Reagan but not under Bush. The idea that engaging media that reaches the base while being ignored by your opponents is unlikely to work in the future because they lost the election this time is whistling past a pretty big graveyard.

    Anon @145: If this made you cry, you are a sucker of immense proportions.

    Guilty as charged.

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