Commentary Magazine


Rapid Response Run Amok

It has become axiomatic among liberals and on the Left that Democrats are somehow just too nice to win presidential races — that they get slimed and don’t slime back, that they get attacked and don’t counterattack, etc. They believe in ideas, you see, in calm persuasion, not in demagoguery, and therefore do not deign to stage a mud-wrestling match in the fever swamps. It was said of Michael Dukakis, it was said of Al Gore, and it was said of John Kerry. They were all just too high-minded to allow themselves not to be “swift-boated.”

This has become such conventional wisdom that liberal organizations and Democratic campaigns now raise fortunes of money by promising they will use the funds to go after and counter the “Republican attack machine” and to blow the whistle on Republican malfeasance as aggressively as Republicans have blown the whistle on them. The most sophisticated and most far-reaching effort in this regard is being staged by the Obama campaign, which has shown some deftness in pouncing on McCain campaign gaffes like Phil Gramm’s astoundingly ill-conceived peroration on the psychological aspects of the nation’s economic woes and the “whiners” who are upset because they have to pay $4.50 for a gallon of gas they paid $1.50 a year ago.

The problem with rapid response is precisely that it is rapid, and therefore might be hasty and ill-considered. That is clearly the case with the Obama camp’s amazingly dumb tantrum regarding the New Yorker cover — a magazine friendly to Obama whose illustration was clearly intended to be a parody of anti-Obama feeling on the Right. Three seconds of thought might have led the campaign to reconsider its decision to denounce the illustration. Six seconds of thought might have led the campaign to see the illustration as an opportunity, to say, “The New Yorker has brilliantly encapsulated the evil right-wing campaign against Barack and Michelle Obama, a campaign that must not be allowed to gain purchase in the American psyche.”

Had that been the response, an entire day on cable news would not have been spent on the illustration — it would instead have been a very minor story that would have been spun not as “is Obama a Muslim flag-burner” but rather as “Is the Right-Wing attack machine going too far yet again?”  Obama has now made certain that millions of people who never would have seen the New Yorker cover now have, and many of those people will take it literally. It’s a rapid response backfire.

Not to mention that it makes the Obama campaign look considerably less cool — and cool is a key element of the Obama magic. Andy Borowitz sums it up hilariously in a new Borowitz Report:

Obama Releases List of Approved Jokes About Himself
Bid to Help Late Night Comics

Saying he is “sympathetic to late night comedians’ struggle to find jokes to make about me,” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) today issued a list of official campaign-approved Barack Obama jokes.

The five jokes, which Sen. Obama said he is making available to all comedians free of charge, are as follows:

Barack Obama and a kangaroo pull up to a gas station. The gas station attendant takes one look at the kangaroo and says, “You know, we don’t get many kangaroos here.” Barack Obama replies, “At these prices, I’m not surprised. That’s why we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

A traveling salesman knocks on the door of a farmhouse, and much to his surprise, Barack Obama answers the door. The salesman says, “I was expecting the farmer’s daughter.” Barack Obama replies, “She’s not here. The farm was foreclosed on because of subprime loans that are making a mockery of the American Dream.”

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?” Barack Obama replies, “His jockey just lost his health insurance, which should be the right of all Americans.”

Q: What’s black and white and red all over?
Barack Obama: The New Yorker magazine, which should be embarrassed after publishing such a tasteless and offensive cover, which I reject and denounce.

A Christian, a Jew and Barack Obama are in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Barack Obama says, “This joke isn’t going to work because there’s no Muslim in this boat.”

Maybe the Obama rapid-response team should consider taking a short vacation. And Obama too. I noted during the primary season that the man never smiles. Now it may come to seem that he never laughs.