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Message Discipline Ad Absurdum

Anderson Cooper’s interview with Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt is fantastically ineffective. CNN’s Cooper asks LaBolt questions about the hypocrisy of Obama’s attack on Bain Capital. LaBolt refuses to answer them, choosing instead to simply repeat his talking points. This isn’t unheard of in American politics, of course. But LaBolt’s mechanical, rigid, and robotic style — his refusal even to acknowledge Cooper’s question if only to pivot off of it — is beyond parody. It is message discipline ad absurdum.

It’s impossible to know why the Obama campaign would think there is any up-side to putting someone like LaBolt on the air. Anyone even remotely objective would come away from this interview less impressed with the president’s position, correctly assuming that LaBolt’s inability to address the questions directed at him means he has no counter-argument to offer.

The assumption of the White House staff is that offering talking points in the LaBolt manner is more useful than saying nothing at all. They’re wrong. An interview with an empty chair would have been less harmful to Obama’s cause, if only because it would come across as less condescending to viewers. It’s a flawed assumption that the public is stupid enough not to see what’s going on, or realize that they’re being played for fools.

There are many signs that the Obama campaign in 2012 isn’t nearly up to the standards of the Obama campaign in 2008. LaBolt’s appearance is just one of them.