Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hoist By Their Own Petard ... Feminists Skewered in Their Own Words

Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Note: This is not - technically - an analysis of a candidate's PR efforts and an exploration of the strategy behind those actions. Instead, it's a book review of a book by Dr. Mike Adams (UNC-Wilmington) - Feminists Say the Darndest Things - that looks at feminists' actions and documents their underlying strategy. This is a remarkably good book.

Dr. Mike Adams is a skilled author and a true satirist, and his latest book is written in the spirit of Jonathan Swift. Adams uses words like rapiers (warning to feminists: rapier is to rape as niggardly is to ... well, to the "n" word - i.e., they don't mean anything like the same thing). This bad pun (mine) is something akin to the real skewering Dr. Adams gives to feminist individuals - and the feminist movement - that are making our college campuses today less fun - and far less instructive - than they've been in the past. Would that there be more honest "insider" assessments of the world of the Ivory Tower today - and, perhaps, fewer "true believers" intent on imposing their views on the world, whether the world wants them or not.

You've heard the expression, "I couldn't put this book down." I feel that way - since it arrived from Amazon on Monday, the book has been my constant companion - I've read it at red lights, waiting in line at the drive-through, in my doctor's office (waiting for my annual physical) and over several meals. It is episodic enough to be read in brief snatches, yet compelling enough to stay by your side - like a bag of potato chips you can't put down - until it's finished. If, like me, it left you wanting more, I suggest Dr. Adams' first book, "Ivory Tower of Babel," or his regular column at However, as much as I liked his first book (hint: a lot) and his regular columns (ditto), I like this latest book even more. It is hard-hitting, to the point ... and relentless in it's successful quest to skewer feminists with their own words.

Other reviewers have itemized the features - but let me highlight a few features, such as:

The lesbian feminist academic who wrote a scholarly paper (published, if you can believe that) on how "queer studies" should be expanded to include love-of-pets (yes, "that kind" of love).

The feminist student who was so outraged at Dr. Adams that she had her daddy write him a nasty note.

The feminist professor who stayed with another professor not her husband (he was also married) at a conference, then bragged about it to her class in vivid detail, then said "what?" when asked if this was academically, professionally or morally appropriate.

The married feminist professor who was hitting on a (male) candidate for a teaching position, and who got outraged at another married feminist professor who was doing the same thing, on the same campus visit.

There are so many more, but half the joy of this book is unearthing the next absurdity.

Beyond that, as a two-times adjunct professor at two state universities, as an administrator at two state colleges, and as the father of a full-time academic professor now in his second major university post, I know from first-hand that Mike Adams' observations ring true. Chapter and verse. Been there and done that.

His wit is sharp, his logic unassailable, his facts clearly substantiated and his targets fairly skewered (usually by their own words and deeds), Mike Adams is in top form. If you have a child heading for college - or if you pay taxes that support a state college - this book ought to be required reading. And, if you have a real concern about today's cultural moral relativity - and want some facts to support that concern, Read This Book!

Here is the Amazon listing:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Campaign Strategy Watch: The Old White Guy in a Suit Strategy (Why - unless he loosens up and ditches his suit for denims - McCain REALLY Can't Win)

Ned Barnett (c) 2008

It's long been said that Republicans tend to nominate the candidates who are next in line - who can lay claim to "it's my turn." That was offered to explain Bush 41 and Dole in '96 ... and it may come into play in 2008 as well.

But I'd like to offer an alternative answer. I call it the "old white guy in a suit" strategy. For as long as I can remember, Republicans seem enamored of the "old white guy in a suit ..." Sometimes, this works - hence Reagan - but mostly, it doesn't - especially when the Democratic Party offers someone other than an old white guy in a suit themselves.

Reagan - an old white guy in a suit - beat Jimmy Carter, another old white guy in a suit (and if you remember, Carter looked about 150 years old in 1980 - the Presidency had taken a real toll). So he had a chance, and won. Then in '84, Mondale was the quintessential old-looking white guy in the suit - he made Reagan, who was our oldest living President and a man who'd been gut-shot, too boot - as if he was young, fresh and vibrant.

Based on this theory, Bush 41 might have been an anomaly in '88 - but Dukakis was America's first Kamikaze Kandidate, and did himself in by riding in tanks and talking about empaneling committees if his wife was raped. A chimpanzee in dirty diapers could have beat the Duke, and even an old white guy in a suit like Bush 41 won with ease.

But four years later, Bush 41 was a successful war leader (and those guys almost always win) and - if you looked closely - the mild '91/'92 recession was already over by election day, and incumbent Presidents who preside over rising economies usually win, too. Incumbents Carter and Ford both lost in downturn economies, but Nixon - even in the shadow of Watergate and the "never-ending war" in Vietnam, won handily, in part because the economy still seemed strong (that quickly changed, but he'd already won re-election), and in part because first Humphrey and then McGovern looked like older white guys in suits.

However, with all that put together, Bush '41 was an old white guy in a suit, and he lost to a young, vibrant and with-it (boxers or briefs/saxophone on Arsenio) guy who seemed to prefer shirt-sleeves to suits. So Clinton won in '92, a young hip guy beating an old white man in a suit.

Four years later, against that still-young, still-hip, still-with-it President in shirt-sleeves, the Republicans - having lost with an old white guy who looked good in a suit - decided to run an older white guy who looked worse in a suit. The issue was never in doubt.

Bush '43 seemed comfortable in shirt-sleeves, and like Reagan, he seemed to really like his working ranch. This time the Democrats screwed up, running two old white guys in suits - first Gore (who looked older than Bush 43) and Kerry, (who looked a lot older than Bush). Gore looked uncomfortable in his suits (he looks uncomfortable in his skin) and - while Kerry looked just fine in his tailored Savile Row suits, he looked remarkably uncomfortable in duck-hunting waders or anything other than a suit. So in those two elections, the Democrats adopted the "old white guy in a suit" strategy, and lost.

Which brings us to 2008. The Democrats are - at this writing - fighting it out between the first WOMAN Presidential candidate and the first BLACK Presidential candidate - neither of whom is an old white guy in a suit.

Hillary, in her "uniform" pants-suits, is 20 years older than Obama, and she's white, too - and in part, I think that's why Obama is (the day after his 10th straight win in Wisconsin) is doing so well.

Obama isn't old - he's about the youngest viable Presidential candidate in US history - and he isn't white - but even without those traditional attributes, Obama looks remarkably good in a suit ... but he also looks comfortable in shirt-sleeves. When was the last time you saw Hillary in anything but an ugly pants-suit (she looks like Dole in drag). But even with Hillary's pants-suit fetish, she's not an old white guy in a suit.

But McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate in 2008, is the oldest candidate (who's not an incumbent) who's running for the Presidency, and like Dole, he doesn't look good in a suit - though he wears one on most occasions. So, in the face of something really new, the Republicans seem hell-bent on nominating the quintessential "old white guy in a suit" - and one who, like the Republican's most recent failure in the "old white guy in a suit" sweepstakes, doesn't look good in a suit.

Based on this often-ignored by historically decisive factor alone, McCain doesn't stand a chance ... and Hillary is not far behind in the "no-chance" sweepstakes (though I've learned to never count out a Clinton until he - or she - is dead-and-buried, and even then I wouldn't be entirely sure until after I'd personally driven a wooden stake through their hearts).

The "old white guy in a suit" strategy isn't going to work - again - and unless McCain rolls up his sleeves and starts wearing blue jeans and denim work shirts (as Bush '43 has done), he's doomed before he starts.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Campaign History Watch - Combat Record and Presidential Candidates - A Surprising Non-Issue

By Ned Barnett
© 2008

This is an update of a blog-article I wrote in 2004, talking about the remarkable fact that honorable war service has - for the past 50 years - had no measurable and positive impact on who's elected President. Because it now looks like Republican war veteran John McCain will be going up against one of two non-veterans - Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama - and lots of Republicans are pinning their hopes on McCain because we're at war and because McCain has combat experience.

Unless there's a major terror incident shortly before the election - an al Qaeda "October Surprise," my analysis of the last 12 Presidential elections suggests that McCain's military service will not give him a decisive advantage. If he wants to win, he'll have to find a compelling reason other than his military service to justify his candidacy.

With a few edits, here's the analysis from 2004, updated as appropriate:


I just heard this unanswerable question on Matt Drudge's talk radio program that got me thinking about the role of prior military service on a Presidential candidate's electability – and what I realized is surprising. Since 1960, honorable military service has had no positive impact on Presidential electability.

Surprised? Me too.

Here's the question:

"Who was the genius who sold Kerry on the idea of talking about Vietnam in 2004?"

As a frequent "historical expert" (their term, not mine) on the History Channel, I decided to take a historical perspective view of that question – you might be surprised to find out what the answer was – I certainly was.

Since Ike defeated Stevenson in 1952, there has been no obvious link between honorable military service in time of war and Presidential electability – and since 1968, Vietnam has been a deadly "third rail." Nobody who tried to make the war a big issue has won the Presidency.

Item: Navy veteran John Kennedy beat Navy veteran Dick Nixon in '60 – but both served, and although Kennedy's was far more dramatic, their service was not a decisive issue in the election.

Item: Navy one-mission (as an observer on a milk run) "veteran" Lyndon Johnson beat Air Force General Barry Goldwater – and even this early, the issue was Vietnam, and Goldwater (who wanted to either get out or capital-W "win") lost on his perceived stance on Vietnam.

Item: None of the several prominent Democratic anti-war candidates in 1968 could even get nominated. The election in November was won by nominal (not particularly a hairy-chested combat vet) veteran Richard Nixon, who defeated non-veteran Hubert Humphrey. In that election, the decisive issue wasn't war service, but Humphrey's defense of the Johnson failed Vietnam war policy.

Item: Nominal Navy veteran Nixon easily beat legitimate combat-pilot war hero George McGovern, over McGovern's strong anti-Vietnam war stance – once again, Vietnam proved to be a deadly "third rail" for those who made an issue of it.

Item: Decorated Navy combat veteran Gerald Ford lost to former post-war Naval officer Jimmy Carter, who was an Annapolis Midshipman during the war. Combat service clearly wasn't significant as a benefit for Ford.

Item: Nominal veteran Ronald Reagan (he was an actor-in-uniform, and even he didn't consider that "real" military service) easily defeated Naval Academy graduate Jimmy Carter.

Item: Nominal veteran Ronald Reagan defeated post-war Army corporal Walter Mondale.

Item: Decorated Navy Combat Pilot George H.W. Bush defeated veteran Mike Dukakis, who served in the Army and was stationed in Korea after that war – both served honorably, and the varied nature of their service was not an important political issue.

Item: Admitted Vietnam-era draft dodger Bill Clinton handily beat decorated combat pilot George H.W. Bush – avoiding Vietnam was not a dominant negative issue for Clinton, though Bush tried to make it so.

Item: Bob Dole has a crippling war wound, earned in heroic service against the Nazis, and he couldn't get to first base against admitted Vietnam draft dodger Bill Clinton. Again, dodging Vietnam was not seen as a liability, though Dole tried to make it so.

Item: The Other Kerrey (Senator Bob Kerrey) won a Medal of Honor in Vietnam – where he lost a leg – yet he was a non-starter in the Presidential sweepstakes in 2000 - losing out, ultimately, to another Vietnam vet who had a far more questionable service record, and who later made his mark by lying before Congress about American atrocities in that war.

Item: George W. Bush's relatively anemic National Guard record as a fighter pilot, vs. the almost equally anemic service record of nominal Vietnam non-combat veteran Al Gore (he was a reporter for Stars & Stripes, and was released early to go to Divinity School that he quickly flunked out of) was a non-starting issue in 2000. Gore tried to make Bush's Guard service an issue, but it didn't prove decisive.

Item: A more recent election was not Presidential, but it’s still related. Triple amputee Max Cleland, after a long and honorable career in the Senate, was voted out of office in 2002. Georgia’s voters realized that his many years of voting in the Senate (badly, apparently, from conservative Georgian's perspectives) trumped his unquestioned heroism in Vietnam - and although his wounds were accidentally self-inflicted, his other service was clearly heroic. That voting record also trumped his unquestioned sacrifice (his horrendous wound). As Dole had learned before him, honorable wounds – even visible wounds – do not make a winning election issue.

Here's the bottom line. History has shown that Vietnam is a third rail in Presidential politics, and has been since 1964. Time and time and time again, Vietnam service - or opposition to Vietnam - has proved to be an attraction position that didn't work. This was seductive as an issue, especially to candidates who think they can exploit it, but ultimately Vietnam has always proved to be a fatal attraction for those who thought they could exploit it. Candidates who tried to make Vietnam, including opposition to – or service in – Vietnam, an issue ALL failed.

Beyond that, history has shown that heroic service – even heroic wounds – are not significant assets in Presidential elections.


Which brings us to this 2004 election. Given all those facts above, let's consider that provocative question again:

"Who was the genius who sold Kerry on the idea of talking about Vietnam in 2004?"

Who's "bright idea" was it to bet the farm, in 2004, on making a 35-year old war one of (if not the) major issues in this campaign?

Especially when Kerry's combat record has been controversial at least since 1971, when he lied to Congress about non-existent atrocities supposedly committed by American combat troopers.

As a historian, and as a long-time political campaign speechwriter, media handler and strategist, I have got to ask, "what were they thinking?"


2008 Postscript:

John McCain is the only military veteran in the 2008 Presidential election. Many think that - during a war against terrorism - this will help him win. History suggests that they are wrong. For McCain to defeat his Democratic opponent, he will have to find a rationale for his Presidency that doesn't include his honorable service or his very real sacrifices as a POW. Historically, these just don't matter.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Campaign Strategy Watch - "Disappointed?" The Dukakis Strategy ...

Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Full Disclosure: I start from the assumption that John McCain is truly innocent of the unsourced and unsubstantiated charges levied against him by the New York Times.

Here's the situation: if McCain's guilty (which I don't believe for a second) his "Dukakis" denial strategy seems perfectly appropriate.

But if he's truly innocent, his full-frontal Dukakis-like "I'm disappointed in the Times" response was damningly tepid.

As an American, as a husband and as a man, McCain should have been outraged - after all, this story could not only disrupt his campaign, it has the potential to destroy his marriage as well. But instead honest outrage, he adopted the "Dukakis Strategy," making it clear that he is politely "disappointed."

Strategically, McCain clearly didn't want to attack the essentially liberal "pundit-ocracy," and in that goal, he succeeded admirably. While denying the Times' story, he said nothing that would offend the self-appointed talking head experts at CNN, MSNBC or the Washington Post. But in taking this "safe" Dukakis Strategy approach, McCain has cut himself off from main street Americans who expect passion and commitment from their leaders.

Though it's too late now, there was a better way - see below. But first, the "Dukakis Strategy" explained:

The "Dukakis Strategy" reflects Michael Dukakis' campaign-killing reply to Bernie Shaw's question in the second 1988 Presidential Debate: "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"

This softball question was intended - CNN admits on their website - "to give Dukakis an opportunity to show - and the voters an opportunity to see - the emotional side of a candidate dubbed by many as the 'Ice Man.'"

However, the Duke's famously bland and passionless response: "No, I don't, Bernard. And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We've done so in my own state," helped to torpedo the Duke's campaign.

Americans want flesh-and-blood Presidents, not automatons, and instead of showing his inner feelings, Dukakis proved his passionless personality.

Which brings us back to McCain's bloodless "I'm disappointed" response. No "normal" man, faced with bogus charges that threaten his career - and his marriage - would respond so tepidly. For a man who tries to project the image of a sleeves-rolled-up fighter ready to "take it to al Qaeda from Day-One," this bland response will hurt. Perhaps not fatally, but his adoption of the Dukakis Strategy certainly damages his image.

What should he have done?

McCain should have demanded satisfaction in a court of law, using his own life-story as precedent. McCain is a Naval Academy graduate, and he knows that - when a Naval Officer is accused of something that damages his reputation - he has the right to demand a court martial to clear his good name.

McCain knows, of course, that no court would find against the New York Times - McCain's the ultimate "public figure" and it's hard to "legally" libel a public figure - but in a court of law, McCain could have gotten the truth out, forcing the Times to reveal their sources or admit that they were wrong.

Instead of "disappointed," McCain should have said something like this:

"This libelous story is an outrage - completely false from beginning to end, and profoundly hurtful to my wife and my reputation. I not only believe this, I intend to prove it. My attorneys will be filing a lawsuit later today, charging the Times with malicious libel. This is the only way that I can officially and publicly clear my good name.

"I fully realize that as a "public figure," I can't win a financial settlement - but that's not my intention anyway. Therefore, to prove my innocence and to regain my reputation for honesty and integrity, I will be suing the Times ... for one dollar. In the US Navy, when an officer's reputation is tarnished by a false charge, he has the right to demand a court martial to clear his name - and I am doing exactly that.

"The Times is wrong, and in a court of law, I will prove exactly that.

This bold strategy would have put the Times on the defensive - they have no valid sources, and can't prove their bogus story. Yet to defend themselves, they'd have to try to prove the story is correct ... or admit that they were wrong.

Beyond that, this strategy would have shows McCain to be a bold leader who will defend what is right - and a man who will go to any lengths to protect his family, as well as his country.

I know this is Monday Morning Quarterbacking at its best - it is far too late for McCain to change his response - but maybe he'll consider this and do better the next time. Because, having provided such a lame response, he's only emboldened others who will come up with even more rancorous charges.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Campaign Strategy Watch - Ms. Obama's Real Purpose in Her "Pride" Comment

Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Michelle Obama made what the media quickly began characterizing as a "minor gaffe" - but instead of a gaffe (minor or major), her "first time I've been proud of my country" was a shrewd and calculating PR exercise in Realpolitik - the fine art of winning by taking whatever pragmatic actions need to be taken to win. She knew exactly what she was doing, and what she did was nothing short of brilliant.

Michelle Obama is indeed a brilliant woman. Princeton undergrad, with honors, and Harvard Law. Prestigious Chicago Law firm. Beyond that, whe's got quite a career: Associate Dean at the University of Chicago; Boards of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and Tree House Foods; and Vice President, Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals.

Independent-minded, she goes her own way. When Barack Obama was elected to the Senate, she chose to stay in Chicago ("for the children" - but also to keep her lucrative job) - instead of Michelle uprooting, Barack commutes. In short, she's comfortable with a political marriage - and having been through the mire more than once (Chicago politics is nothing if not rough-and-tumble), so she knows how to campaign.

So ... when Michelle said - twice - that for the first time in her life, she was proud of America (for embracing her husband's candidacy with a minimum of racism), she knew EXACTLY what she was doing. She was sending a very deliberate message to the Left that she and Barack are "one of them," and in doing so, she effectively and persuasively reached that half of the Democratic Left who tell pollsters that they're not proud of America.

Michelle knew there would be flak - and she gambled that the short-term benefits of reminding liberal Democratic primary voters that Barack Obama is farther left than Hillary would outweigh the long-term risk in a general election.

Realpolitik time - to get to the general election, you've got to first win the primaries.

If Barack Obama can nail down the nomination by sweeping the next Super Tuesday (March 4th), he will have eight full months to "fix" the impression this "gaffe" - which was a calculated PR move and no gaffe at all - with the general public.

But Barack is facing a formidable opponent - Hillary - who all the pundits believe will do anything to win the nomination. In the face of that implacable opportunism, bold actions are necessary.

Yet because Barack Obama has concluded - probably correctly - that he needs to retain the public high road to be seen as a real "change" from traditional Washington. So he turned to his wife. Thanks to rampant political correctness among the mainstream news media, Michelle - because she's both black and a woman - is more than a bit "invulnerable" from really strong media criticism. This means she is able to take stands he dare not take.

So she sent a strong, controversial PR-driven message to the far Left electorate - "like you, we're not proud of America - but Barack's candidacy, and Presidency, will change that for you, as it's changed that for me."

Michelle Obama knew exactly what she was doing - and strategically, her PR stunt was nothing short of brilliant.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Campaign Strategy Watch: Romney Bows Out ... Forever

By Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Mitt Romney saw his dreams crumble during the early primaries. He had a reasonable strategy - use his vast wealth and abundant free time to make sure he won Iowa and New Hampshire (which, because it's next to Massachusetts, should have been a "gimme" for the former Mass Governor). With two impressive early wins, he'd be able to survive a poor showing in South Carolina and sweep into Super Tuesday as the presumptive candidate. Based on his charm, aplomb, wealth and "bio," this should have worked. It was a straightforward, conventional, hard-to-stop strategy.

Except for one thing - like the pet food ad that didn't work, "the dogs didn't like the food."

Iowans, having seen and heard and met him face-to-face for more than a year, didn't sufficiently like him - his loss to the resource-challenged Huckabee proved this. Then New Hampshire threw him under the bus to go with McCain (the assassination in Pakistan obviously helped the only former warrior in the election).

So, after hanging on for a few more disappointing failures in primaries he'd hoped his "Big Mo" would carry him through, he decided to stop pouring good money after bad and dropped out.

But he's a young-looking 62, which meant he'd have another chance to become the Republican's favorite "next-time" conservative. Except for one thing. He endorsed McCain, the bane of the hard-core right wing of the Republican Party.

In the future, he might be forgiven for his Massachusetts flip on social issues such as abortion; but endorsing the Left-loving non-conservative McCain (left-loving? Look at the bills he's co-sponsored: McCain-Feingold, McCain-Kennedy and McCain-Lieberman - then look at the way that grass roots conservatives (as opposed to those professional media and political conservatives angling for influence or a cabinet post in the McCain administration) have failed to warm up to McCain.

Bottom line: When Romney threw in with McCain, he severed his ties to real grass-roots conservatives and signaled his decision: "I will not run in 2012."

Remember, you heard it here first ... as a Presidential candidate, Romney's through, and he knows it.