Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Media Op - Why Fox Business, Fred Imus, Newsweek, Gannett and Others Come to Me for Answers

By Ned Barnett (c) 2008

I have been giving a number of interviews to the media on campaign strategy and tactics - from Neil Cavuto and Fred Imus to Gannett and Newsweek - for media looking for answers, here are a few things you might want to know:

· I have been in politics professionally since the early 70s when I was speechwriter for two governors (one Democrat, one Republican) in South Carolina, writing about economic development issues, my area (at the time) of specialization

· I worked with the late Lee Atwater on the Ford campaign in ’76 (Ford/SC) – I handled strategy and media for Lee, who was at that time the youngest state party chairman of either party – he was 23, and even then he was brilliant

· In spite of my work with Ford, I was recruited to serve on the Press Secretary’s staff in Washington (Carter) – I’d gone to school with several of his people – but was starting a family and didn’t want to uproot that family for what might be a short-term position

· From ’74-’80, I worked on behalf of specific candidates – a Democratic Lt. Governor, during his bid for the Governor’s chair, a Republican Congressman, etc. – working media, strategy and speechwriting (usually focusing on economic development and healthcare – and more generally on business issues rather than social issues)

· In the mid-80s, I took a special post-graduate independent study program in market research; this refined both my research abilities and – more important – my ability to both analyze what research results really mean and to pinpoint Americans’ attitudes (as indicated by – but not always boldly spelled out by – public opinion research)

· After taking time off for a career detour that included (but was not primarily about) lobbying on behalf of hospitals and healthcare organizations, I worked with Perot until he melted down, then became head of strategy and media for Clinton/Gore-Nevada ’92 (Democrats took Nevada for the first time since Truman in ’48)

· After a falling out with the Clinton administration (even before they took office), I focused on working on behalf of more conservative/pro-business associations and advocacy groups (Citizens for a Sound Economy, Citizens for Health, etc.), as well as candidates for state and national office (i.e., Senator)

· Beginning in 2004, I have been – for radio talk shows, print reporters, and now Fox – analyzing candidates statements and actions (their PR) then reverse-engineering those actions to identify the underlying strategies … then critiquing those strategies as being either sound or flawed … and when I do this for the media, I strive to remain solidly non-partisan – I’m not flacking for any one candidate, party or cause, but am able to look at each campaigns’ actions. In 2004, I did 56 interviews (including five appearances on the Fred Imus show in Tucson), and have done more than a dozen so far this season. Write-ups of some of these “reverse-engineered” strategy critiques can be found at: http://barnettonpolitics.blogtownhall.com/

Tactics Without Strategy - Obama Throws Gasoline on His Own Funeral Pyre

By Ned Barnett (c) 2008

As I write this, Barack Obama has just responded to his pastor, Reverend Wright, over Wright's incendiary comments made Monday at the National Press Club. Previously, I've have suggested that Senator Obama (and his wife, Michelle) are so in-control that everything they say reflects an underlying strategy. For example:

  • When Michelle said that she'd never before been proud of America, and when she told a major magazine reporter that America was a mean country, she was fulfilling a carefully-wrought strategy - one that worked! (see this blog's archive - February 2008)
  • When Senator Obama - speaking of his two daughters and their potential future out-of-wedlock pregnancies - advocated on-demand "convenience" abortions, even for minors; and when in the same statement he identified babies as a "punishment," he was fulfilling another carefully-wrought strategy, another one that worked! (See this blog for "No Foolin ...")

However, in this case, I think the still-leading Democratic candidate is reacting without a strategy, and this "tactics-without-strategy" approach is a disaster waiting to happen.

If nothing else, his response suggests that Senator Obama is far better in a controlled situation than in a spontaneous crisis - it is as if he is validating Senator Clinton's often-mocked "3 a.m. phone call" strategy by demonstrating that Senator Obama is not quick on his feet.

A quick review is in order.

On Saturday night, Reverend Wright gave a masterfully egotistical performance before the Detroit NAACP - in some ways, Wright's NAACP presentation was even more incendiary than his Monday National Press Club performance. Yet Senator Obama's reaction to this talk - which seemed to validate the views of racial segregationists (among many other time-bombs) was notable - was missing in action.

On Monday morning, Reverend Wright launched his widely-viewed press conference; seven hours later, Senator Obama gave a "tarmac talk" about Wright's talk that was brief, tepid and lacking in emotion. He merely said that he didn't agree with Wright, and that Wright's views didn't match Obama's own views.

However, when overnight poll numbers showed that Wright's "magical mystery tour" - as Bill O'Reilly derisively called it - Senator Obama staged an angry-response press conference that intended to distance himself from Reverend Wright. This press conference came more than 24 hours after Wright's press conference, and more than 18 hours after Obama's initial, tepid and dismissive response - one that didn't "play" with the public.

This doesn't speak well for the Senator's ability to respond and react quickly to a breaking crisis, something that Presidents are expected to do.

It goes further - not only did Senator Obama wait more than a day longer than needed before he responded, he left the door wide open to his opponents, those who want to keep the pot boiling. Senator Obama said, in essence, "this isn't the man I knew 20 years ago." However, Wright's own record shows that he'd been preaching "black liberation Christianity" for more than 30 years. By the time Obama first met Wright, the pastor's views had been established and his reputation as a bold conspiracy-theory critic of the American status quo had already grown well beyond Trinity Church.

You can be sure that reporters, bloggers and "opposition research" teams for his two opponents are already combing the archives, looking for proof that Reverend Wright today is EXACTLY the same man Senator Obama met 20 years ago. Once they find this proof, the whole question of Senator Obama's judgment will come back into play - a judgment that's been challenged by a number of decisions and associations with others.

  • Twenty years ago, he couldn't "read" the views of a well-know black liberation theologian - and it took 20 years and a series of public humiliations before Obama did see through to the core of Wright's own core.
  • Thirteen years ago, he couldn't understand that Bill Ayers was an unrepentant home-grown terrorist who was proud of his bombings when he held his first political fund-raiser in Ayers' home.
  • Six years ago, in the aftermath of Ayers' ill-timed September 11, 2001 interview in which he said he said: "I just wished we could have done more" Senator Obama didn't see a problem in continuing to give "tag-team" public lectures and serving on foundation boards with Ayers.
  • Three years ago, Obama bought a house at well under market value through the good offices of indicted political fund-raiser and real estate developer Tony Resnick, long after Resnick's shady background and tactics had become widely known in Chicago - including among Chicago's media.
  • Earlier this year, Senator Obama still didn't understand the implications of his friendship with Ayers when he let stand a spokesman's claim that Ayers and Obama remained friendly.
The bottom line - Senator Obama spoke today without a strategy - he waited too long to say too little, but in his spontaneity, he left the door open for his critics to continue criticizing Obama's judgment about his friends and associates. When this particular 3 a.m. crisis call came in, Senator Obama hit the snooze button and rolled over for another 40 winks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Don't Fall for the Liberals' Second Amendment "Definition Trap" - A Respectful Open Letter to National Review's Rich Lowry

By Ned Barnett (c) 2008


This column generally focuses on candidates' strategies as determined by their public statements - and in this case, the column does look at statements by both Senators Obama and Clinton - and assessed the strategies behind their Pennsylvania gun-ownership statements, issued in the wake of Senator Obama's "unfortunate" statement to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco a week ago. But this column takes a different format than most, as it not only identifies (and critiques) the candidates' strategies, but also addresses a significant oversight made by the National Review's Rich Lowry (a common oversight among Conservative commentators) in addressing the candidates' strategies.

Today (Tuesday, April 15th) I read a Townhall column by the National Review's Rich Lowry about Senator Obama's latest dust-up with voters in Pennsylvania – and while Mr. Lowry was generally on-target in his overall analysis, he fell into a long-standing and diabolically-clever Liberal Democrat-sponsored Second Amendment “definition trap" - one that far too many conservatives fall prey to. Mr. Lowry allowed Senators Obama and Clinton - and, more generally, the anti-gun Democrats and Liberals to define the rules of the debate on the Second Amendment. This trap is simple: equate gun ownership to the "right" to hunt or participate in shooting sports (as in Senator Clinton bragging about going duck hunting as a child… a convenient story about as likely to be true as her Bosnian Sniper fairy tale). The gun-banning Liberals never talk about the real reasons that the Founding Fathers used in their insistence that the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution contain the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment exists to affirm the inalienable right of all free men (and women) to self-protection from the tyranny of government, as well as self-defense from criminals.

So, when we let Liberals and Democrats get away with characterizing the Second Amendment as a right for hunters and sportsmen, we’re all falling into their trap. As Mr. Lowry did. This is the Liberals' cagy strategem: Americans are far more likely to fight for the right to self-defense than the right to hunt; conversely, they are far more likely to sit idly by while their right to keep and bear arms is redefined - then eroded. These Liberals and Democrats know that many Americans who carry guns for personal protection don't hunt - and many Americans who hunt don't carry guns for personal protection. Classic divide and conquer - and in any debate, that begins by getting the opposition to agree to YOUR definition - as Mr. Lowry agreed with his anti-gun opponent's "take" on the real meaning of the Second Amendment.

Which is why I wrote the following respectful open letter to Rich Lowry - and by extension, to all Conservatives who value their inalienable Second Amendment right to self defense - as enshrined in the "right to keep and bear arms."


A Respectful Open Letter To Rich Lowry of the National Review


I read your latest Townhall column (Tuesday, April 15) about Senator Obama’s elitism – and from a strategic perspective, I think it’s dead-on.

However, in reading your column, I’m afraid that you’re falling into the trap that Liberals love to set for those of us who value the Second Amendment – the “hunting trap.” Liberals and Democrats love to characterize gun owners as “hunters” and “sportsmen” … instead of as people who have taken on the solemn responsibility to own (and in many cases, to carry) legal firearms in order to protect and defend themselves and others from criminal intrusions in their lives. This consistent Democrat-and-Liberal "hunting" characterization is a trap because – ultimately – nobody in America today depends on hunting for survival (suggesting that the Second Amendment is somehow outmoded), and nobody today is so dependent on access to shooting “sports” that their rights to those sports couldn’t be abridged for a “higher purpose” ... a purpose such as disarming law-abiding Americans.

What I’m about to say doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but the Second Amendment was not instituted as a means of guaranteeing Americans’ right to hunt (on the American Frontier in the 1780s, the right to feed one's family was a “given”) – instead, the Second Amendment was designed to give private citizens the right to carry arms - muskets and pistols and rifles essentially indistinguishable from military firearms then in use, in order to defend themselves against the depredations of tyrannical government. The memory of Lexington and King George was fresh in the minds of the framers of our constitution. A secondary – but not insignificant – Second Amendment consideration was and is personal defense against crime (as exemplified in the 1780s by Indian marauders on the frontier, as well as by more conventional breaking-and-entering type criminals who existed in unwelcome numbers in America's early metropolises).

This right to keep and bear arms is one that Americans take seriously – but it is one that Liberals and Democrats would just as soon we forget about. That is why these Liberals and Democrats always equate gun ownership with hunting, instead of self-defense.

Even if Conservatives don't understand the Liberals' strategy, the Democrats understand the uphill battle they fight. As of February of this year, 48 states had some kind of concealed carry permit laws, and tens of millions of law-abiding Americans have exercised that right to obain CCW permits and to legally carry concealed firearms for legitimate self-defense. There's an old saying that applies to self defense and the Second Amendment today as well as it did 150 years ago: "God made man. Sam Colt made man equal." When confronted with criminal violence, many Americans know they have two choices - they can be victims, or they can defend themselves. That is at the heart of the Second Amendment, and that is at the heart of the grass-roots movement to extend "shall issue" CCW laws to all Americans.

And - because they want Americans dependent, rather than independent - that is why Liberals and Democrats want to redefine the Second Amendment's right to gun ownership as something having to do with "hunting" or "sport."

Some states, of course, are more permissive than others (in my opinion, however, only 39 states have real “shall issue” on demand CCW permit laws, while nine states have less permissive “may issue” laws in which the citizen must first demonstrate a “need” to carry before being issued a license - that "need" often being tied to political contributions to the local Sheriff). However, in virtually all "shall issue" cases, these laws were driven by the grass roots. At the local level, state legislators - even doctrinaire Liberal Democrat legislators - recognize that their constituents care enough about this Constitutionally-sanctioned and inalienable right to take actions in their own self-defense. In fact, only two states – Senator Obama’s Illinois and neighboring Wisconsin (and, of course, the District of Columbia), have no CCW laws. Since these laws were first enacted - some 20 years ago, some as recently as 2007 - millions of Americans have gone through the permit process. Florida, for instance, has issued more than 1.2 million CCW permits since passing the law 20 years ago, and more than 400,000 Floridians currently have valid CCW permits.

This right to keep and bear arms in your own self defense is a right that Liberals and Democrats want to take away – which is why these same Liberals and Democrats want to link that right to gun ownership with hunting. Senator Hillary Clinton, for instance, has recently followed Senator Kerry’s bumbled lead - claiming, as he did in 2004, to be a duck hunter - in order to affirm her support for the Second Amendment. She's an attorney who studied Constitutional Law (her husband briefly taught the subject before entering politics) - she knows full well that the Second Amendment says nothing about hunting - but it says everything about an armed citizen’s role in maintaining the security of a free state, and by extension, personal security and civil peace.

So please, Rich, when you're talking about the Second Amendment, don’t fall into the Liberals' and Democrats' trap of equating hunting and "sport shooting" with our inalienable right of self-protection that is at the heart of America's gun owners' right to “keep and bear arms.”

Ned Barnett

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No Foolin’ – Finally, an Honest Politician … Obama Comes Clean on Abortion

Ned Barnett © 2008

I think President Bill Clinton said it first – “America needs to keep abortion safe, legal and rare.” Hillary has parroted this position many times – when debating Rick Lazio in her first run for the Senate, and many times since then. Other Democrats who support “choice” echo this Clintonian sophistry, a “safe” way for pro-abortion Democrats to appear reasonable to the significant majority of Americans who oppose abortion except – in some cases – when there is a legitimate threat to the life of the mother.

However, Barack Obama has – if nothing else – made a name for himself for stepping away from the “conventional wisdom” and “status quo” of American Presidential politics. He’s taken controversial stances – for example, eschewing an American flag lapel pin and refusing to acknowledge the Star Spangled Banner would herald a death-knell for other politicians, but seem to leave Barack Obama unmoved and undamaged. Even in the case of his histrionic and hate-filled pastor, Senator Obama seems to have weathered the storm. Perhaps that is why he felt free to make a bold statement about abortion – one far outside the mainstream of American political thought – and in doing so, reveal a much more subtle strategy.

Here’s what Senator Obama said last Saturday in response to a question about elementary school sex education – another position he supports at risk of stepping outside the mainstream:

“Look, I got two daughters,” he said, “nine years old and six years old. I am going to teach them first about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby.”

He also said:

“I don't want them punished with an STD at age 16, so it doesn't make sense to not give them information."

This is a clear and bold statement – Barack Obama supports abortion on demand, even for minors, for no more compelling reason than convenience. This is a far cry from the standard-issue formulation of “safe, legal and rare.” He wants no restrictions on abortion for women of any age, and – while it could be argued that other Democratic candidates share this view – he’s the only serious candidate for President to ever cross the line from reluctantly making abortions accessible to making them as common as soft drinks or breath mints – and with no more moral concern than flushing a toilet.

Why would a serious candidate for President make such a bald-faced and controversial statement – especially a candidate who has, so far, remained focused and on-message throughout a long and hard-fought campaign. Senator Obama is many things, but he’s not a loose cannon. While Senator McCain is always on the record and seems to revel in unscripted discussions with reporters who’ve hitched a ride on his straight-talk express, Candidate Obama seems as carefully scripted as he is carefully groomed. He’s always ready for the cameras, and he always knows what he wants to say.

So this comment must be intentional – and as such, it must be part of a larger strategy.

Here it is: Senator Obama has succeeded in stripping away more than a few feminists from their reflexive knee-jerk support of America’s first serious female presidential candidate – Hillary Clinton. However, as the campaign has tightened on the road to Pennsylvania, Senator Clinton’s troops have been arm-twisting feminists – especially women who are also “super-delegates.” Feminist leader/supporters such as Emily’s List have been publicly calling to task women who have abandoned Hillary Clinton for Barack Obama. As the campaign has tightened up, and based on this bold defense of abortion-on-demand, Senator Obama has clearly made the strategic decision to try to peel off some of Senator Clinton’s feminist support by becoming the first “national” candidate to advocate abortion-on-demand for women, even under-aged women, who want an abortion for no purpose more noble than “convenience.”

For feminists – who’ve long been frustrated by supporters who publicly downplay their support (what they say in private is far more supportive, of course, but their reluctance to go public tends to marginalize the more permissive feminists) – are being courted by Senator Obama and his key super-delegate recruiters. By adopting a strategy of publicly defending the most radically-permissive position on abortions, Senator Obama has given his recruiters potent ammunition: “if the Senator is willing to take this bold public position during a contested campaign, think of the bills he’ll sign and the Supreme Court justices he’ll nominate.”

This was not a tactical error – though it won’t happen, Senator Obama could decisively lose all the primaries between now and the convention and still go to that convention with a majority of elected delegates … and once he has the nomination, and with the feminists firmly in his corner, he’ll have three months to pendulum back toward the mainstream American view on abortion.

Senator Obama’s abortion/feminist strategy parallels other key niche-market strategies Candidate Obama has already used with effect – for instance, the Senator has carefully made this public comment for essentially the same reason that Michelle Obama took such a harsh public view of America in January. Ms. Obama’s comments – “the first time I’ve been proud of America” and “America is a mean country” cemented the link between the Ivy League-educated Obamas with poor working-class blacks and other minorities … and anyone else who feels disenfranchised. She made these comments at a time when Senator Obama needed to peel away some of Senator Clinton’s core strength among blue-collar Democrats, and to pick up some of those who’d supported populist-message millionaire Senator John Edwards. This strategy is explored in more detail here: http://barnettonpolitics.blogspot.com/2008/02/campaign-strategy-watch-ms-obamas-real.html

Bottom line: The Obamas know that, with the nomination in hand, they’ll have months to move back to the center and away from Ms. Obama’s hard-nosed statements on “mean America” and Senator Obama’s statements advocating convenience abortions – on-demand – for even under-aged women. So far, this is a winning strategy – and one that Senator Clinton cannot fight, since in private she’s long held the same position on abortion that Senator Obama has now articulated in public.

Remember, you heard it here first!

Free Speech the "First Freedom" of the PR PRactitioner (in reluctant defense of SPAM)

By Ned Barnett (c) 2008

This is a bit of a diversion from the run-of-the-mill post here, but it does tie PR and Politics together.

Since you asked, here, in a nutshell, are my views on Free Speech (commercial, personal and political) – please recall that these are linked to the US Constitution’s First Amendment, and may not apply directly to Canada and other democracies who handle Free Speech in different (but essentially similarly effective) manners.

The First Amendment was written with an eye toward free political speech – it was written in reaction to the excesses of Good King George, who’d punished colonists for speaking out against their king (I think that’s called “Lese Majesty”). The former colonists wanted the freedom to express controversial and even confrontational political ideas without prior suppression. Which is why in one of its first actions, the Supreme Court struck down the Alien and Sedition act in about 1790 – and well they should have. This is also why the Supremes were right to side with the ACLU and the American Nazi Party in the mid-Sixties when the Nazis wanted to march in predominantly-Jewish Skokie (I lived near Skokie at that time in another predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago – my father’s office was there – and I saw the chaos it created … nonetheless, that march was classic controversial political speech). This is also why the Supremes were WRONG (IMO) in upholding the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act, which limits privately-financed political speech (ads) close to election times – while permitting 527 groups, wealthy candidates and the media (on their editorial pages) to engage in financed political speech (ads and ad-like op-eds) close to an election.

The First Amendment, because of the way it was written, has been applied to commercial free speech (which I don’t think the Founding Fathers meant, but which works) and offensive/pornographic free speech (which I am CERTAIN the Founding Fathers did not mean and would not have agreed with – they wrote and spoke on limits to free speech, and pornography is certainly “speech” they would have objected to). But to the area of commercial free speech, in 220 or so years, the Supremes have extended the First Amendment to commercial speech, with a few caveats (such as “truth in advertising”). And as PR people, we depend on that freedom.

Let me repeat that: As PR people, we depend on that freedom.

We exist to practice commercial speech on behalf of our clients (unless, of course, our clients are political candidates or issues-advocacy group, in which case our efforts are protected by the “original intent” of the Founding Fathers). Which means that bans or harsh limitations on annoying spam-faxes or annoying spam-emails are in fact bans or harsh limitations on our ability to function in a free society on behalf of our clients. For there is no practical way that I can think of to ban “enlarge your penis” types of spam without also banning legitimate email pitches to reporters and editors. Both are unsolicited. Both are essentially commercial. And, for editors, both are inbox-cloggers (I spoke to the editor of one of the Las Vegas business weekly newspapers in February – he told me he gets 300 or so unsolicited email pitches each day – he said that to emphasize the importance of picking up the phone and calling him, especially when the story was breaking near his deadline).

Communications technology – if we’re to do our jobs for our clients – must remain free and essentially unregulated, unless the regulations are very tightly drawn (such as bans on emails soliciting sexual encounters – though this might also ban legitimate dating services, such as eHarmony – as I said, these regs must be very carefully drawn.

I am always amazed at those PR people who are eager to ban spam emails – yes, they’re annoying, but they’re also easy enough to get rid of (I get about 500 spam emails per day, and spend about 5-10 minutes purging them daily – and that’s because I try to make sure that no “legit” emails get into my junk box). By banning (or advocating the banning of) any channel of communications, we are advocating outside prior restraint on our own efforts to reach out to the media. That is counter-productive (in Darwinian terms, it’s a counter-survival trait).

Bottom line: we in Public Relations have a duty to our clients and to ourselves to fight to maintain a broad interpretation of that First Amendment freedom to speak (via emails, faxes, Bizwire, phone calls, mass mailings, etc.) – without that, we’re out of business.