The McCain Campaign could have used a graphic like the one above as a potent image to diminish the standing of Barack Obama. Unfortunately, McCain did no such thing. In fact, they let the Obama Campaign use Gov. Palin as a political pinata. That can't be allowed to happen again.
In the 2008 election, John McCain refused to "go negative" on his Senate colleague, Barack H. Obama. That was one decision, among many, that ensured McCain could not win the election. In fact, what happened was that the Obama Campaign relentlessly attacked . . . Sarah H. Palin, one of the most remarkable women ever to hold elective office in America.
The McCain staffers never figured out how to respond effectively to the smear campaign aginst Gov. Palin. They should have counter-attacked with ferocity. They didn't, and the fault for that lies mainly with John McCain.
Where did campaign manager David Axelrod and candidate Barack H. Obama learn how to conduct an all-out war against Sarah Palin? They probably learned the approach from what might seem an unlikely source, Republican strategies Lee Atwater. He was an expert in the use of images and symbols, something at which the Obama effort also excelled.
Consider how Atwater used the American flag as a powerful symbol in George H. W. Bush's 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis. The following paragraphs are from John Brady's super biographty entitled Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater, a book I urge everyone to read.
Atwater associated Dukakis with Harvard University and highligted the Massachusetts governor's membership in the ACLU. He emphasized Dukakis' veto in 1977 of a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature requiring teachers to lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance.
In the campaign, the American flag became a powerful symbol distinguishing Bush from Dukakis. The implication was that the former was for it -- while the latter's position was less certain.
As Brady says, "Bush stuck to Atwater's script, making the Pledge of Allegiance the centerpiece of his campaign. He recited the Pledge constantly, attended the 'First Annual Flag Festival' in Findlay, Ohio, [and] toured a flag factory in New Jersey. "
By October of 1988, Dukakis' once big lead in the public opinion polls had evaporated. Bush surged ahead and won big in November (54% to 46%).
What about Dukakis' own efforts at symbolism? The governor had to demonstrate that he wasn't merely a liberal wimp. "He visited a General Dynamics facility in Michigan and went for a spin in an M-1 tank. The helmet was too large. The grin on his face was sickly. 'Dukakis looked like he wanted to call for his mother,' said Sam Donaldson as the cameras whirred."
In fact, Atwater got a copy of the video of Dukakis riding around aimlessly in the tank. The Republican strategist used it as a commercial to demonstrate exactly how ridiculous the Massachusetts governor was. As part of his campaign of ridicule, Atlwater always mispronounced the governor's name, calling him Du-kay-kis.
As the 2008 campaign unfolded, I wished many times that I -- yes, me -- had been able to play the role of Lee Atwater for Gov. Palin. The McCain Campaign let a national role model, Sarah Palin, be tarred and feathered by Obama and his minions in the media and blogosphere. Lee Atwater never would have allowed it to happen -- and neither would I.