A Strong Speech That's Trumped by a 3AM Phone Call
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
The people running John McCain's campaign know what they are doing. By linking their advertising strategy to the news narrative, they continue to successfully counter-punch against an anemic Democratic convention message. The McCain team opened the week with an ad featuring a former Hillary backer now pledging her support for McCain and telling others to join her. The ad immediately reinforced the distracting focus on the Clintons at the Dem convention while also seeking to break the "spiral of silence" among Hillary supporters.
Yesterday they followed with a somewhat clumsily edited but symbolically powerful commercial that resurrected the brilliant 3AM phone call metaphor (see above). The TV spot immediately established in media discourse the point of criteria for evaluating Hillary's speech: she might grin and back Obama, but would she directly repudiate her past allegations that Obama was not ready to be commander-in-chief?
And as it turns out, the McCain advertisement in combination with a coordinated next day message from conservative pundits has sucked the air out of what was otherwise an admirable effort on the part of Hillary Clinton.
Howard Kurtz at the WPost perhaps summarizes it best:
And when the cheers faded, the band stopped playing and the crowd started to file out, you had to ask: What had Hillary Rodham Clinton said about Barack Obama that was memorable?
And the answer: She wanted people to vote for Obama because he was a Democrat who would pretty much push the same programs that she would have pushed, and because she didn't want John McCain in the White House, no way, no how. She said nothing about Obama's personal qualities and nothing about his readiness to be president, at 3 a.m. or any other time. No wonder Michelle Obama wasn't smiling during the cutaway shots.
Hillary will never be an inspiring orator, though she is vastly improved as a speaker compared to a year ago. The question that lingers is whether she persuaded her most ardent fans to get behind her former foe, or just to make a lot of noise in the hall.
Call me worried. This Democratic convention still lacks a master negative narrative about McCain. Perhaps it will be a fiery and radicalized Al Gore on the final night who will deliver the hammer? (Which would be good for the convention but not good for climate change.)
Andrew Sullivan shares my outlook:
Watching this convention so far, I don't get the feeling that these people have lived through the same eight years as I have. I may have aired more anti-Bush passion on this blog - written by someone who endorsed the guy in 2000 - than I have heard from these speakers so far. Unless you understand how terrible the wounds of the last eight years have been, you do not understand the urgency of the Obama candidacy. I worry that that hasn't been put across forcefully enough so far. Clinton didn't do it.
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