On Armchair Strategery

As much as I love process and horse race, one thing that I’m not a particular fan of is the rise of the blogger/armchair strategist.

This is a strange thing for me to say, I know, because I’m pretty sure that I’ve engaged in some armchair strategery myself in the past.  In fact, I only realize now that my dabbling in such dalliances have come to a general end more as a subconscious act as opposed to a conscious one.

But, conscious or not, engaging in the game of “This candidate must do this or else,” is one that I have largely not played for some time now.  On the other hand, you’ll find no shortage of this elsewhere in the chattersphere, particularly from the left, and I find myself growing less and less patient with it.

Granted, this is a natural enough act, I suppose; armchair strategist being an offshoot of that much vaunted character the armchair quarterback.  Again, I’m more than guilty of a little bit of this being a 49er fan, and having much to scream about since the last time they won the Super Bowl over a year ago.

But there are differences between armchair quarterbacking and armchair political strategery.

One frustrating thing is the curious “or else” tone that one reads in every blog post about what Obama must do.  Scores of bloggers out there insist that the Obama campaign must follow their advice or all is lost.  Funnily enough, these strategists will often times be at odds with each other.

One will INSIST (Armando… I’m talking to your dumbass) that the only way for Obama to win is if he ties Bush to McCain, while another (and here is where I raise my hand as a guilty party) will insist that tying McCain to Bush is a perilous strategy.  Some insist that he must destroy Palin, others insist that the Obama campaign needs to be hands off of the entire Palin situation,.

Go after McCain’s age, don’t go after McCain’s age, run more attack ads, keep on the high road, attack attack attack, but don’t deviate from the issues.  It’s enough to make one’s head spin, and that’s before you take into consideration the only thing these strategists have in common.

All of them are dead certain that if their advice isn’t followed, Obama will lose in November.

Only here’s what gets me; I seriously wonder how many of these armchair strategists actually know how to win elections.  Some may have some experience with down ticket races, I’ve no doubt, but presidential elections are different animals completely.  Demographics are broader, regional and cultural differences play a larger role, and no political race receives the media attention and scrutiny that presidential elections receive.

Thus, on this stage, we now must confine ourselves to a very narrow criterion; how many of these armchair strategists know how to get a Democratic president elected?

I’m not even going to venture a guess on that one, but it’s significantly smaller, and the political landscape is so fundamentally different now in 2008 than it was back in 1992 that even experience from Clinton’s election may prove useless.  The politicians are different as are the nature of the issues both at home and abroad.  Further, unlike in 1992, no major third party candidate has emerged as a major spoiler that has the potential of shaking up the electoral map in the way that Ross Perot did (No, neither Nader, Paul, nor Barr will have the same impact).

The interesting thing I’ve seen from much of the helpful advice that comes from all corners of the net, though, is that it seems so terribly one dimensional.  Attack Palin, attack McCain, hit him on the economy, go with the Out of Touch meme, etc.  It’s almost always messaging, and it’s almost always pushed with the urgency of putting all the eggs in one basket.

The truth is, such offerings tend to discount how multi-dimensional a presidential election can be.  Contrary to what may be popular belief, winning the White House is not so much bludgeoning the American people with one single strategy, but is much closer to threading a needle on many different levels.

You ask a typical political junkie why Kerry lost, you’ll almost always get a single answer, for instance, nice and chopped up, but in truth, Kerry’s loss came from a myriad of different factors that all knitted themselves into a fabric.  It wasn’t just that Bush had better messaging, it wasn’t just the swiftboating, it wasn’t just that Kerry communicated his ideas in such a way that didn’t connect with low information voters, and it wasn’t just that Kerry tried too hard to focus on domestic issues while pushing away from National Security.

It was ALL of these things, and so much more.

Which is why I increasingly defer calls on strategy to the Obama camp.  I personally may want to see more of one particular thing, and less of another particular thing, but at the end of the day, it must be understood that this political team beat one of the most lethal politicians of our time in a tightly contested primary, and this starting out with severe polling deficits.

Chances are, the Obama campaign knows what it’s doing more than most people who drop posts about what they should or should not do if they REALLY want to win.

Now, all of this would be no big deal if armchair strategizing was exactly like armchair quarterbacking.  I know from experience that shouting “THROW THE DAMN BALL!” at the tv screen repeatedly has absolutely no bearing on whether or not the next play will be yet another run that is stuffed behind the line.

My play calls don’t go beyond my living room, and it’s probably all for the best.  But the difference here is that when the blogosphere does it, it actually becomes a part of the narrative; no matter how minute, when you get enough amateur strategists together, and the only thing that they agree upon is that Obama is doing it wrong, well that tends to catch a little fire.

I know this also, considering I caught three headlines over the weekend that were exactly that; Democratic naysaying being translated into trouble for Obama.

And of course the most hilarious part of all of this is that a lot of the strategizing comes from the hand wringing that took place as a result of a McCain bounce that is already waning.

Far be it from me to tell people to cut it out.  I won’t do that, but I will say, relax.  It’s going to be okay; and if we do lose in November, the only thing your “or else” strategizing posts get you is the solace of a quick “I told you so,” that really doesn’t fly anyway.

2 Responses to “On Armchair Strategery”

  1. Kevin says:

    When did the 49ers last win a super bowl? 😉

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