Where the Real Game is (Or, Why They Are Lying So Effing Much!)

Anyone who has backed Senator Obama from the very beginning can tell you; it’s been a very bumpy ride.  I’m not talking about the converts, not the first wave that came over from the Edwards camp, and most definitely not the Hillary supporters who finally came over.  I’m talking about the supporters who were there from the day he announced his candidacy back in early 2007.

When it comes to ulcer-inducing anxiety, the greenest of us have grown accustomed to the torment.  We knew what it was like when Obama was down by thirty points in just about every single state, including South Carolina.  We remember how tortuous it was when the Wright videos circulated through the YouTubes at the speed of light.

We remember what it was like when Obama was taking on Hillary Clinton and John McCain at the same time, and we chewed our fingernails to the quick when Hillary started winning primary contests again.

I’m not going to speak for all of us, but for the newcomers, I find it interesting that everyone is doom and gloom when Obama’s down a couple points in the polls.  A couple of points?  Really?  I remember on the eve of Super Tuesday bracing myself for the inevitable: after a solid run it would be about time to get into the Clinton camp.

A couple of points!  HA!  I laugh at your couple of points; I watched this guy come back from thirty point deficits.  I fart in the general direction of your couple of points (are Monty Python references still cool anymore?).

All of this is to say that there have been tensions; most of them among the uninitiated.  As Tim Fernholz points out, even though the more stoic of us have been trying to ease the fears of some, they are still there.

But I think the reason why people are fretting (and I’ll admit, after a bad news cycle or two for McCain, people are plucking up a bit) is that they don’t understand where the real game is.  Yeah the national story can get bogged down with narratives, and it can be disheartening to see McCain getting away with so much lying, but really it’s all just a boondoggle, and I don’t even think Team McCain knows where the real playing field lies.

Perhaps the most important article posted yesterday for anyone who is serious about how this election plays out was written by Al Giordano over at The Field:

It really is a ground game. The 2008 presidential election is about registering those voters mentioned above, and getting them out to vote. Period. End of story. Little else matters.

So pay no mind to the armchair generals that try to get you riled up over their (mostly terribly errant) obsessions regarding “messaging” matters (the “What Obama Must Do” crowd), few of whom have any real experience managing, much less winning campaigns of any magnitude at all. To them who hold themselves up and out there as “experts” on campaign strategy and tactics, I’ll borrow a line that Beckel applied to politics a quarter-century ago: “Where’s the beef?”

The beef is in the ground game. And the rank-and-file volunteer making phone calls and going door to door is a hundred times more important this year than any fool shouting “‘hit them’ is a strategy” from the bleachers. Register someone to vote: that’s the square hit to the jaw, and multiplied by millions, it’s the knock out punch. This year, the boxing gloves are not in one man’s hands. They’re in yours.


You really need to read the whole thing in order for the above snippet to be put in full context and make the most amount of sense.  But ultimately this is dead on; it’s always been the ground game, and for the next two months it will continue to be the ground game.  That was the game changer that an Obama nomination promised.

It wasn’t necessarily that he was going to be a bullet spitting take charge Democrat that wasn’t going to let the right define him.  Again I point to Fernholz’s piece, and as we are seeing today with the tougher tone that Team Obama has adopted, Obama isn’t a John Kerry, and he’s not an Al Gore.

But the real weapon is on the ground organization.

Which brings me to the second point of this post, and the reason for the part in the title that is in parentheses.  I agree fully with Giordano’s analysis; I don’t think this thing is going to be won or lost on narratives.  But it is important to look at the increasingly negative and sleazy campaign that McCain is waging in the context of Obama’s greatest political strength.

I had something of an epiphany the other day, and I’m going to up front say I have no empirical evidence of anything I’m about to write.  But if Obama’s greatest weapon is his grass roots efforts and his ability to mobilize and energize his supporters, the strongest counter attack that McCain can engage in is depressing those very same supporters.

This is I think where the heart of McCain’s strategy lies.  They have spent the past two weeks, and their surrogates have been dancing up a storm as a result of it, and the greatest threat that this poses is in depressing the grassroots movement.  You see it in all the hand wringing over at Talking Points Memo, and over at Open Left.  When it looks like McCain can get away with anything, it can seem an insurmountable task to keep pushing.

But that’s the trick.  They play that game at least partly to get you to quit.  To get you to call it a day because there’s no point, and that’s exactly the one thing that you absolutely must not do.  If the current narrative running the news cycle is personally de-energizing you, than that is exactly what McCain and the rest of the wingnuts supporting him want.

So, for the eighty-billionth time, quit with the hand wringing.  We’re going to win this thing, but, as Giordano aptly put it, it’s really up to you.

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