Friday, 15 February 2008

Clinton rules, UK

The campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is getting away from Hillary Clinton. As I have argued previously, one of the main reasons is Barack Obama’s narrative, which is more in tune with his target audience’s emotional needs, more simple and more personal. Senator Obama well and truly embodies his story.

But there may be another factor: what the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman calls “Clinton rules”:

“the term a number of observers use for the way pundits and some news organisations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent.”

I have my share of reservations about the Clintons. They are not selfless ingĂ©nues, the innocent victims of a massive right wing conspiracy. For years, they, Bill Clinton especially, have brought many of their problems on themselves. But Paul Krugman's basic argument is correct: too often, much of the media’s default position is that they are up to no good.

He gives another, less contentious example:

“. . . Al Gore was subjected to Clinton rules during the 2000 campaign: anything he said, and some things he didn’t say (no, he never claimed to have invented the Internet), was held up as proof of his alleged character flaws.”

Although Clinton rules may be working in Senator Obama’s favour now, there’s also a warning for him:

“ . . . if history is any guide, if Mr. Obama wins the nomination, he will quickly find himself being subjected to Clinton rules. Democrats always do.”

The brutal reality is that media counter-stories will always drown out any stories that politicians try to tell about themselves. Look at the way the way the media narrative on Gordon Brown has changed in the past six months.

The best antidote is usually inoculation: don’t do anything that feeds or lends credence to the counter-story. (Translation for Liberal Democrats: don’t do anything flaky or that makes you look less than serious; make sure all the policies and messages add up).

But counter stories on the scale of Clinton rules can’t ever be fixed. For instance, the last Lib Dem leader suffered from “Campbell rules” (he’s too old and useless). Perhaps there is also a “Lib Dem rule” (they don’t matter).

You don’t have to do an in-depth textual analysis of the Evening Standard or the Daily Mail to see how, in this country, media cynicism has fuelled the public’s contempt for politicians. All parties have lost out. But it’s still the gorilla in the room when politicians and pundits fret about the collapse of trust in politics.

Who might be next? Are we now seeing a “Ken rules” (allegations of dodginess)? A “Darling rules” (totally incompetent)? These won’t necessarily benefit the Liberal Democrats. And how long till there’s a “Clegg rules”?

[With thanks to my longstanding friend Peter for the reference to Krugman’s article]


SillyBahrainiGirl said...

Dear Neil,
I have linked to your US election related posts at Voices without Votes. If you have any other posts coming up, would you please consider submitting them to the site.
Best Regards,
Amira Al Hussaini

jafapete said...

Hey Neil, Nice acknowledgement. Thanks. I just posted this on a CBS story about Clinton wanting the MI & FL delegates to vote at the Dem convention:

"What I don''t think Clinton realises yet is that the more she does stuff like this - changing her position to suit her own interests - the more she plays into Obama''s hands. Obama is appealing to the huge number of peole who have had enough of cynical, self-serving politicians who practise the "art of the possible".

So, go ahead Hillary, accuse Obama of trying to duck debates when he''s already participated in numerous debates with you. Accuse him of taking money from lobbyists when everyone knows who is least dependent on lobbyists. Go ahead, dig your own grave!"

I think that there is something deep-seated going on... what George W would call subliminible. This means that Hillary's instinctive responses are all wrong. They're designed for a diffeent game to the one she's playing, and are just as likely to drive people to support Obama as not. That's enough, it's your blog! Cheers P