Asia Times: Swiftboating Obama on the cheap

Asia Times (9/30/08)

Swiftboating Obama on the cheap

OAKLAND, California – In 2004, the so-called “swiftboating” of John Kerry’s United States presidential campaign changed the course of history by helping defeat the Massachusetts senator, and the tactic appeared to become an instant blueprint for future political campaigns.

Given the success of the swiftboating formula – a high-impact, mediagenic group of storytellers (Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) clamping on to one very hot-button issue (Kerry’s military record), combined with the financial largesse of opponent George W Bush’s super-wealthy backers (more than US$45 million was put in play), and a message spread by savvy and experienced public relations outfits and advertising enterprises to a controversy-hungry mainstream media – it was anticipated that it would be in play again.

Swiftboating Obama on the cheap
By Bill Berkowitz

OAKLAND, California – In 2004, the so-called “swiftboating” of John Kerry’s United States presidential campaign changed the course of history by helping defeat the Massachusetts senator, and the tactic appeared to become an instant blueprint for future political campaigns.

Given the success of the swiftboating formula – a high-impact, mediagenic group of storytellers (Swift Boat Veterans for Truth) clamping on to one very hot-button issue (Kerry’s military record), combined with the financial largesse of opponent George W Bush’s super-wealthy backers (more than US$45 million was put in play), and a message spread by savvy and experienced public relations outfits and advertising enterprises to a controversy-hungry mainstream media – it was anticipated that it would be in play again.

This time around, however, swiftboating has morphed into serial attacks on the cheap.

Released late last month, Floyd Brown’s latest book, Obama Unmasked: Did Slick Hollywood Handlers Create The Perfect Candidate?, co-authored with Lee Troxler, has not created the buzz of others, like Jerome Corsi’s The Obama Nation and David Freddoso’s The Case against Barack Obama – both of which are still on The New York Times best-seller list.

Nevertheless, the book has given the veteran political operative a vehicle for raising money for his various enterprises; groups that are primarily focused on attacking Obama.

While activists with serious time on their hands, some technological skills, and the ability to produce coherent copy either on a website, blog, or My Space/FaceBook page, have become political players, political action committees, 527s and 501(c)(4)s – groups with access to professional copywriters, public relations spinmeisters, legal teams, direct mail firms, e-list brokers and that have longtime relationships with the mainstream media – still have a leg up on the info-everyman.

Despite a constrained financial landscape, there is still room for the political wizardry of Floyd Brown, who pridefully takes credit for the controversial Willie Horton ad that helped destroy the 1988 presidential campaign of governor Michael Dukakis. For months Brown has been searching for a “tipping point” issue and foraging for donors.

Early on in the campaign, in the hope of finding that “tipping point”, Brown tested two themes – Obama as Muslim and Obama as prevaricator. He told the New York Times that the “Swift Boats achieved the tipping point” and he “was part of a team that reached the tipping point in 1988 [that helped put the kybosh on Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign]. In 1992, we didn’t reach it. We might not this time. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try.”

In his first foray into the presidential campaign, Brown’s National Campaign Fund prepared a TV advertisement called “Victims”, which criticized Obama for being too easy on gang murderers. The goal of the ad was to “draw a parallel between Obama’s weakness on gang violence and the war on terror”, Brown explained.

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