This is America and we market ourselves – we sell ourselves. After all, we did leave the class-bound ways of Europe long ago, where you were what you were born into, and as Pope said, you were to act well your part – therein all honor lies. If your father was the local squire with the big estate, or a lowly blacksmith, you knew what you were supposed to do. And you knew what you would become. Dreaming of become a gentleman, a young man with great expectations, was hopelessly foolish. Dickens had great fun with that in his novel that could have no other name – Great Expectations. Pip often wondered if he would have been better off had he remained at the forge with the good but hopelessly unworldly Joe, instead of being mysteriously elevated to the world of casual great wealth where your worth was simply assumed.
But we left that all behind. We think we have a meritocracy, where you can become anything you want to become. Any young lad can grow up to be president, although why one would want to be president is an open question. But they say anyone can become rich, and many shallow and foolish people do. And anyone can become famous, often for no apparent reason – see Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. All it takes is ambition and hard work – although with Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, having fabulously wealthy parents helps quite a bit. But the exception proves the rule. Steve Jobs came from a nowhere family. The same is probably true for whoever invented the Twinkie.
But the problem is marketing – along with being wonderful, or at least moderately amazing, you have to convince others you are. Being humble is not an option. You need to be noticed, and then admired, and then indispensible. Good work, done in obscurity, gets you nowhere. You need to goose up that résumé, and its list of references, and that portfolio of your widely-respected work, and your impressive client list. Your work doesn’t speak for itself – you do. You’re an insistent smiling salesman, and the product is you. This is America after all. Norman Mailer nailed it with one book title – Advertisements for Myself – an informal collection of short works and fragments. That was unapologetically pure marketing. And Arthur Miller explored the dark side of this in Death of a Salesman – where Willie Loman, the distillation of our American culture, was selling nothing but himself, and there wasn’t much there.
Still we all find it unseemly when someone grabs your lapels and tells you, in no uncertain terms, that they’re wonderful. Braggarts are a pain in the ass, so some subtlety is necessary, or at least a bit of irony. Resentment is a real danger. You don’t land on the deck of an aircraft carrier, strut around in a snazzy flight suit, and then give a speech that shows, in no uncertain terms, how wonderful you are – under a banner that reads Mission Accomplished. Or maybe you do. Politics is all about convincing others that you’re wonderful. You’re not selling a product after all. You’re selling yourself.
But that’s tricky:
The killing of Osama bin Laden, first presented as a moment of national unity by President Barack Obama, has become something else: a political weapon.
Obama’s re-election campaign is portraying his risky decision to go after America’s top enemy as a defining difference with his Republican presidential opponent, suggesting Mitt Romney might not have had the guts to order a mission that put lives and perhaps a presidency at stake.
Obama himself is opening up on the raid again – and opening the secretive White House Situation Room as an interview stage – to hail the one-year anniversary.
The broader goal for Obama, whether through campaign web videos or the trappings of the White House, is not to just to remind voters of an enormous victory on his watch. It is to maximize a political narrative that he has the courage to make tough calls that his opponent might not.
Yes, this is marketing:
“Does anybody doubt that had the mission failed, it would have written the beginning of the end of the president’s first term?” Vice President Joe Biden says in laying out Obama’s foreign policy campaign message. “We know what President Obama did. We can’t say for certain what Governor Romney would have done.”
Was this crossing a line of some sort? A Romney spokeswoman said it was “sad” and John McCain said it was “shameless.” But Joe Biden was out there saying this – “It’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” That seems to be the new slogan. And Obama’s campaign released a new web video with Bill Clinton saying how gustsy and wonderful Obama was in this matter. And the question was whether Romney would have done the same – they like quoting that 2007 Romney interview where Romney said it was not worth “moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”
But John McCain was not pleased:
Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad! This is the same President who once criticized Hillary Clinton for invoking bin Laden “to score political points.” This is the same President who said, after bin Laden was dead, that we shouldn’t “spike the ball’ after the touchdown. And now Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get reelected.
No one disputes that the President deserves credit for ordering the raid, but to politicize it in this way is the height of hypocrisy.
And there’s this:
“It’s now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to distract voters’ attention from the failures of his administration,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Yeah, yeah – but the bad guy is dead, and at Talking Points Memo you’ll find the five stages of the evolving Republican response:
1) If You Can’t Say Anything Nice …
Almost no one in the Republican field of then-current or on-the-fence presidential candidates criticized Obama for taking out America’s most-wanted terrorist in 2011. But there were a few notable themes that presaged future partisan warfare. While Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie and even Donald Trump congratulated the president on the historic achievement, many went out of their way to avoid mentioning his role in the mission. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin thanked the military and intelligence communities – and omitted other players. Rick Santorum begrudgingly acknowledged the president’s role while simultaneously calling him “not someone I would say is known for fighting great causes in defense of American freedom.” …
2) Congratulations, President Bush!
In a parallel effort, veterans of the previous administration took to cable news en masse to spread their own talking point: The real hero of the Pakistan raid was President George W. Bush. Top Bush administration officials like Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld pushed the idea that the raid was only possible because of intelligence gathered through controversial measures like “enhanced interrogation” (or as human rights groups called it, torture). …
3) Stray Attacks
As the initial euphoria of the mission faded, the more daring members of the partisan Republican crowd began testing some genuinely aggressive efforts to take Obama’s big achievement out of the game. Two that stood out: Sean Hannity casually mentioned on his show that the bin Laden raid “wouldn’t have happened if [Obama] had his way, and that can be proven, as well, on tape.” Santorum, still a long-shot candidate at the moment, told a gathering of Jewish Republicans that Obama had blown it by announcing bin Laden had been killed.
4) Even Ralph Nader Would Have Done It
With news of bin Laden’s death more than six months old, Romney began testing a new talking point: Sure, Obama ordered the bin Laden mission. But, hey, who wouldn’t have? …
5) … And Let Us Never Speak Of This Again
The initial GOP response so far has mostly been to declare discussion of bin Laden out of bounds, period, when it comes to the election. …
The Republicans have a problem here – although they can point out no one likes a braggart. Obama is one of those. But then there’s George Bush. Life in the land where the smiling salesmen is king can get tricky.
And Josh Marshall sees it this way:
This isn’t simply – maybe not even mainly – about the actual decision to risk so much to kill bin Laden. It’s a dance to – let’s not run away from what it really is – unman Romney in his contest with the president.
People don’t expect Democrats to make such brash moves on national security politics. It’s been a very long time since a Democratic president has been in a position to do it. Its obviousness aside, it’s garnered a collective gasp from the pundit class. It was a smack right across the face of Mitt Romney right as he’s making a reasonably successful reintroduction of himself to the American people.
The key is less the attack itself than how Romney responds. In this sort of schoolyard power play, if you attack someone and they’re unwilling or unable to defend themselves they become weak, dominated, pathetic. And the perception among voters is much more important than most of the policy minutiae political types focus on. This is what the Swift Boat attacks were really about. I’ve always doubted that many people actually believed the attacks on John Kerry. That wasn’t the point. It was his inability to defend himself that was devastating politically. It made him an object of ridicule and contempt, demoralizing supporters and inspiring opponents. Bush owned Kerry as a result. This is the position that the Obama team is trying to put Romney in.
And maybe they have done that, and Ed Kilgore adds this:
The two distinct but interrelated flaps about the killing of Osama bin Laden that are consuming much oxygen today are: (1) Can the president take credit for an operation planned and executed by military and intelligence personnel? and (2) Is it fair for the Obama campaign to quote Mitt Romney’s 2007 statements suggesting the pursuit of bin Laden was a poor allocation of resources to suggest he would not have pulled the trigger on the operation?
On the first point, the one thing that should be abundantly clear is that Romney and his supporters have no standing to complain about Obama taking credit for anything until such time as they stop holding him responsible for every sparrow that has fallen to the ground from the moment he took the oath of office (or even before then, if you listen to the bizarre claims that employers stopped hiring on Election Day of 2008 because they were fearful of the socialism headed their way). If the November election is indeed to become, as conservatives keep telling us, a national temperature reading on American life in general, then any development that warms the body politic should be fair game for Obama.
But Digby, listening to McCain, takes one step back:
The ongoing campaign argument over which person ordering death from afar is the more “courageous” is wrong no matter who’s selling it. But for John McCain (who put footage of himelf as a POW in pretty much every campaign commercial he ever made) to decry politicizing war and national security is really rich. Between McCain and George W Bush, the aught years were an orgy of self-congratulations, paeans to their own greatness and celebrations of war and killing. They set the standard.
And I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but even if Barack Obama kills terrorists with his bare hands on national television they will not grant him entry into the Macho Boys Club. Indeed, as you can see by today’s breathless response by the Maverick flyboy, they’ll just turn around and have a teary pearl-clutching party, and complain that he’s an uncouth ruffian for exposing America’s delicate sensibilities to such ill-mannered boasting. Did I mention shameless?
But this is what really bothers her:
I know that many Democrats love this “America -fuck yeah!” stuff as much as the Republicans do so maybe this time they’ll finally win that contest for who has the most blood-lust and the biggest cojones. But if Democrats are expecting that the ordering of assassinations and drone strikes will take “Democrats are soft on national security” off the table, I’d just remind them that it wasn’t long ago that everyone thought President Clinton took “Democrats are fiscally irresponsible” off the table. How’d that work out?
And she also sees the marketing problem:
I don’t know anyone who really believes that Democrats can possibly be masculine enough to win this in the long term. The party of gays, women and kids is never going to out-macho the Republicans. (They might be able to do it if they commit to totally abandoning those constituencies, so I suppose there’s still hope …) I have no doubt that Barack Obama will be remembered as a very manly president because of his national security policies. But if you’re on Team Blue, enjoy it. It’s a one-time thing. I doubt very seriously that will mean a thing to any other Democrat running for office now or in the future.
So this is not so much beating them at their own game as it is joining in on something that’s just plain wrong:
This stuff is very human. It’s that the game itself is evil.
I get why the Democrats are doing it. I’m sure it’s extremely satisfying to land those punches on the right wing blowhards after all the years of taunting and jeering about liberal cowardice. To be able to say they killed the evil mastermind where the swaggering codpiece failed is probably too much of a temptation for them to pass up. I get it.
But I hate it. I hated it when the Republicans did it and I hate it now. I don’t believe the most powerful nation on earth should be running its democracy via schoolyard power plays. This is how we ended up stuck in Vietnam and how we have found ourselves floundering about in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It’s why we can’t stop spending trillions on useless weapons systems, why we “have” to continue to fund ridiculous programs like Star Wars and why everyone in the political establishment assumes that the only answer to budget problems is to cut the so-called “entitlements.”
And really, this may not be very good marketing:
I know we live in a dangerous world. But this nation is extremely rich and extremely powerful and its most important assets are morality and mystique. I’m not going to argue about the morality of killing Osama bin laden, but it should be remembered that our unilateral wars, torture regimes and insistence on imperial prerogatives have already taken a toll on America’s reputation for moral behavior.
As for mystique, well let’s just say that schoolyard taunts and manly chest beating doesn’t leave much to the imagination. I don’t expect the macho-worshiping conservatives to ever change this. It’s fundamental to their very identity. I was hoping for something a little bit more sophisticated and a little bit more mature from the so-called “reality-based community.”
Yes, braggarts are a pain in the ass, so some subtlety is necessary, or at least a bit of irony. But at least we have this from Obama:
As far as my personal role and what other folks would do, I’d just recommend that everybody take a look at people’s previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden.
I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice. I said that I’d go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him and I did.
If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they’d do something else, then I’d go ahead and let them explain it.
You see, he wasn’t bragging, he was just pointing out that he did what he said he’d do. That’s what he does, and if Romney is the kind of guy who does what he said he’d do, well, then this wouldn’t have gotten done. The subtle point is the relationship between what you say and what you do. This isn’t so much about Osama bin Laden as it’s about being clear about what you’ll do and then just doing it:
“I also think it’s worthwhile to make sure that, as we’re heading into this general election … the American people know where Mitt Romney did stand on it. It’s not exploitation it’s fact,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, told Andrea Mitchell this afternoon on MSNBC. “Mitt Romney … said he wouldn’t have gone into Pakistan to pursue bin Laden with actionable intelligence if the Pakistanis wouldn’t get him [bin Laden]. And he also said he wouldn’t move heaven and earth to get bin Laden. Well, the president did move heaven and earth.”
And there is Josh Marshall:
Romney might argue – maybe even accurately – that he never really meant any of that stuff and that he would have done just what Obama did. But that would be an awkward and challenging argument to make.
Let’s start with the premise that absolutely any sitting President who made a high stakes choice to order a commando raid that killed one of the most notorious enemies of the United States in American history would make that decision a center point in his or her campaign for a second term. To pretend otherwise is not only ludicrous; this is actually what a president should do. So much of what goes into a presidential campaign are indicators – some bogus, others acute – about what a president would do in impossible to foresee, high stakes moments. Obama made a high stakes call. He was proved right. And he’ll bring that before the electorate to make his argument to keep him as president.
And this is what you do. Being humble is not an option. Good work, done in obscurity, gets you nowhere. This is America after all. Even the fabulously wealthy son of the even more fabulously wealthy father doesn’t get a free ride – this isn’t a Dickens novel. We’re all salesmen, or we’re nobody. What did you expect?