There are two things that will set the 2012 presidential election apart from all other previous elections. The first and more important of these is that in the wake of Citizens United this is absolutely the year of the super pac, and we’re seeing campaigns financed in ways that were never possible before.
The second, and the one we’re going to talk a bit about today is that campaigns know how to talk faster than they ever have before.
Not long ago, there was a daily news cycle. Campaigns would generally do one thing a day, and get it done by 6 pm and that would be the TV news lead that night and the newspaper headline the next morning. More recently, we’ve moved into the “24-hour news cycle” in which campaigns try to ‘break news’ throughout the day and circulate talking points from very early morning until late evening, when they add it all up to see who ‘won the day.’
Now, we’re moving even faster than that.
Four years ago, the Obama campaign made history by using the internet to break news, communicate its message, and organize supporters in ways that had never been thought of before. It was incredibly effective and was the envy of political operatives everywhere. And this year it’s just not good enough.
So what if Barack Obama’s on Twitter in 2012? Everybody’s on Twitter, even boring old square Mitt Romney. And he’s actually hiring people who know about the internet, not just pulling the John McCain move of asking his daughter to help him set up a Hotmail account. Both campaigns have incredibly sophisticated online operations. How sophisticated? Obama registered romneyeconomics.com and had it redirect to his own site, presumably just for the lulz. But then this is the same Obama who’s openly launched a full scale cyber war against Iran, so lulz abound.
What it comes down to is that both of these campaigns can now talk so fast that they often don’t know what they’re saying. This post from Rachel Maddow’s blog is a good snapshot of where the campaigns stand at this point in time. Mitt Romney says we should fire a bunch of cops and teachers and firefighters. Now, it would be a throwaway ‘gaffe’ if Romney had a policy position in place that he could point to, but he doesn’t. Old Mittens shot his mouth off, and then the whole national campaign had to get together in the next five minutes and draft a cohesive policy on distributing federal money to states and localities to fund public employees’ positions and prevent layoffs.
Of course they couldn’t do it, and that’s why you’ve got one ‘surrogate’ saying one thing and another ‘surrogate’ saying something else and the candidate himself saying things like “I don’t know what I said, but I stand by it, whatever it was.”
If you’ve tuned out of the presidential race at this point… we can’t blame you. It’s going to take until convention and debates time before both campaigns are really prepared to talk much about substantive policy issues. If you’re not completely tuned out yet, Drinking Liberally is tonight, and you can come drink whiskey and talk politics until you make as little sense as a real live presidential candidate.