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[Comments] (7) Opposition Research: One of the things about political campaigns in this country is that everything you buy or use has to be made by an American company unless there's no alternative. This is not just flags and bunting and big Uncle Sam hats and the other paraphernelia of patriotism. It's everything. There's no law about this; you just do it. Because if you don't do it, the fear is, your opponents will use your insufficient patriotism against you as part of their "opposition research".

I always pictured opposition research as kind of an amoral game. You scour all available documents for scraps of your opponent's impropriety (actual or seeming). When you find something, you put on your Concerned Citizen face and release it to the media or make "Shouldn't this be investigated?" inquiries to the appropriate authorities. The goal is to get the media to bite, to get them to Discover An Issue and then try to finesse it into a snowball effect.

It's sad and depressing work, but all campaigns do it. Everyone's hoping for a Whitewater-scale jackpot, something where their opponent will look up in surprise and say "You sank my battleship!" and drop out on the spot. But the more common result is a constant stream of fake scandals and fiascoes that nobody remembers three days later, to match the equally forgettable stream of positive political theater coming out of your own camp.

I'm not talking about negative ads. This stuff is an order of magnitude too flimsy to use in a campaign ad. You'd get an ad like "Senator Bedfellow says he's for American jobs. But this one time, he ate a Toblerone! What's next, Senator--the killing of adorable kittens?"

You can't retroactively change what your candidate said twelve years ago in Rat's Ass, Missouri (though that's a good idea for a time travel story). On the other hand, it's easy to avoid this one particular type of embarrassment by simply treating patriotism as a sort of brand loyalty. But why put so much effort into avoiding such a flimsy fake outrage?

Well, this tiny subgenre of opposition research has a well-defined beginning, according to the campaign worker lore I am now intermittently versed in. It dates back to the 1992 presidential primaries, when Pat Buchanan suffered a fiasco because his campaign car was a Mercedes. A Mercedes! The champion of protectionism using a foreign car, ripping the bread right out of little Johnny Crankshaft's mouth and sending it overseas to the dour offspring of some unsmiling Hun! Fetch the smelling salts! Fiasco!

You can see (assuming this apocryphal tale is where it began) that it didn't start because some random politician had a Nokia watch. It was Pat Buchanan, and it was a car, the very symbol of the decline of American manufacturing. But now everyone is paranoid about it, because it's something they have control over.

Apparently this fiasco--a fake fiasco identical to the fake fiascoes that beseige every campaign every day, one remembered now only by campaign workers--was like the 9/11 of political campaigning, the moment everyone woke up and said "Holy crap! We must henceforth engage in ELABORATE, SUPERFICIAL RITUALS so that this will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!" Except since the fiascoes are themselves caused by the elaborate, superficial ritual of opposition research (and not by eg. a real enemy who wants to actually kill you), the counter-ritual is actually effective. As far as I know (which is not far at all) there have been no foreign-product-use-based attacks since the Buchanan fiasco. But if you ask me, the real reason is that other candidates are not Pat Buchanan, and these attacks would be less effective on them.

Here are the examples of this Brand America type thinking on the Clark campaign that I can remember. Because I was not privy to purchasing decisions (or indeed any other kind of decision) I'm guessing there were many more decisions made on this scale. I do have two that were kind of weird though.

I'm not sure how we justified using Linux for everything. Maybe because everyone else was also using it, and because creating a fiasco around it would require explaining what an operating system was. I think it just doesn't apply to software; only to things that can have incriminating pictures taken of them.

Anyway, the first and less viable of the two politics-related business opportunities I'm going to tell you about is the one where you buy cheap the sort of equipment a campaign needs, change the logos, and resell it as genuine American Brand Tech. Yeah, it's a pathetic sham, but having to explain why it's a pathetic sham makes the issue too complicated for your opponent to use it against you. Complexity: make it work for you in politics!

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Posted by Frances at Mon Aug 02 2004 21:32

It's not just American politics. When Sarah Ferguson got engaged to Prince Andrew, they made her quit driving her Fiat. Also, she and Diana were only allowed to wear clothing by British designers. You can't blame them for trying. But nobody's heard of any of the British designers since the 1960s, and as your Uncle Jon says, "Only a masochist would own a British sports car."

Posted by Brian Danger Hicks at Mon Aug 02 2004 23:48

Of course, the twist ending would be that after the final embarrassing statement was erased it would result in the candidate not running for president. Or worse, changing parties and possibly positions.

And somewhere in the middle there would be the nerve-wracking bit where every embarrassing statement corrected would result in two new ones, but that would get under control about 4/5ths of the way through.

Posted by Leonard at Tue Aug 03 2004 00:11

I was thinking that the original gaffe would have been the only thing that got the candidate enough media attention to make them credible.

Posted by Susie at Tue Aug 03 2004 00:56

That's so funny. I've noticed that companies feel the need to point out when they only use American products. I bet that could be a pain, lucky the best product was American. This seems like something the French would do.

Posted by rachel at Tue Aug 03 2004 04:49

I read in newsweek about dick cheney's daughter emailing people from a blackberry during reagan's funeral...

and in Jackie O's bio, its mentioned she was criticised for favoring French designers.

Posted by Susie at Tue Aug 03 2004 14:25

I don't really think of Canada as another country when it comes to origin of products at least. Maybe because I don't really see things that say "made in Canada".

Posted by Sean Neakums at Sat Aug 21 2004 21:08

Many of CDs I get have big "MADE IN CANADA" decals on them. I peel them off and remove the residual adhesive gunk with surgical spirit.

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