Monday, March 26, 2012

Week of 03/26/2012

The Etch-A-Sketch Secret
– by David Matthews 2

Quick! What do magicians, professional wrestlers, and major political candidates have in common?

They each have secrets about their craft that they desperately want kept secret.

It’s one thing to watch a magician “saw” a woman in half on stage and then figure out how they really did it. It is another thing entirely to actually be that magician and to then show the audience how every magician does it.

A few years back, the Fox TV network (not to be confused with their GOP-friendly cable news channel) did a series of specials that revealed many of the most popular magic tricks. They prefaced these specials by saying that the magician revealing these secrets had to wear a mask because to “give away the store” as he did was inviting threats to his own life. Whether or not the threat was true, the danger of making such information public certainly was likely.

For the longest time, the world of professional wrestling was able to get away with calling itself a “sport” until a series of lawsuits forced World Wrestling Entertainment (then the World Wrestling Federation) to call itself “sports entertainment”. The situation was made even worse when Vince Russo, a well-known “writer” for the industry, went in front of the cameras on rival World Championship Wrestling and began to strip away all of the “glitz” of the sport, including publicly using insider terms to the audience like “heels” and “baby-face”. WCW did not last very long after that, but by then the damage was clearly done.

No, professional wrestling is not “fake”, but the outcomes are scripted. And the revelation of that certainly took out a lot of glitz of the industry.

Likewise, politicians have a lot of tricks of their trade that they use to both get elected and then to stay in office until a better job becomes available. They know which groups they have to suck up to, who’s hand they have to shake, who’s meeting that they cannot avoid, and what kind of assurances they have to give in order to get that ever-precious support, especially the financial kind.

You know what they hate? They hate it when those secrets are revealed. Especially when those revelations are coming from someone who should know better.

Last week Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign advisor to GOP Presidential contender Mitt Romney, revealed one such secret to CNN. Fehrnstrom said that should front-runner Romney actually become the GOP nominee, they could then erase all of the conservative messages and start fresh by going after President Barack Obama.

“… it's almost like an Etch A Sketch,” he said, “you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

Now if this was said by one of the many “political consultants” that were employed by CNN or any of the other cable news outlets, or if this was said by myself or any number of commentators looking at the whole political process from the “outside”, then this wouldn’t really be an issue. But this was from someone “inside” an active campaign. Not only that, but an active campaign whose nomination is far from clinched, and with rivals just itching to use any nugget of information to their advantage.

As you can imagine, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were quick to run to the nearest toy store to buy their newest prop in their crusade to knock Romney off his “front-runner” status. To them, this “revelation” is the confirmation of everything that they’ve been saying about Romney from the beginning, namely that his “conservative stance” is nothing but a sham, and should he be the nominee that he will then abandon that stance in a heartbeat.

But for all of their posturing and cheap toy store props, both Gingrich and Santorum are conveniently ignoring two essential truths not only about the GOP, but also about themselves.

The first is that this “Etch-a-Sketch” tactic is something that every successful GOP candidate has done ever since being a “conservative” became an unofficial prerequisite. Senator John McCain, President George W. Bush, then-Senator Bob Dole, President George H. W. Bush, and even President Ronald Reagan have all pandered to “their base” in the primaries and caucuses, and then change tactics and focus after the national convention to appeal to the general public. They know that the majority of people that vote in GOP primaries and caucuses are more “conservative” than the general public. But then when the general election approaches, they know that the key to winning it relies on appealing to those very “independent” voters that conservative talk radio tries to pretend don’t exist.

Then there’s the second truth… the one that both Gingrich and Santorum would never admit to, but would still end up doing anyway.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the cold hard fact is that should either Gingrich or Santorum end up as the nominee, they would have to do the very same thing in order to get elected. They would also have to flip their campaign’s Etch-a-Sketch over, shake it up, and then focus on those “independent” voters in order to win.

Sure, they could choose to remain “true” to their “conservative base” in the general election, and keep the same rhetoric that they’ve been using these past few months, but that would almost certainly guarantee that President Obama would be re-elected in the general election. Obama didn’t have to worry about a primary/caucus challenge, so he doesn’t have a “base” to “flip-shake” over.

In fact it could even be said that Santorum has already done that himself during the primary. When he first started, he focused his campaign on economic issues. But as soon as the media began to focus on so-called “social issues”… flip-shake… suddenly he’s mister “Family Values”, and he’s not talking about the economy anymore.

Same with Gingrich. Gingrich was once Mister “Tea Party”, the “resistance leader” from the 90’s. But once gas prices became a serious issue… flip-shake… and now he’s Mister “Two-Fifty-Per-Gallon”.

And here they are both, with toy props in their hands, loudly condemning what they themselves have done and no doubt would do should either of them survive the convention. The only difference being they didn’t have a fool in their employ announcing it on CNN.

It’s questionable whether or not Mister Fehrnstrom will still have a job when the primaries and conventions are through. Certainly if his employer is smart, he’d be kept as far away from a TV camera as possible for the time being. There is no place on the political stage for a magician’s assistant that takes the “glitz” of the trick away, even if the audience already knows how it is done.

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