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Some of you may know my anal-retentive attention to political detail (ask me about the difference between "Democrat" and "Democratic" sometime...). Even though it's a bad idea to get caught up on the little things, they do count. How we say something is just as important as when and if we say it in the first place. Liberal or progressive, environmentalist or conservationist, death tax or estate tax; the words all mean the same thing on the surface, but each version carries its own implications for each type of audience. Since Republicans figured this out a long time ago--read anything by Frank Luntz and see the painstaking attention to linguistic detail--it really warms my heart when Democrats pay attention to the little things, too. And I don't just mean relatively obvious stuff, like calling yourself a progressive in Nebraska instead of a liberal.


One little detail is George Allen's middle name. These days, Allen's strategy (for 2006 and, more importantly, 2008) is to sell himself as a folksy Bush-Reagan cowboy hybrid. It's a good, proven strategy; nobody really challenged the populist cowboy-ness of either Bush 43 or Reagan. Fortunately, though, Webb's campaign pays attention to the details. Take a look at Jim Webb's press release page. Due to a stroke of bad luck at birth, George Allen's middle name happens to be "Felix"-- which doesn't exactly sound like a salt-of-the-earth rancher down in Texas. And to add insult to injury, GFA happens to be a Junior. Put it all together and George Felix Allen, Jr., is about as un-cowboy as it gets. You'd expect a guy like that to be an obnoxious kid in some snobby east coast private school who walks around with salmon polo shirts and popped collars.

Webb's press people realize this. Every press release I've seen from Webb's campaign refers to Allen's name in all its splendor. Yeah, it sounds retarded when you read "George Felix Allen, Jr." five times in a row, but that's kind of the point. After all, who can fault them for using his real name?

Of course, saying Felix doesn't win the election. It might not even get Webb one vote, but it's an integral part of building a narrative. I doubt anybody chose to cast their vote for Bush because they saw a picture of John Kerry windsurfing, but the windsurfing signified a lot more than Kerry's love for sport. Bush's campaign made the campaign narrative about "the flip-flopper" versus "steady leadership in times of change", and every time people saw Kerry go from side to side in the wind, it just played into the larger narrative. George Felix Allen, Jr. may not win votes, but a narrative of snobby, elitist George Felix Allen, Jr. just might. And nothing says "snobby" and "elitist" better than a guy with the middle name Felix.

2 comments:

Adam Hearts Dems said...

or, i think you're so right, and the webb campaign, especially steve jarding have been brilliant in this regard, i wonder how the 2004 election would have turned out had kerry referred to bush as George Walker Bush. maybe not a win, but some movement, perhaps.

OrSkolnik said...

Just to clarify my own post -- the problem in 2004 wasn't one or two words; it was the lack of any real narrative on our side. Saying "George Felix Allen, Jr." doesn't win a whole lot of votes, but changing the narrative from "Allen the cowboy" to "Allen the aristocrat" does. Saying GFAJr directly keys into the second narrative.

With that said, I think we definitely could have painted Bush with the "son of privelage" narrative, but there's the entire problem of both Gore and Kerry having been equally privelaged. Unfortunately, though, I don't think George Walker Bush doesn't do a whole lot for us-- after all, Walker, Texas Ranger was the ultimate Texas cowboy.