I fantasize about running for President, but in the same way I fantasize about being Batman. I wouldn’t want either job, but it’s fun to think about how I’d handle certain situations. One situation that pops up all the time is when a reporter asks a candidate to respond to his opponent’s campaign promises to do the impossible. My fantasy answer would be “My opponent thinks voters are stupid.”
The great thing about that answer is that it would generate world headlines. Second, it would resonate as being honest and accurate. You’d have to make sure you weren’t making unrealistic promises yourself, and that’s the hard part. But it would be a killer line.
Calling your opponent names, like flip-flopper, clearly works to some extent. But telling voters that your opponent thinks THEY are stupid would work even better, especially if it is clearly true that he thinks that.
I’ve also been working on good sound bites for both Obama and McCain. Obama’s sound bite is easy. He took heat for suggesting a specific timetable for withdrawal before he had visited Iraq and talked to the generals. That seemed dumb. Then he made the best political move I have ever seen, by saying a President has to see the bigger picture, so generals in Iraq can’t be the ones to determine when we leave. Agree with him or not, it was a brilliant political move. He needs to capture that in a soundbite: “Generals fight wars. Presidents make peace.” It sounds like universal wisdom. That’s a good sound bite.
Now that the Iraqi Prime Minister wants the U.S. to leave on Obama’s timetable, McCain’s biggest issue is gone. Even if you think McCain was right about the surge, it is no longer relevant to the election. No one cares that an old guy once made a good decision. The average voter doesn’t know enough about economics to make the economy a powerful issue for McCain, and it’s too late for him to start hammering on social issues. So McCain’s sound bite needs to be something vague yet persuasive. I suggest: “Do voters prefer words or actions?”
The great part of that sound bite is that everyone is programmed to automatically prefer words to action. And to the extent that Obama is viewed as a great orator, and McCain is seen as more of a man of action, you start thinking the sound bite actually means something. And phrasing the sound bite as a question forces the listener to automatically answer it, thus reinforcing it in the irrationsl part of the brain. It is the political equivalent of “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” It sounds like a reason to the unreasonable part of your brain, which unfortnately makes most of your decisions.
The other sound bite I have been thinking about wouldn’t work for the election, but it’s funny: “Change is good until it’s your turn to be the diaper.”
Do you have a better sound bite for this election?
[Disclaimer: I don’t think either candidate meets the minimum standard to be president. And I won’t have a preference until I complete a poll of economists that I’m working on now.]