Polymorphous Personae

The thing that Hillary Clinton doesn’t get about campaigning — and that John Kerry and Al Gore didn’t get either — is that you need to pick a persona early and stick with it. There is an analogue in creating a persona to framing around an issue. Framing works by repetition over a long period of time. This is probably the one thing that Democrats at large don’t get.

All politicians are fake, it’s just that Republicans have a consistency in their fakeness. And when you’re consistent, people don’t catch on. When a politician grabs one persona this week and another the next, it doesn’t take long before voters conclude that such a politician is a fake.

At least with respect to his persona, Barack Obama gets this. He has been positioning himself as a certain sort of person all along so when it came primary time, people had a well cultivated set of beliefs about him that he could easily and naturally play upon. Hence the gentleness of his campaigning style: all the heavy lifting is in the frame. Hillary Clinton was the candidate of experience — until it turned out that that was not what voters wanted. They wanted change, so now she is the candidate of change. I have no doubt that should she dispatch Senator Obama, we will never hear the word “change” from her again in the general election. If she is up against Governor Huckabee then she will be all about compassion rooted in her humble upbringing and her faith. If Senator McCain gets the Republican nomination, she will be boasting about what a maverick she has been all along. If Mitt Romney gets it, well, then she can continue to be the always-yes-saying robot that she has been all along.

The crazy thing about Al Gore is that he had spent years as a Senator cultivating signature issues of the environment, nuclear weapons and high-tech. But when the 2000 campaign came around, the Democratic consultants came in with their everything-to-everybody strategy, told him to pitch his long-standing associations and cycled through a rotating list of Gore personas until everyone in America was left asking who the real Al Gore was. After the beard and paunch growth soul searching and some consultant detox, the real Al Gore is back.

If I could introduce the Democratic party to one concept, it would be opportunity cost. In order to be one thing, you have to foreclose the possibility of being some other thing. You’re going to have to piss someone off. Pick something and come to terms with saying sianora to the rest.

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