Chicago politics, in a nutshell, is quite simple: use whatever means necessary to win. While traditional campaigns will run on their message, attempt to highlight the differences with their opponent, and adhere to a rather loose, unspoken form ethics and civility, Chicago politics dispenses with all that. Those things are factored into the campaign, but they're not the foundation. In Chicago politics, truth doesn't matter. What matters most is perception. It's a very the end justify the means, Alinksy-esque style of thinking. The perception of who is the most competent candidate is what matters. What tactics that are used to get there doesn't matter. As the (I don't necessarily agree with) phrase goes, "It's better to beg for forgiveness than to ask permission", those practicing Chicago politics know that they can get away with numerous reprehensible acts to get their win, say "sorry!" afterward, and move on without being held accountable for anything they did on the way there. All that matters is the win, anything else is permissible because it's ultimately forgivable.
Sounds pretty sleezy and shady, right? Of course it does. But that doesn't really matter. Those sins are forgivable...even if those sins are how the election was won. This is where the brilliance starts to show itself. By hurling bald faced, easily disprovable lies about their opponent, they essentially deploy a simultaneous three pronged attack that:
- Discredits the candidates through said lies. Remember that the best lies are always the ones that sound the most convincing. Chicago politicians are masters at this. Whether what's being said is true or not, it plants the seed of doubt and fear in those that may not be savvy enough to know better (which unfortunately is most of the American public that doesn't follow politics closely and relies on 30 second ads and maintsream media outlets for their view into the political arena)
- Distracts the opponent by putting them on the defensive by default. With a complicit media, the narrative is set for the next few days as the opponent will be dominated with questions regarding the lie and have to spend resources refuting it, giving them less time and coverage to get out their own message
- Worst of all, it makes the opponent look weak and incompetent in the eyes of the general public. They look like whiners crying about the lies being thrown at them. They look incompetent as they stumble from one lie to the next, spending most of their time defending themselves.
In the end, when the public has two choices, they're never going to pick the guy who whines about the other guy playing dirty as it makes it look he's just making excuses for himself. He's too weak. The truth of the attacks don't matter as much as this. Remember, in American culture, politicians are all considered liars. Shady, slick individuals. To the average American, there is no such thing as a completely virtuous candidate. They all lie. It doesn't matter if one's lies are ten times worse than the other. Both are liars and not a lot of people will pick a candidate simply because the other candidate has far bigger lies. The bigger liar will win, maybe spout something about his opponent not being able to handle the heat of the race, claim both sides are guilty of dirty pool to rehumanize himself, then go on to celebrate his victory.
This is what Romney is up against. While I think calling out the lies are important, it is not something to run a campaign on nor will it ever be enough to make someone choose the other guy. Even though we may be right about the truth, all it takes for it to not matter is for someone to say "yeah, well Romney lies too!" even if they cannot cite any examples that are as huge and audacious as the Obama campaign's lies. Therefore it's a huge waste of time trying to get people to vote for Romney simply because Obama lies. The only time confronting lies becomes effective is if someone mentions a specific falsehood. That's when countering it with truth can take away that bullet.
So, how does one fight the Chicago machine's lies? It depends on who you are. Not that I have the answers, but this is my impression.
If you're the Romney campaign, and Romney himself, you minimize your air time crying foul. While he's done this in the past, he needs to get better at it. I chuckled and appreciated his "Obamaloney" retort (in response to Obama's 'Romney Hood' jab), but the problem is it's painted him in the same name calling light as Obama. He looks childish responding to name calling with name calling. In essence, he failed to elevate himself, proving he's a dirty politician just like Obama.
In other instances, he's blunt in his deflections and refutations, which can make him look like he's lying himself. The problem here is that simple, direct refutations with no follow up explanations can reinforce the idea that he is indeed lying. Because if he weren't, he'd have a good alibi right? Yet, if he provides a good alibi he's wasting his air time. And he also looks like all he does is defend against accusations. So even though he's debunking the lies effectively, he still loses because he's wasted time being on the defensive. He has to get better at cleanly and concisely dealing with the lies when they're asked of him by the media (because they most certainly will) and then turning the conversation back to his own message.
I think the effective way to do so is to make the Chicago political machine look childish and petty in their attacks while at the same time not avoiding any childish and petty attacks on his part. It's a fine line to walk. Hopefully he'll hit his groove in the upcoming months and find an effective, decisive way to minimize the attacks' effectiveness. He can't fight fire with fire in this case. He needs to rise above the lies and expose them as petty attempts though subtlety while being more direct in getting out his own message.
If you're an everyday Joe like me that's in the trenches attempting to convince friends and family that voting for Romney is better for the country than voting for Obama, then you thankfully have the time to call a lie a lie. The key is to make sure that's not the crux of your argument why someone shouldn't vote for Obama. Using truth to refute lies that specifically come up is where it's most useful. But if the debate never wades into those waters, they're better left undisturbed. In fact, the best way to reinforce Obama is bad for America is to highlight his failed record. He doesn't have a lot of pluses in his column that are backed by unadulterated fact. The best way to stump for Romney is to point to his successes in the business and his executive experience as a governor.
This insight is rather humbling and sad for me. For those that value Christianity's moral code, lying is thoroughly reviled and rejected. When we encounter them, it boils up a righteous, indignant ire that prompts us to vehemently oppose said falsehoods. The sad part is while we place a high premium on truth, the sad truth is that truth isn't the most important measuring stick in an election. And while we can (rightfully) claim that it should be that way, this isn't going to automagically change reality in our favor. We can always and should pray for truth to matter, but ignoring the reality doesn't do us any favors.
When the moral high ground of being more truthful is erased by conveniently labeling all politicians liars, we need to look elsewhere to get our points across, all the while not partaking in the same reprehensible tactics of Chicago politics that we so diametrically oppose.