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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Obama, Messaging, and Dean Wormer

Take a moment to watch this clip.  It’s from an Obama town hall appearance yesterday in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

At first glance, it seems pretty good.  He says that “there should be no contradiction between keeping America safe and secure and respecting our Constitution.”  He gets in a good shot in about the need to catch the terrorists before you worry about what to do with them.  And he has a great line at the end:  “Don’t mock the constitution.  Don’t make fun of it!  Don’t suggest that it’s un-American to abide by what the founding fathers set up.”

Those are all good points.  The problem is that along the way, he violates two fundamental rules of messaging:

1.  Don’t use your opponent’s talking points to frame your arguments.  Obama did that on three occasions:

“Senator Obama is less interested in protecting people from terrorism than he is in reading them their rights.”

“You may think it’s Barack the bomb thrower, when in fact it might be Barack, the guy running for president.”

“The reason you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism.”

When you do this, you reinforce people’s preconceptions about you.  If folks are already inclined to worry about whether you’re the right guy, then what they’re going to hear is that Obama is soft on terrorism, has a Muslim name, and is interested in protecting the bad guys.

2.  Don’t try to convince people with facts.  Obama spends over a minute explaining the concept of habeas corpus.  He sounded like a professor.  Most people don’t have any idea what the words “habeus corpus” mean.  But they do understand the underlying principle:  that sometimes, our government makes mistakes, and we need rules to protect innocent people from being thrown in jail indefinitely.  They’ll understand that much more readily than talking about how this right goes back to before we were a country.

So what should have Obama said?  How about something like this:

You know, all of us want to be treated fairly.  You could say that’s the basic idea behind the Constitution and the Bill of Rights:  do unto others as you would have them do onto you.  In this country, we give people the chance to be heard. We promise them that they won’t be tortured.  We say to them that they have the right to prove that they are innocent of the charges against them, and that they don’t have to incriminate themselves.

These are our core values.  These are incredible gifts that the founding fathers gave to us.  And these are the very things that our opponents are now mocking.  How dare John McCain and Sarah Palin suggest that what was good enough for Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin isn’t good enough for us.

Other than our familes, our freedoms are the most precious thing we have .  They are what made this country great.  They are the promise that all men and women are created equal, that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and, as you said so beautifully, ma’am, that we are the sweet land of liberty.

John McCain and Sarah Palin, just like George Bush and Dick Cheney, want you to believe that our security is more important than our freedoms.  What you know and what I know — and what McCain and Palin and Bush and Cheney certainly should know is that we cannot have security without freedom.  We cannot have justice without freedom.  We cannot be America without our freedoms.

Those who suggest otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.

They should be ashamed for resorting to torture, for doing the very same things that John McCain himself suffered in Vietnam.  They should be ashamed for letting places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, instead of places like Farmington Hills and Peoria define who we are.  They should be ashamed for allowing waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, and other techniques that we used to think only happened in places like Zimbabwe and Burma and Cuba.  They should be ashamed of themselves for believing that it’s all okay because the President can do anything he wants anytime he wants.

That’s not my America.  That’s not your America.  That’s not George Washington’s or Abraham Lincoln’s or Teddy Roosevelt’s or FDR’s or JFK’s or Ronald Reagan’s America.  Nowhere in our Constitution does it say the President can do anything he or she wants.  Nowhere.  That’s not Martin Luther King’s or Susan B. Anthony’s or Bobby Kennedy’s America.  That’s George Bush’s America.

It’s time we reclaim our heritage of freedom, our role as that shining city on the hill.  It’s time we say “not on our watch,” not here, not in Guantanamo, not anywhere.

It’s time that we say to Bush and Cheney and McCain and Palin and anyone else who supports them, we’re taking America back.  We’re taking America back to what it stands for.  We’re going to make America great again.  We’re going to be the America that respects people’s rights, that honors our core values, that draws so many people around the world to our shores.

Let’s start showing the world why we’re better than our enemies.  Let’s honor our founding fathers by returning to the values that make America America.

That would knock McCain and Palin on their butts.  It would force them to explain why they support the very torture techniques that  John McCain himself endured.  It would make them explain why they aren’t un-American.  It would require them to argue that they don’t want to destroy the Constitution or shred the Bill of Rights.  Tar them with every sin of the Bush Administration, and do it in a way that will leave them no space to reply except by repeating your arguments.

That, after all, is exactly what they’re doing to the Democrats.

So for crying out loud, Senator Obama, stop defending yourself and start attacking them.  It’s the only way you win.

P.S.  To my colleagues in the blogosphere and the mainstream media, this goes double for you.  Stop caring about how many times Sarah Palin lied about the bridge to nowhere and start talking about why Obama and Biden are the right choice. Stop parsing every lie that McCain and Palin tell and start talking about what their Administration would do to the country.  And if you can’t, then shut the hell up.

It’s the Dean Wormer Theory of Politics.  In Animal House, Dean Vernon Wormer tells Flounder, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

In politics, defensive, bitter, and angry is no way to win an election. 

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23 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

Controlympics: Mugabe Wins Gold in the Deceitathon

Via Reuters:

President Robert Mugabe may have decided to abandon power-sharing talks aimed at ending Zimbabwe’s deep crisis, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Thursday.  Tsvangirai said Mugabe’s intention to open parliament next Tuesday was a “repudiation” of a Memorandum of Understanding on the basis for talks to end a political deadlock that followed disputed June elections.

Hmm.  Tuesday, August 26.  That would be. . .exactly two days after the Olympics end.

From a July 28 story in The Telegraph (UK):

A demand by China that the Zimbabwean government “behave” in the run-up to the Olympics lies behind Robert Mugabe’s surprise decision to open negotiations with the opposition.  Beijing put pressure on Mr Mugabe to begin talks because of fears that the continuing crisis in Zimbabwe risked overshadowing the Olympics, according to government and diplomatic sources.

China’s leaders, who have have long enjoyed a close relationship with Zimbabwe’s beleagured president, feared growing protests in the run-up to the Games and so leaned on Mr Mugabe to agree to the historic talks.

At the time, I wrote the following:

Turns out that China, fearing bad publicity due to its close relationship with Zimbabwe, has told Robert Mugabe and his gang of thugs to cool it for a while. . . .

And does this mean that Mugabe will renege on the power-sharing agreement as soon as the Olympics are over?

Looks like we have our answer.

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20 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:46 pm

Bad News for Zambia. . .and Zimbabwe

This didn’t get much coverage in the American press:

Levy Mwanawasa, the Zambian president who was laid low by a stroke hours before he was due to lead a band of African leaders in condemnation of Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, died on Tuesday at a Paris hospital aged 59.

”I would like to inform the nation that our president, his Excellency Dr Levy Mwanawasa, died this morning at 10.30am at Percy Military Hospital,” Rupiah Banda, his deputy who has been acting president since Mr Mwanawasa suffered a stroke in late June, told the nation in a televised address. . . .

This is a double blow.  Mwanawasa had emerged as a force for stability both in Zambia and the region.  His country has rarely been more stable, and thanks to his leadership, it has the chance to become another Botswana.  The big question now is whether Banda can sustain his legacy.

In addition, Mwanawasa was one of the few African leaders ready and willing to challenge Mugabe.  He was expected to “stiffen the spine” of other African leaders at last month’s African Union meeting.  Tragically, he was felled by a stroke hours before the meeting started.

The death of Mr Mwanawasa, whose health has been poor since a near-fatal car crash in the early 1990s, robs the continent of one of the few leaders prepared to pierce the veil of deference long afforded to Mr Mugabe. Along with his counterparts in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Liberia, the Zambian leader was forthright in his condemnation of the abuses that saw the Zimbabwean strongman claim a new mandate after a one-man election in June.

In the weeks leading up to the June 27 run-off Mugabe said that “only God could remove him” as President.  I’m sure he’s gloating right now, convinced that divine intervention struck down one of his most vocal critics.

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19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:30 am

Green as in Not Even Remotely Envious

Good to see that Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney has not jumped off the crazy train.  In fact, she’s now the conductor.

Here are excerpts of an interview McKinney did with The Final Call. As in Louis Farrakhan’s newspaper.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  I’m such a kidder.

Actually, I’m not:

Now unfortunately we are in the midst of a presidential campaign and Pakistan is being bombed literally as we speak. Somalia is occupied, the once proud leadership of Ethiopia has now become the back pocket handmaiden of the George Bush administration for rendition and torture. . . .

We decry the United Nations occupation of Haiti. The people of Haiti had the self confidence and the perseverance after their president was stolen with U.S. weapons to vote and insure the election integrity of that vote for Renè Prèval. Renè Prèval needs to be free to lead the Haitian people. . . .

[In Zimbabwe,] people who don’t have title to the land should not be allowed to occupy the land. The title of land can’t be granted to those who have stolen the land. Land reform is the issue all over Africa. The issue is land and the land must be free to be settled by the original inhabitants who were removed from that land illegally as a result of colonialism.

I learned so much from this interview.  We’re at war with Pakistan.  We’re occupying Somalia.  The UN is occupying Haiti at our beck and call.  Oh, and McKinney hearts Mugabe.

So McKinney’s strategy is to seek both the black helicopter and the black nationalist vote.

And the Greens wonder why they aren’t taken seriously?

Actually, maybe Barack should worry.  After all, the Greens are putting together a ground game that just might rival Obama’s.  Check this out:


Hat tip:  Reason Hit & Run

Photo:  Ed Yourdon via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.

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14 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:51 pm

Maybe Dubya Can Give Him the Medal of Freedom

Via the BBC:

President Robert Mugabe has awarded a medal to. . . George Chiweshe, head of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC), who has been criticised for his handling of the country’s recent polls.

You’ve done a heckuva job, George.

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12 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:55 pm

Wonk’d: Why the UN Human Rights Council Blows

As I’ve noted in my two previous posts, I’m both a fan and a critic of the United Nations.  But if there’s one thing the United Nations does really really really badly, it’s human rights.

It wasn’t always this way.  Thanks in part to the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the early years of the United Nations adopted both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention.  Over the next several decades, a number of other important treaties followed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, among others.

Lately, however, not so much.  The UN Commission on Human Rights became so disreputable — by doing things like electing Libya as chair and failing to take action on Rwanda — that the UN decided to abolish it and replace it with a new body that would address many of its shortcomings.

During the 2005 UN Millennium Summit, the General Assembly agreed to the creation of a new Human Rights Council, supposedly putting into place safeguards that would prevent similar problems in the future.  Sadly, the United States chose not to play a central role in the negotiations over how the Council would be constituted or how it organizes itself.  Thank you, John Bolton, you self-righteous paleocon jerk.

(Full disclosure:  Steve Clemons, Scott Paul (both of the Washington Note), Don Kraus (my successor as CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions) and I organized the successful opposition to the Bolton nomination.)

(And for the UN wonks out there, yes I know I’m oversimplifying this timeline.  But please keep in mind that I’m not writing for you.)

So there we were, a new start, a new opportunity to do serious human rights work.



Today we have a body that in many ways is worse than its predecessor.  There are a lot of issues that the Council should be looking at these days — Darfur, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Pakistan, and Iraq, to name just a few.  Instead, the it has spent almost all of its time on one issue:  Israel.

The reasons for this have to do not with human rights in that country –- which, to be clear, should be looked at, as should human rights issues in every country.  Rather it’s the product of those who currently sit on the Council.  Dictatorships make up over half the Council’s membership. They have spotlighted Israel to deflect attention from the human rights abusers within their own ranks, as well as to stick it to the West (and, to be clear, Israel).

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues to refuse to engage the Council, deciding not to stand for election and even failing to send an Ambassador to Council meetings.  Of course that’s assuming it could even get elected to the Council, given its own human rights record.  Either way, its actions have only encouraged the misbehavior and discouraged those who would stand up to such nonsense.

And then, late last week, we have the latest outrage:

A former spokesman for Cuba’s foreign ministry was appointed this week to head the United Nations Human Rights Council’s advisory committee.  Radio Rebelde says Miguel Alfonso Martinez, is president of the Cuban Society of International Law, was appointed this Monday to head the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council.

Oy vey.  Oh wait — saying that might get me investigated by the Council.

This isn’t the first bad appointment either.  Richard Falk, a Princeton professor who has compared Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip to Nazi Germany, is the Council’s Special Rapporteur on. . . wait for it. . .Israel.  And Jean Ziegler, who once helped Muammar Qaddafi establish a peace prize named after the dictator and who has praised, among others, Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro, was elected to the Council’s Advisory Committee.

The Council has more than a bad joke.  It’s a black eye for the UN and and embarrassment to the entire world.  Furthermore, it has become a convenient whipping boy for the paleocons here in the United States.

It’s time to start over. . .again.

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

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28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:06 pm

Oh Behave

You know that the world is screwed up when a ruthless dictatorship is willing to do what the democratically elected President of South Africa won’t.  Turns out that China, fearing bad publicity due to its close relationship with Zimbabwe, has told Robert Mugabe and his gang of thugs to cool it for a while:

A demand by China that the Zimbabwean government “behave” in the run-up to the Olympics lies behind Robert Mugabe’s surprise decision to open negotiations with the opposition.  Beijing put pressure on Mr Mugabe to begin talks because of fears that the continuing crisis in Zimbabwe risked overshadowing the Olympics, according to government and diplomatic sources.

China’s leaders, who have have long enjoyed a close relationship with Zimbabwe’s beleagured president, feared growing protests in the run-up to the Games and so leaned on Mr Mugabe to agree to the historic talks….

So the score is ChiComs 1, Thabo “the Mbekster” Mbeki, 0.  I have to wonder whether South Africans have a countdown clock for him the way we do for Bush.

And does this mean that Mugabe will renege on the power-sharing agreement as soon as the Olympics are over?

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27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:15 am

Mbend It Like Mbeki

I bet that if Thabo Mbeki were to have a Facebook page, he would be one of those people who friends everybody, but who has almost everyone ignore the request.  Everyone except dictators, that is.

We already knew that the MBekster had a soft spot in his head heart for Zimbabwe President-for-Life-of-Misery Robert Mugabe.  It turns out, however that no dictator is safe from this guys warm embrace:

South Africa’s president has called on the International Criminal Court not to prosecute Sudan’s leader for war crimes in case it upsets Darfur’s peace talks.

Thabo Mbeki told South African TV that Omar al-Bashir’s continued presence as head of state was also needed to assist the country’s post-civil war security.

Maybe Radovan Karadzic can get Mbeki to put in a good word for him at his upcoming trial.  I understand that Mbeki feels he’s essential to peace and reconciliation in Bosnia.

UPDATE: So I just checked.  The MBekster does not have a Facebook page.  But here are some of the groups others have created to express their feelings about him:

  • South Africans Embarassed by Thabo Mbeki (233 members)
  • Leave Thabo Mbeki Aloooooooooone!! Alone He is the Best President Ever! (174 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki — Africa’s Newest Dictator (59 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki is on Mugabe’s Payroll (62 members)
  • I Hate Thabo Mbeki (43 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki Sucks…. (35 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki:  South Africa’s Downfall! (15 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki “I am Not Useless” (11 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki is a Coward and a Danger to South Africa (9 members)
  • Rein in Thabo Mbeki (7 members)
  • Remove Thabo Mbeki from Office Now! (7 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki Go to Hell (2 members)
  • Thabo Mbeki Is Spineless (2 members)

Come on, folks, how do you really feel?

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2 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:55 pm

Last I Checked, I’m Not the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe

An ITN correspondent actually gets close enough to speak to Zimbabwean President dictator-for-life Robert Mugabe:

It must be hard to be an unrecognized genius.

Update: Mbeki continues to weasel out of any real confrontation:

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