Message Discipline

I was reading the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine, which had not one but two articles on Paul Hackett.

The first one was what’s called in journalism a “tick-tock” piece. Basically, it’s a blow-by-blow, day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour accounting of how something happened, and they’re done so that you can get a feel of what it was like to be there.

This one was no different, and if you’re familiar with the campaign, you can skip it, unless you want to do the nostalgia trip. I’m not saying it wasn’t good, just that it’s covered the same ground that other accounts of the brief campaign covered.

The second article is the one that I want to talk about.

It’s actually not much of an article–it’s more of an extended sidebar. But what they’re talking about is the recent spat between Paul Hackett and Rep. Sherrod Brown, who ended his extended Hamlet routine about seeking statewide office and jumped into the race for Senate.

The reason the spat started was because for months, Ohio Democrats couldn’t get anyone into the race. Ted Strickland bailed. Sherrod Brown bailed. Tim Ryan bailed. And after the special election in the OH 2nd, Paul Hackett allowed himself to be convinced into running.

By the time that took place, however, Brown had had another opportunity to consider running for the Senate, and this time, he decided to go for it. Hackett felt that he had been lied to, as did his supporters, and now we have the makings of an acrimonious primary.

How acrimonious? Well, check out this quote from Hackett, straight from the sidebar:

“The Democratic Party is like an addict. They’re addicted to failure. I want to help the party. The question is, how do you help someone that doesn’t want help?”.

Look, I don’t care if it’s remotely true or not–and the truth of it is, frankly, very arguable–more on that in a second. The bottom line is, do you want your candidate flying off the handle like this?

This comes down to message discipline in a candidate, and message discipline in a campaign. One of the biggest worries that people who back Brown have about Hackett is that Hackett’s untested in the crucible of a long campaign, especially a long campaign in the national spotlight.

I’m sorry folks, but a weeks-long campaign for Congress–and one that national media didn’t cover until the end–isn’t the same thing. Not even close. And Hackett was already showing signs of chafing under the glare of the spotlight there. He’s making statements like the above–and he hasn’t even announced yet! So how is he going to react next fall when the glare’s even brighter and the fire’s even hotter?

Back to his statement. The reason I winced is because it’s the kind of absolutist, definitive statement that’s very hard to walk back, and well-nigh impossible to spin.

What it does is basically call Democrats failures, unless they unite to support Hackett in a primary. For all I know, it may well be true. But I do know that no one likes being called a failure, no one likes to be associated with failure, and that’s what that statement does. Like it or not, Hackett’s saying that Democrats like losing, like failing, and that Hackett’s deigning, like a bored aristocrat, to help the little people. The little people apparently don’t want his help, and so now he’s miffed.

That’s the kind of thing that message discipline, both in a campaign and in a candidate, is meant to address. That Hackett doesn’t want to exercise it, and neither does his campaign, by trying to spin it, is worrisome.

Bottom line: Hackett’s gong to have a devil of a time trying to explain what he meant by what he said during the primary. And if I were doing advertising for either Brown’s or DeWine’s campaign, I’d be thanking my lucky stars, because this guy may well turn out to be a Democratic Goldwater–a candidate prone to making so many gaffes that they do your negative advertising for you.

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2 responses to “Message Discipline

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