This post examines the roots of the modern political campaign by showing the original conversation that gave birth to the modern political strategies we see in common use today (between a political candidate and his lead advisor):
Candidate [C]: Gentlemen, we have a major problem in our nation, and in order to win election as leader, we must come up with a legitimate, realistic, and credible plan to solve it, which we will then present to the voters to evaluate.
One complication is that our opponent has already put forward a very promising idea, and people are very enthusiastic about it. Does anyone have suggestions or ideas on how to deal with this?
Advisor [A]: Sir, coming up with realistic and legitimate ideas is really hard. And even if you come up with one, there’s no guarantee people will agree with it over other ideas. That’s really too much of a risk to take on. With your permission, I’d like to suggest a completely different approach.
C: What alternative could there possibly be to coming up with real ideas and then having an enlightened discussion about them that leads to an intelligent decision?
A: Well sir, the alternative is actually very simple: you can make up an idea, regardless of whether anyone thinks it will work or not -- or whether you even intend to implement it at all -- and this will work as long as the idea SOUNDS better than others. I like to call this creative expression, but it can also be called marketing, or, more accurately, lying.
C: That sounds intriguing, but what happens when my opponents rightly point out that this idea will never work -- or that I don’t intend to do what I say? People won’t trust me, and I’ll still lose.
A: Not at all! Once you’ve created one fake talking point, it’s trivial to create another. The power is really unlimited when you realize you can say whatever you want to say without having to be concerned about whether it “makes sense” or is “accurate”. In addition, there is a possibly even more powerful tool to use in these situations, which is to simply tell everyone what a terrible person your opponent is.
C: Impugn their character? I could never do that -- people would think I am the terrible one!
A: People don’t think like that at all! That’s the beauty of this strategy. People are more like dogs watching tennis, and the things you say are like the ball. As soon as you say it, they start looking at the other person waiting for a response while not thinking about you at all. And in fact, they usually tend to believe what you say without much thought anyway. All you have to do is keep knocking that ball back at the other person as fast as possible. Not only will people not have any time to pay attention to you, they’ll actually be really entertained -- and you’ll reap all the benefits!
C: So, if I understand you properly, you’re suggesting that I should tell people what I think they want to hear, regardless of whether it is true, makes any sense at all, or whether I even intend to follow through on it -- AND that they will believe me?
C: And when my opponents challenge these obviously ridiculous statements, I should make even more ridiculous statements, along with calling them stupid, unpatriotic, racist, and any other insulting thing I can come up with?
C: And people will fall for all this… because THEY’RE stupid?
A: YES! Well, not exactly… I mean, you are lying to them and manipulating them. But admittedly it is rather easy to do.
C: I have to admit that this is possibly the most BRILLIANT idea I have EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE! Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?!
And so, the modern political campaign strategy was born.