Purposefully passive campaigning: Obama lies low

Purposeful: adj. intentional, done with purpose

Passive: adj. receiving or subjected to an action without responding or initiating an action in return

I’m about to make a politically incorrect association after reading Stanley Fish yesterday in the NYTimes. He writes about how Obama has used an unexpected approach to campaigning. While the McCain campaign is doing the typical Republican rabble-rousing, fear-mongering, mud-slinging thing – trying to tar and feather Obama with dubious associations, Obama is doing something new. 

Nothing much. The purposefully passive campaign.

We saw it in the 10 days when the activity around the mounting economic crisis was at its height… Media commentators went from one hysterical prediction to another. John McCain went from saying there’s nothing to worry about to saying there’s everything to worry about to saying that he would fix everything by suspending his campaign to saying that he was not suspending his campaign and that he would debate after all.

And Barack Obama? He didn’t do much and he said less (O.K., he did say some reassuring, optimistic things), and his poll numbers went up.

Weeks later, the pattern continues, but in an even more intense form. The McCain campaign huffs and puffs and jumps from charge to charge

Instead of tossing legitimate mud back at McCain and Palin, like:

bring up the Keating Five… McCain’s treatment of his first wife, or make fun of Sarah Palin (she doesn’t need any help), or disparage his opponent’s experience, or hint at the disabilities of age.

Obama just stands there looking languid (George Will called him the Fred Astaire of politics [love that!]), always smiling and never raising his voice.

Fish takes the high road and is reminded of Milton’s Paradise Lost, where Satan can’t seem to get any traction in his attempts to rile up Jesus.  Me, I’m reminded of one of the non-PC Uncle Remus stories, “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby”…

Brer Fox wants to bring the uppity Brer Rabbit down a notch, so he creates a babylike creature of paper and sticky tar, plunks a hat on its head and sticks it in the middle of the path Brer Rabbit will travel.  When Brer Rabbit, being mannerly, encounters the Tar Baby on the path, he tips his hat and says good morning, but the Tar Baby says nothing. Meanwhile, in the words of the storyteller, “Brer Fox, he lay low”, watching from the underbrush as the scene unfolds as he’d hoped).

Brer Rabbit gets pissed that the tar baby isn’t responding and he starts threatening it. (Brer Fox, he still lay low.) Eventually he hauls off and punches the Tar Baby, getting his paw stuck in the tar. He gets madder, insisting that if the Tar Baby doesn’t let him go, he’ll punch him with the other paw… [and you can see where this is going.  The story is a classic American folktale – read the whole thing here]

McCain, like Brer Rabbit, has completely lost his cool, while Obama, he lies low, crazy like a fox, dumb and sticky like a tar baby.  

During the debates when McCain would slime him with some easily refuted garbage, I yelled at Obama/the TV: “Ask him about that right-wing pastor! Ask him about Cindy stealing drugs from her charity and causing a couple of respected docs to lose their licenses! Ask him about Rick Davis’s ties to Fannie Mae!”  

But he just smiled knowingly, and lay low.

It looks like the high road is paying off.

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