Saturday, September 20, 2008

Surrogates gone wild

Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post takes up the cause of ending the Surrogate Wars:

Both candidates should declare a surrogate cease-fire. Surrogates are the loose nukes of political campaigns, except more likely to detonate. To be precise, more likely to detonate themselves. Campaigns are the collateral damage. The toxic fallout wafts over cable shows for days. Surrogates create an atmosphere of Mutually Assured Embarrassment -- without the deterrent effect.

Surrogates have always played a campaign role, but the 24/7 news cycle of cable TV amplified by the Internet has made them more ubiquitous, and therefore more dangerous, than ever. How many times during this race have candidates’ messages been forced off-track by a surrogate gone astray? As with weaponry, the question becomes: are they worth the risk? Can a rational campaign safely bet that its surrogates are more likely to hit the target than the other sides’?

The 2008 Surrogate Wars suggest not. ...

Yes, I hear you saying, pitifully na├»ve. Given a choice between having a serious discussion about state regulation of insurance and Carly casually mentioning Viagra, we in the media are going to go for the Viagra every time. So out with the appeals to elevated discourse; in with the argument for enlightened self-interest. Campaign managers: You get antsy about outside groups weighing in on their side because it interferes with your message. Well, your surrogates are doing the same. Force cable to focus on what your candidate is saying (not that he’s always on message) or dredge up another “strategist” no one’s ever heard of. Ditch the surrogates.

We took a look at surrogate follies back in August (”Speak for yourself”), agreeing with a Huffington Post writer that the surrogate battles are out of control.

And we agree with Marcus today.

Our suggestion back in August, or really our lament, was that Town Halls between both candidates could help reduce the 24/7 media’s reliance on surrogates to fill airtime, allowing more direct coverage of the candidates directly engaging one another.

But of course, for every town hall or debate, the 24/7 media coverage would rely on surrogates to battle it out over who can spin their candidate’s performance as being superior. So maybe town halls wouldn’t solve the problem.

And really, even if formal campaign surrogates were to be banished, we would still be left with the overwhelming presence of Obama’s informal network of surrogates, the media themselves.

So what to do?

Joint town halls are still the answer. As is any other venue in which Obama can be presented with an opportunity to speak without a teleprompter.

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