Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Penn v. Axelrod

From Matt Bai:
DEMOCRATS tend to make celebrities of their campaign consultants, which is why anyone who has closely followed this presidential campaign could probably pick out Mark Penn or David Axelrod, the chief strategists for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, in a bar. To refer generically to these strategists as “consultants,” however, as if they were necessarily experts in the same craft, is to obscure important differences in how they got to where they are.


Mr. Axelrod is an advertising guy. A man who perfected the craft of encapsulating an entire life in 30 seconds, he has a gift for telling personal stories in ways that people can understand. Axelrod’s essential insight — the idea that has made him successful where others might have failed — is that the modern campaign really isn’t about the policy arcana or the candidate’s record; it’s about a more visceral, more personal narrative.

This is probably a big reason why Mr. Obama has, from the start, focused almost exclusively on broad themes of “hope” and “change.” His campaign reflects all the attributes of a political ad: the stirring words, the beautiful pictures, the simple and elegant story line of a ruined political system and the man whose moment has arrived.


Mr. Penn, on the other hand, is a pollster, and pollsters tend to look at campaigns as a series of dissectible data points that either attract voters or drive them away. Get a health care plan and an economic plan that 70 percent of people say they view favorably. Pay attention to words that move the dial in focus groups, like “real solutions for America” or “ready to lead on Day 1.”

Mrs. Clinton’s relentless focus on pragmatism and specificity, as well as her willingness to shift slogans, are not simply a result of her own personality but also of Mr. Penn’s strategic outlook, which values testable ideas and phrases over more sweeping imagery and themes.
Interesting analysis and it does much to explain the different campaigns.

There is one thing that Bai misses though: Discipline.

Teh Obama campaign has it and the Clinton campaign does not. I don't mean punishment type of discipline, but rather a focus on the campaign and not letting peripheral issues, like internecine squabbling, get in the way. I don't know if it is a function of Axelrod or Obama or both. But the Clinton camp works in a much looser fashion, premised, it seems, on the idea that internal conflict works. One has to wonder though.

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