Rest assured, I am still among the living. I have just been severely overworked. I assure you that if there were 25 hours in a day, I’d have posted every week this past month. Despite my hectic schedule, I would be forlorn if I failed to write at least one more blog before we usher in the new year.
And what better way to cap off the year than by doing a “Best of 2009” list. Sometimes we all need a little help remembering everything that happened in the past 12 months…especially those in the audience who were exposed to mercury as children. So without further ado, your top five “Best of the Worst” political public relations stories from the year that was.
5. Yay! Our Humvees are finally leaving Iraq… and parking in Afghanistan?
In February, President Obama carried out his campaign promise of setting a date for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Anti-war advocates celebrated the announcement, which prescribed an end to the military campaign that has resulted in more than 4,300 U.S. troop casualties and has cost more than $800 billion in taxpayer money. This euphoria was short-lived, however, as Obama announced plans in early December that would increase the number of troops by 30,000 for 18 months.
Obama’s Biggest Mistake: The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. I won’t even pretend that I have come to this conclusion after years of dutiful research studying military tactics and strategies. Rather, I’ll rely on statistics from the Commander of the U.S. Central Command who rewrote the military doctrine for dealing with counterinsurgencies. You may know him as Gen. David Petraeus. In the first chapter of his manual, Petraeus describes the necessary “force ratio” for stabilizing a country during an insurgency as being about one soldier for every 40 citizens. The population in Afghanistan in more than 28 million people, meaning it would require more than 700,000 troops to effectively stabilize the country.
Even with the escalation, Obama is about 600,000 troops short of winning the war. According to Gallup, Americans are split over whether or not goals in Afghanistan can be met. Most in Obama’s own party want to see a withdrawal, which is never good from a public relations standpoint.
The reality is that we are setting ourselves up for another crisis in Afghanistan. We supplied Afghanistan with weapons to fight the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After they had successfully driven the Soviets out, we left the area without offering to help rebuild. This act birthed the anti-American sentiment that first drove the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to attack us. The message Obama should be communicating with the American public is the need to help build schools and infrastructure in Afghanistan. Trying to convince the public that the war is winnable is bad PR, and is simply untrue.
4. You’re going to kill grandma? At least sit down with her and tell her how you plan to do it.
Who can forget “death panels,” a term first conceived by the ever-eloquent orator Sarah Palin. Palin first dropped the “death panel” bomb on her Facebook page, the Web site she (and 16-year old girls across America) used to tell her friends why she had quit her job. But don’t give her all the credit for contriving the “death panel” concept. She simply repackaged former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey’s claim that the health plan would involve senior citizens to have “a required counseling session” that would “tell them how to end their life sooner,” and formatted it into a nice PR-buzzword. Factcheck.org debunked McCaughey’s and Palin’s claim.
3. Red Scare: Why is Karl Marx giving me my vaccination?
Buzzword of 2009: socialized (fill in the blank). Nothing like a good red-scare to stir up discomfort in the American populous. Don’t like what the Democrats are doing? Just call them socialists, and that’ll turn everyone against them. This tactic was most heavily employed in the fight against Obama’s health care bill.
In reality, socialized medicine would require that the government controls every aspect of medical coverage, including the distribution and administering of medical supplies and procedures. Obama’s original plan never claimed to do away with private insurers, doctors, or hospitals. He simply proposed that a public option could be available that would help the 36 million uninsured Americans afford health care.
Sadly, the false threat of “socialized medicine” proved too frightening for centrist-Democrats, who refused to sign a bill that included the public option for fear they would be labeled as socialists—or worse– if they passed it. The GOP does it again.
2. Ben Nelson: Even the mafia thinks he asked for too big a cut.
On December 24, Democrats finally passed the bill that would overhaul the American health care system. However, news of the landmark passage was sullied by what some called “seedy Chicago politics.” At the center of the controversy was Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson. Nelson, a pro-life Democrat with a long conservative voting record, was the last Democrat to agree to the terms on the health care bill. Nelson’s approval was needed to create the 60 vote supermajority that would break the Republican filibuster. This put Nelson in the position to negotiate his own terms for the bill.
Polls show that if Nelson were to run against Nebraska’s Governor David Heineman today, he would lose 61% to 30%. Some pundits believe this poll was the motivation Nelson needed to ask for what’s been dubbed the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which included promises that no federal program would fund abortions and that Nebraska would be the only state in the country to be exempt from any new Medicaid costs.
Nelson’s move was desperation at its finest. As the adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Approval ratings can only be temporarily revived with a shot of adrenalin when it is administered correctly. Nelson didn’t even do that. Only 17% of Nebraskans approve of the deal that Nelson made, and his party is even more furious. This move sent that wrong message to Nelson’s constituents, and it will cost him in the long run.
1. Somebody has been pouring bourbon in their tea
Nothing like a third party to shake up the system, and 2009 gave rise to a powerful one: the “Tea Party.” During the election, the Republican Party had taken a more centrist stance, deemphasizing its conservative social positions and turning the spotlight instead on its fiscal policies in an effort to bolster McCain’s presidential bid. This move alienated the party’s social conservatives, which gave rise to the fringe group known as the “Tea Party.”
The Tea Party sought to reemphasize conservative social values and the fight against big government. The group organized protests throughout the country to express its condemnation for government spending, taxes and gun policies. The group was blessed by conservative heavy-hitters such as Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.
The movement was extraordinarily effective. Some state elections featured “Tea Party” candidates, and it ultimately threatens to drive the Republican Party back to the right in order to reclaim tea-partier votes.
Despite the group’s success, it represents a dangerous faction. The group is notorious for misrepresenting the truth. It helped fuel the “death panel” claim, gave rise to the “Birthers” movement (The birthers deserve an honorable mention on this list. This group claims that Obama is not a natural born citizen, and is constitutionally ineligible to be president. This claim is absolutely untrue) and urged citizens to quickly add to their personal munitions stash before Obama and his cronies take away everyone’s guns.
The group relies on fear tactics to promote its political positions and frequently twists facts to further its cause. These public relations strategies are deplorable and reprehensible, and for that reason, the “Tea Party” gets top honors for the worst political public relations story of 2009.
For those who did not make the list this year, there is always 2010. We can only hope that next year proves even half as interesting for politics as 2009 was. With midterm elections looming, even better “worsts” may be yet to come.