October 03, 2004

The Real Campaign "Bubble"

Tom Friedman's latest speaks for itself (Shorter: "If people knew how to fix things in Iraq, maybe things would be fixed"), but he does raise an interesting point midway through:
What happened? The Bush team got its doctrines mixed up: it applied the Powell Doctrine to the campaign against John Kerry - "overwhelming force" without mercy, based on a strategy of shock and awe at the Republican convention, followed by a propaganda blitz that got its message across in every possible way, including through distortion. If only the Bush team had gone after the remnants of Saddam's army in the Sunni Triangle with the brutal efficiency it has gone after Senator Kerry in the Iowa-Ohio-Michigan triangle. If only the Bush team had spoken to Iraqis and Arabs with as clear a message as it did to the Republican base.
What's so amazing about the Bush campaign—and maybe other campaigns have been like this, I dunno—is that wishing really can make it so. If Bush just stays confident, stays on message, and declares himself a winner—he can actually win. Some extraordinarily non-trivial segment of the population will go along with Bush because he claims he's right. The Iraqi people, on the other hand, want results. It's all well and good to tell Iraq, "We want to make you free," but as soon as the gas lines start extending for miles, as soon as the looting starts unchecked, etc., etc., those words and good intentions don't mean much. It's as if the American people are buying Bush stock because everyone else says Bush stock is good and will continue to get better, while the Iraqis are looking purely at the discounted value of future free cash flows and noticing that it's a pretty shitty deal.

What am I getting at? It's not that Bush is spending too much time on the campaign trail, and not enough time in Iraq, as Friedman suggests. It's that Bush's campaign skills—which basically involve creating an asset bubble—are completely useless in a place like Iraq, where creating actual value matters. I hate to be shrill about it, but the president shares more with Kenneth Lay than is commonly thought.
-- Brad Plumer 7:39 PM || ||