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Purple Heart Band-Aids and Tire Gauges

August 4, 2008

Here are two incontrovertible statements of fact. John Kerry was a decorated Vietnam war veteran. Barack Obama suggested Americans keep their tires inflated to ensure better gas mileage for their cars. But as with Kerry and the Purple-Heart Band-Aids in 2004, Obama is about to see his basic truth swamped by the tawdry but sadly effective gimmicky of the Republican Party.
That's the clear intent of the McCain camp's distribution today of tire pressure gauges reading "Obama Energy Plan." On Monday, Obama kicked off a week of events focused on the energy issue by issuing a call to eliminate the need to end America's need for oil from the Middle East and Venezuela with 10 years by invest $150 billion over the next decade in the new energy economy here at home. Those initiatives come on top of last week's proposal to implement an oil windfall profits tax both to fund $1000 rebates for consumers and bolster state transportation budgets.
But no doubt, a serious debate on energy policy will be pushed aside by juvenile pranks of the McCain campaign. Obama's suggestion that properly inflated tires would reduce fuel costs for American drivers was not only echoed in the past by Republican Governors Charlie Crist (R-FL) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), but by NASCAR as well. But as Newt Gingrich first made clear last week by calling the idea "loony tunes," that truism would soon be the subject of mockery. By this morning, as Time and CNN were sure to play up, McCain aide Mark Salter was passing out the tire gauges to reporters on the campaign plane.
Today's tire gauge antic is just the latest example of the tried and true three-part Republican formula for converting the debate over issues (which the GOP would lose) into a media-driven contest of character (which history shows they will win):

  • First, identify your opponent's strength.
  • Second, attack him head on using the truth where possible but falsehoods as necessary.
  • Third, make him an object of mockery by producing an iconic image which becomes unshakeable in voters' minds.

Just ask John Kerry. By the time he told the Democratic National Convention that he was "reporting for duty," he had already been irreversibly smeared by the Swift Boat campaign. And to add insult to injury, delegates at the Republican National Convention in New York donned those purple-heart bandages to slander Kerry further by suggesting his Vietnam wounds were self-inflicted. As NPR recounted, those Band-Aids were distributed with the message:

"It was just a self-inflicted scratch, but you see I got a Purple Heart for it."

The episode was not with some backlash, and RNC officials feebly asked the delegates to remove the bandages for the remainder of the convention. But the damage was done. A sitting President whose absence from National Guard duty remains unexplained was branded the tough-talking national hero. John Kerry, who volunteered to go to Vietnam and whose sacrifice was recognized with three medals, was depicted in the media as a fraud.
Fast forward four years and John McCain's character war is well underway. And as a nine-point swing in the polls in a single week seems to suggest, it's working. The tire gauge may be a pathetic prank, but the pressure will all be on Barack Obama.
UPDATE: The Carpetbagger Report has more on the long half-life of what should be a lifeless tire gauge story.

One comment on “Purple Heart Band-Aids and Tire Gauges”

  1. i've contacted the obama campaign store to ask when they are going to have these tire gauges for us. i can't believe how stoopid the mccain campaign is -- they're selling campaign gear with obama's name on it! hilarious!
    but seriously, i want one but i want to buy it from obama's campaign. go over to obama 2008 and let them know you want one too so they'll order them (they don't even have to do any design work or get the manufacturer geared up!).


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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