By playing Connect the Dots, pictures are revealed that otherwise would not be. Currently the parties and the candidates are in a struggle to create an image of the other that reveals a picture to the American people. Over the course of this campaign, each side has been connecting the dots for the voters to evaluate.
Early on the Republicans sought to capitalize on Barack Obama’s connection to several controversial figures. The Democrats on the other hand began to connect John McCain to President Bush. Both parties acted on a basic principle of connecting the dots; that of drawing lines between certain individuals and the candidates revealing a picture of the candidate’s own morality and character to the American people. Charles Dunn in his own assessment has descibe this as a game of “pin the tail on the donkey” (1).
Recently, the Republicans have stopped highlighting Obama’s connection with Pastor Wright and others. This in many ways may be a missed opportunity for Republicans. People look to Presidents as individuals of excellent character. To freely associate with men of questionable character could causes people to question Obama’s character as well. This is especially true when someone defends such a relationships for as long as Obama did. In many ways, Obama took a path similar to Carter and Clinton in defending his twenty-year relationship with Wright (2). He first delayed in responding to the issue (2). Then he denied that he had ever heard Wright preach the negatives that were being highlighted in the media (2). He tried to discredit those attacking him (2). He also deflected and diminished the attacks (2). Though he never divulged anything (2), he did eventually disown Wright when he realized that he had no other political option left.
The Democrats on the other hand have continued to pound McCain’s relationship with Bush. From the beginning, it appeared that McCain knew this would be a weakness for himself. Similar to Nixon taking on Johnson’s connection to the Vietnam War (3), McCain worked to avoid doing the same thing with Bush’s record concerning both the Iraq war and the economy. As apparent by the recent Presidential debates, Obama and the Democrats are determined not to pass up the opportunity to make the voter’s view a McCain presidency as a third term for Bush.
Though the Republican have stopped connecting Obama to Wright, an opportunity exists for the Republican to expound Obama’s connection to his own party. Currently the Democrats control both the House and the Senate. While Bush is being blamed for the economic condition America finds itself in, he did not get the country there alone. Since the Democrats took control of Congress, gas has almost doubled and they have practically stonewalled any attempt to help alleviate America’s dependence on foreign oil. Not only that, signs exist that Republicans can point to showing the Democrat’s hand in helping to create the current economy. Truman in his 1948 election took to portraying a Republican controlled congress as a “do nothing congress.” And in a stunning comeback, Truman won the election that Dewey was projected to already have locked up (3). To capitalize on this opportunity, McCain must begin to highlight how a “do-nothing” Democratic congress got America here in the first place.
So it comes down to a game of Connect the Dots. Will Obama successfully convince Americans that McCain is a secretly a Bush in Maverick’s clothing? Or will McCain eventually connect enough dots to portray Obama as a man lacking in character judgment, as well as a leader of a party afraid of tackling the crisis of our time? Only time will tell who is better at Connect the Dots.
1- Dunn, C. (2008). Lecture. Delivered September 24, 2008 at Regent University
2- Dunn, C. (2007). The seven laws of presidential leadership: An introduction to the American Presidency. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
3- Dunn, C. (2001). The scarlet thread of scandal: Morality and the American presidency. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, INC.