The fog and the field

If the air war is obsolete, the ground war is king–not good news for McCain.

Adam Nagourney’s article today claims that the new media environment is making campaign ads all but obsolete. Voters see so much on TV, and are so cynical about what they see, that only the debates will move the campaign.

Count me as unconvinced, both because very smart and ruthless people like Steve Schmidt still think ads worth buying, and because Nagourney’s only source for these claims is Matthew Dowd–a 2004 Bush campaign strategist who has every interest in (1) downplaying the importance of an arena in which his party’s candidate is about to be massively outspent; and (2) obscuring the difference between Republican lies and Democratic (mostly) truth, by labeling them both as likely objects of cynicism.

But say (Nagourney) Dowd is right about ads. Does it follow that only debates matter? No. (Nagourney) Dowd is still thinking within the terms of a TV-obsessed campaign world. But if, by stipulation, people don’t believe what’s on the tube, they might pay attention to what they hear in person. And which candidate has a huge advantage in the game of face to face contacts? See here, here, and here (and, more generally, Sean Quinn of’s outstanding coverage of the whole field game). It’s not close.

I have no idea whether the (Nagourney) Dowd thesis is valid. But if it is, McCain is in deep, deep, trouble.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.