Professor Popkin finds the key to the cosmos!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2012

The IQ of the two major parties: Professor Samuel L. Popkin has written a book about White House campaigns.

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Outlook section gave the book huge play. Mike McCurry reviewed the book right on Outlook's front page.

Who is Samuel L. Popkin, you say. That is an excellent question! We watched the professor on C-Span last night, and all we will say is: Good God!

That said, McCurry seems to thinks Popkin’s a genius right up there with Newton and Einstein. McCurry went on, and on and on, about the professor’s greatest invention—the campaign message box:
MCCURRY (7/29/12): A good campaign begins, Popkin says, with the development of a message box, a big piece of paper divided into four quadrants. The upper left is for what the campaign/candidate will say about itself; to the right is what the campaign/candidate will say about its opponent. The bottom half is the reverse—what the opponent says about its own campaign/candidate and what it says about you. This box is familiar to every Democratic campaign operative, although we traditionally associate it with the late and legendary Paul Tully, who taught the technique to most of us.

Political director for the Democratic National Committee during the 1992 campaign cycle, Popkin is a veteran of most Democratic presidential campaigns going back to Robert F. Kennedy’s in 1968. Curiously, he does not credit Tully with making the box a standard feature of campaign strategy, but I suspect there is a longer story there. It could be that Popkin introduced the box to Tully, although the author makes no such immodest claim. That is worth some follow-up, given how ubiquitous the message box is in current campaign strategy, at least on the Democratic side (I have heard that Republican campaigns have their own version of this, too).
The GOP may be doing this too! Let’s see if we’re able to follow:

First, you write down what you will say about the other guy. Then, you write down what the other guy is going to say about you! Then, you do the same thing, but this time a little bit differently!

This doesn’t sound like rocket science. But McCurry couldn’t stop exulting about the wisdom involved in this highly exotic practice.

McCurry didn’t seem to be kidding—and he couldn't seem to stop:
MCCURRY (continuing directly): To understand the importance of the message box, go ahead and fill in each of the four quadrants in the context of the current presidential campaign. Hmm. Lots of negative under “what we say about our opponent” and not much on vision—that is, what positive things we say to define our candidate and what we will build for the future. Campaigns are infinitely complex now because of the messages disseminated by all the affiliated and semi-affiliated super PACs, but if you reduce the current dialogue to the simple box that Popkin describes, the context of this debate comes into much sharper focus.

Popkin applies the message box to his case studies of presidential campaigns: Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush in 1992, George W. Bush vs. Al Gore in 2000 and Barack Obama vs. John McCain in 2008...
OK, OK! We get it!

We’ll have to admit. We began to wonder about the IQ of the two major parties as McCurry went on and on, and on and on, about the wisdom of this practice. Then we read the Times review of Professor Popkin’s explosive new book.

We'll have to say things got worse.

Tomorrow: The press corps' tales never die


  1. Yup, Popkin -- Gore really did himself in, letting a chick tell him to how be manly and wear earth tones.

    What acumen!

    He's apparently not pointing a finger at the media -- wonder if that contributes to his genius?

  2. He overrelied on his adviser Naomi Wolf, a friend of his daughter’s, whose suggestions — wear earth tones and act more alpha — leaked to the press, turning Gore into a laughingstock.

    Oh dear god. These people really won't ever stop.

  3. The perfessor forgot the part about closing your eyes and throwing a dart at the message box.

    Perhaps he isn't as resourceful as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.

  4. It's not pertinent to the post, but I wanted to drop by and compliment you on your continued diligence. You are, as ever, my first stop in clearing my head of political coverage. Keep up the good work! ^_^