Larry Craig, the irrational member who goes on forever with no solution.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Oct. 5 2007 3:08 PM

Word Problem

Larry Craig, the irrational member who goes on forever with no solution.

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(Continued from Page 2)

Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back: Just hours after Slate announced "Way!"'s shocking upset victory in the Romney ad contest, Team Mitt realized that defeat is at hand. Moments ago, panicked e-strategists in Boston posted the contest finalists on the campaign Web site and urged supporters to vote for their favorite. Last week the campaign promised 10 finalists, but today it posted only nine instead. We all know which one is missing—the ad that already won  by more than 16,000 votes.

Apparently, Team Mitt can't count—and all of a sudden has no interest in counting, either. Last week, the campaign's director of e-strategy told Wired that the 10 winners would be based on page views and viewer love. But when the nine finalists were announced, only one was among the top nine in page views or love. Three finalists didn't even meet the competition standards for length.

My fellow Romneyacs, don't throw your vote away! Our fearless leader promised us online democracy, not a Soviet-style election run by totalitarian Mittistas.

We can learn a lot from the ads Team Mitt pretended to like better than mine. A spot called "Romney Girl" uses the same baby picture of Tagg as "Way!", with the same "great father" message. "Mitt Romney—The Change America Needs" is a dizzying montage of buzzwords—Strong, New, Leadership, Innovation, Energy, Passion, Leading America Forward, March Forward, Lift Up Our Eyes. An ad called "I Believe" explains Romney's immigration policy: "I believe in God. I believe that homeland security begins with securing our borders."

One of the most surprising finalists is "Salt Lake Success IV," which shows an elderly man in his room reminiscing about volunteering for Mitt at the Olympics. One viewer commented, "This is just a little creepy." Perhaps the most revealing ad is "Mitt Romney's Resume," which shows someone (George W. Bush?) filling out a Harvard Business School application. The first viewer comment came from the Romney campaign, which advised the ad maker, "Please fix the spelling of President on the last shot."

In "The Mitt, the Man, the Legend," a supporter praises Romney as a leader who "wants to see data." Fair enough, governor—analyze this. ... 11:52 A.M. (link)

Monday, Sept. 24, 2007

Advertisement

America's Top Romney: When I entered the Romney campaign's "Create Your Own Ad!" contest, my ad, "Way!", was the last thing Team Mitt wanted anyone to see. They refused to post it on the official contest Web site, even though my entry was dripping with the values of faith, family, and marriage they claim they hold dear.

But now, the votes are in, and there can be no joy in Mittville. Out of all the 100+ ads entered in the contest, "Way!" is the most-watched, most-loved spot by a landslide.

As of midday Monday, "Way!" had more than 19,000 views—a 7,500-view lead* over the next contender. In fact, more people have watched first-place "Way!" than the second- and third-place ads put together. "Way!" also has nearly twice as much viewer love as its nearest competitor. Stunned political analysts say this could be the greatest political upset since Truman knocked another little man off his wedding cake.

The Romney campaign promised to buy TV time for the winning ad and suggested last week that the winner would be chosen on the basis of viewer love and page views. I await my ride in the Mittmobile.

I never expected to be the first Web-driven, walk-on adman in American political history. I'm just glad to have a candidate who can afford the air time. ... 1:58 P.M.(link)

* Update: The overnight returns are in, and it's a rout of staggering proportions. By 9 a.m. EST on Tuesday, "Way!" led its nearest competitor by 14,000 views—a 2-1 margin. "Way!" has more views than the next four ads in the contest put together.

Now that Mother Jones has called the race, the major networks are sure to follow. A Romney concession speech from Faneuil Hall in Boston could come at any time. Suggested excerpts: "It is better to be loved and win than never to be loved at all." ... 9:15 A.M.

Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007

We Have a Winner: Attention, Ryan Seacrest—America's Top Romney has a new No. 1. The most-viewed, most-loved entry in the Romney campaign's ad contest is now our own "Way!" The people have spoken, and the nearest contender is several thousand views behind.

Thanks for helping make Tagg a star—and keep watching until Team Mitt buys us air time in Iowa and New Hampshire. … 10:15 A.M. (link)

Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007

Up, Up, and a Way!: Proving that an ad is worth 100 words, the Romney campaign announced yet another contest yesterday. According to the Boston Globe, contestants can win the chance to campaign with Mitt by writing a 100-word essay on " why they want to tag along"—as opposed to why they want Tagg along.

No wonder Team Mitt wants to change the subject—in its "Create Your Own Ad!" contest, the ad they don't want you to see is running away with the popular vote. Mindy Finn, Romney's "director of e-strategy," told Wiredmagazine this week that 10-12 finalists will be chosen on the basis of page views and viewer love. As it happens, my ad "Way!" is ranked seventh in love and second in page views—and within striking distance of the top.

Give the e-strategist what she wants! Watch the ad that your vote can push to the No. 1 spot.

Finn says, "It's been fascinating to see how other people view Governor Romney, and what he should be running for." If the contests go well, he might run for something else. ... 11:23 A.M. (link)

Friday, Sept. 21, 2007

Big Love: The Romney campaign doesn't want my "Way!" ad to win its "Create Your Own Mitt!" contest, but the ban in Boston seems to have backfired. Yesterday afternoon, the ad made its debut back in 109th place. Now it's the second-most-watched ad in the entire Romney contest. Don't miss this chart-busting hit that's rocking Tagg's World!

Meanwhile, the last-ditch effort to save Larry Craig's job has already won its first convert—Larry Craig. Today's headline in the Idaho Statesman: "Craig still not sure he'll resign from Senate." When McClatchy newspapers asked him whether he planned to leave Sept. 30, Craig replied, "I just don't know yet."

Now that those feet are dragging, it's time for the Craig War Room to mount another offensive. Today's talking points place the blame where it belongs—in Minnesota:

*Friendless Skies: Yesterday, a Minnesota prosecutor tried to take away Sen. Craig's only friend, the ACLU. The prosecutor asked the judge to strike the ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief on the grounds that friends don't let friends peer through bathroom stalls and call it free speech.

The Craig War Room was more struck by this sentence in the prosecutor's motion:

Anyone who has spent time in an airport also knows that there are very few private locations, much less locations to accommodate sexual interludes with strangers.

Most of us have managed to spend a good chunk of our lifetimes in airports while never once having that thought. When will these sex-crazed, Bill-of-Rights-burning, Caribou Coffee-swilling witch hunters leave our poor traveler alone?

*Slouching Toward Bloomington: The linchpin of the prosecution's case against Craig is that the restroom at the Northstar Crossing was a haven for solicitation. It's just like locals to blame somebody from out of town. They should start by looking closer to home.

Say what you will about Larry Craig—he's not an attractive nuisance. But Northstar Crossing is. Check out the airport's own puff-piece description of what authorities did to the place:

The Minneapolis / St. Paul International Airport completed a revolutionary renovation of its retail venues. The new space, called "Northstar Crossing" in honor of Minnesota being known as the Northstar State, offers unprecedented customer service and convenience, vastly improved public aesthetics, and increased airport profits.

If this is "vastly improved," what were the public aesthetics like before? Perhaps airport executives should have worried more about defending our values than driving up their own profits. Larry Craig's stopover was supposed to be in Minneapolis. He didn't know he'd be changing planes in ancient Rome. ... 2:41 P.M. (link)

Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007

Tagg Line: In the 40 years since The Selling of the Presidency, Joe McGinniss' 1968 account of how a young Roger Ailes made television safe for Richard Nixon, campaign media consultants have been the hacks we love to hate. While the demand for evil genius is not what it used to be, media consulting remains one of the most overhyped, overpaid jobs in America.

But now it can all be yours, thanks to the Romney campaign's "Create Your Own Ad!" contest and do-it-yourself tool kit. In one of history's great ironies, the most consultant-driven, productlike candidate in memory has pulled back the veil to show us how lies are made.

It's too late to enteror Slate V's "Five Brothers" spot would surely win. But the campaign's ad-making software is still available on jumpcut.com, with all the video clips, photos, background music, and special effects you need to make ads that look and sound as phony as the real thing. The Jumpcut software does for media consulting what the Madden video game did for football, removing the mystery, barriers to entry, and expense. If it were a video game, it would be called Shrum 2008no longer do you have to be an expert to create a losing campaign.

Give Romney credit for letting goas a self-described control freak, he's the last guy you'd expect to experiment with growing his own Shrums. But if consultants were free, he'd stand to gain more than anyone. So far, Romney has spent $6 million on TV timethree times as much as any other candidate, and most of it from his own pocket.

Romney isn't the first to go to the dogs for dog-food ads. Frito-Lay used the same trick for Doritos in the Super Bowl. But the Romney campaign makes the experience so simple, it's hard not to get hooked. It's the high-tech equivalent of playing with paper dolls: You start with a photo or video clip of Mitt, dress him up with captions and fancy graphics, then cue the orchestra with background music to inspire animatronic emotion. The only tool missing from the consultant's workshop is a soft female voice that could be programmed to do snide voice-overs about other candidates' lack of principle.

I signed up for the contest with some reluctance. The official contest rules limit entries to Romney supporters (unless they're "corporate entities, labor unions, government contractors, foreign nationals, and minors"). I wasn't planning to support his candidacy, except for entertainment purposesbut perhaps I'd make an ad so convincing it would change my own mind. If nothing else, I could pretend to support him in order to enter the contest, then pull a Romney and insist I've been against him all along.

Signing up to make ads for a candidate I don't believe inat last, I felt like a real consultant. The more video clips I watched, the more excited I became. Romney is a consultant's dream, and not just because he's telegenic and rich. Every time he opens his mouth he sounds like he's playing slogan bingo: strength, values, family, America, freedom. You don't make a Romney ad. He already is an ad.

Yet what is he an ad for? That's the real contest. To "Create Your Own Ad!" you have to "Create Your Own Mitt!" As one campaign strategist told David Broder, "You have to find the message." Romney is a tagline waiting to happen.

In the ads they posted, Romney supporters play along gamely, taking Team Mitt buzzwords and remixing them in equally vapid ways. One top entry, "Hopes and Dreams," shows gauzy footage of the Jefferson Memorial with a voice-over of Romney saying, "I love America, and I believe in the people of America," and touting "innovation," "transformation," "doing," and of course, "hopes and dreams." The ad goes back and forth between the campaign's earlier tag line"Strong. New. Leadership"and  "Strength. Innovation. Leadership."

Another ad that has soared inexplicably to the top of the Romney charts is "Keep It Simple," a no-frills pastiche that declares, "Strength. Courage. Leadership" and ends with a campaign favorite, "True Strength for America's Future." Not to be outdone, the Romney campaign released its own new ad this week, with the daring slogan, "Change begins with us."

For my maiden voyage as a media consultant, I didn't want to parrot someone else's cliché. I wanted to come up with my own. My inspiration came from a revealing aside in a New York Times piece last week, when Tagg Romney revealed that back in the early '90s, he thought about becoming a Democrat. In a classic father-and-son moment, Mitt supposedly told his son that Democrats' real goal was to lead the country toward same-sex marriage. The young man's response was exactly what you'd expect from Tagg's World: "No way!"

Making an ad about Mitt's family gave me new sympathy for his consultants: It isn't easy to tell which Romney boy is which. My consulting career wouldn't last long if Howie Kurtz's fact check in the Post labeled my ad "misleading" because it showed the wrong son.

Once I was pretty sure I'd found the right Romney, I was ready to submit my ad to Team Mitt. With no mention of strength, innovation, or leadership, I didn't expect to win. But the contest guidelines just urge the ads to support the campaign "creatively and responsibly"the same way you'd make a TV spot for Coors Light. My ad was wholesome, accurate, and hokey enough to meet that standard, so perhaps it would slip under the radar. The day after I turned it in, the Romney campaign started running a radio ad on the same theme in Iowa.

My other reason to hope and dream of making the cut was a matter of numbers: The campaign was hurting for entries. Team Mitt promoted the contest for weeks, but by Monday's midnight deadline, a grand total of 137 people had entered. YouTube has hundreds of millions of videos; making a Mitt ad takes an hour, and the winner gets to be the first walk-on consultant in American political history. Yet just 137 "supporters" signed up, and that includes impostors. Team Mitt could have found more consultant wannabes by walking around campaign headquarters in Boston. No wonder Romney has to spend so much on consultants: No one else wants to do it.

Alas, with so few entries to screen, Team Mitt had time to watch mine with raised eyebrow. Once again, I'm in elite company: Of the 137 entrants, only 7 of us have been banned in Boston. The campaign won't post a link to my ad on its list of approved videos, so you can only find it in the Members section on my Mitt page.

But the bright side of entering a contest with just 137 entries is that if you watch my ad, I have an excellent chance of breaking into the Top 100. At post time, even with no help from Team Mitt, I was around 109th.

So, don't miss the ad the Romney campaign doesn't want you to see! It won't win them the race, but it was worth every penny. ... 2:23 P.M. (link)

Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007

If He Didn't: From the outset, Larry Craig has violated the two cardinal rules of scandal management. No. 1: Get a lawyer. No. 2: Get a war room!

Craig finally hired a legal team, too late to do much good. But as his embarrassing return to the Senate yesterday demonstrated, the beleaguered senator is still a master of disaster at the public relations it will take to save his public job.

With scarcely a week left on the clock, Craig needs all the help he can get. Until someone else steps forward to run the Craig war room, I'll have to do it myself. Don't call me a hero. It's what any Idahoan would do to help his fellow man.

The Craig War Room is already up and running, and welcomes your contributions. Here are today's talking points:

Wide Stance—or Wide Support? Despite a concerted campaign by the Idaho Statesman and other elements of the elite Eastern media establishment, support for Larry Craig's position continues to grow. On Monday—the 220th birthday of our beloved Constitution—the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Craig's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The amicus sent a clear message to naysayers: See, he does too have friends.

The ACLU brief is chock full of new, convincing arguments that Craig got a bum rap. For starters, toe-tapping isn't a crime—it's free speech. The ACLU says the only thing that's "overbroad" in this case is Minnesota law. It's not a crime in a public place to solicit private sex. Unless the arresting officer is a foot-reader, he has no way of knowing the senator's intent and no right to discourage public-private partnerships.

Card-carrying liberals at the ACLU aren't the only ones who see it this way. Card-carrying liberal-haters at StoptheACLU.com agree. Conservative Jay excerpts the ACLU brief on his StoptheACLU blog and concludes, "Guess what? I think the ACLU are probably right."

He's No O.J.: Even Craig's Marxist-Leninist critics concede that he has never been accused of murder, armed robbery, or kidnapping. O.J. Simpson and Larry Craig couldn't be more different. O.J. claimed he was innocent, then later all but admitted he was guilty. Sen. Craig pleaded guilty and now is willing to admit he was innocent all along.

Mark Fuhrman, the racist cop in the Simpson case, retired to Idaho to get away from O.J. and become the senator's constituent. Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote a whole book saying O.J. did it, sounds like his next book might be on how Larry Craig didn't. Toobin told Time readers this week, "If Craig had challenged the case, it sounds like he might have had a real chance of winning at trial."

Even the Bush Administration Agrees: The Cops Set Him Up—and He's Not Gay! A blockbuster report from the COPS Office of the Bush Justice Department backs up Sen. Craig's entire story. The report, Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places, evaluates 19 different methods of policing public sex. Minneapolis's approach—"using undercover decoys"—ranks dead last, along with "harassing and intimidating suspects." According to the distinguished criminologist who wrote the report, decoys have "limited effectiveness," while "the social consequences may be devastating," and "officers may be reluctant to take on such assignments."

The report instead recommends several more effective approaches, such as better restroom design, warning signs, "the illusion of surveillance," improving lighting, "cutting back bushes and other vegetation," and contracting out enforcement to private security firms so police departments don't get blamed.

The Justice Department notes that restroom sex has been thoroughly studied—in contrast to other behaviors like nudism and lovers' lanes, which require further research. Craig is willing to stick around and vote to confirm Bush's nominee as attorney general if he pledges to take up this far more promising agenda.

But the most important finding of the Justice report is that even if he were guilty as pleaded, Larry Craig is telling the truth—he's not gay. On this point, the report is crystal clear:

It is important to note that engaging in same-sex activity does not necessarily imply a homosexual identity; in fact, many men who have sex with men in public places are married or otherwise heterosexually involved, and do not consider themselves to be gay.

That's not the Craig War Room talking—it's the United States government. After all, if you can't trust the Bush Justice Department, who can you trust? ... 1:59 P.M. (link)

Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007

Put to Bed: For centuries, the criminal defense bar has snickered that any lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. With his fateful guilty plea last month, Larry Craig proved that the old adage holds true for nonlawyers as well. Solicitation may be a victimless crime, but in a case of self-immolation, it's hard to tell where perp ends and victim begins.

Now Craig has more lawyers than a Boston Legal washroom. But so far, the only defense they've given him is that he waited so long to hire them. In his original guilty plea, he clearly waived the right to counsel. On the line of the form that states, "I am/am not represented by an attorney," Craig circled " am not." Of course, Craig's lawyers might argue, circling the am-not boxdoesn't mean you understand it.

Craig is desperately trying to play the victim, but he can tell it to the judge. His constituents are determined to blame him, anyway. The Lewiston Tribune runs an online poll on lifestyle and public policy questions. This month, readers' favorite fair food is elephant ears; they love Wal-Mart; and by 3-1, they believe citizens should have the right to carry guns in public buildings. On the question of whom to blame for the Craig scandal, a few say "Democratic conspirators" or the media, but readers are 12 times more likely to blame the Craig scandal on Larry Craig than on "overzealous policing."

In their latest motion, Craig's legal team attributes his guilty plea to panic over what the press would do if they found out. Today, the Idaho Statesman released audiotape excerpts from a May interview in which Craig insisted that he learned long ago not to panic about the media.

Twenty-five years ago, Craig panicked when a reporter asked him about possible ties to the congressional page scandal. The first-term congressman called an impromptu press conference denying any involvement—giving a national press corps that had never heard of the guy its first chance to link him to scandal.

When Statesman reporter Dan Popkey asked him in May about the 1982 fiasco, Craig said, "A little naivete on my part from being a freshman legislator. I wouldn't handle it that way today, Dan. It's pretty obvious where you're sitting right now I don't handle things that way."

Alas, from where Craig has been sitting lately, it's pretty obvious that he learned a different lesson from 1982—the perils of voluntary disclosure. Craig's problem isn't quarter-century bouts of panic; it's consistently poor political judgment. To paraphrase Mark Twain, a cat won't sit on a hot toilet seat twice, but it won't sit on a cold one, either. In 1982, Craig was embarrassed by his own premature disclosure. This time, he was so eager to cover up, he copped to the crime.

Republicans are lucky that Craig's career is set to expire with the fiscal year on Sept. 30, because even from the political grave, the man has an uncanny knack for saying things that beg to be taken out of context. He told the Statesman he would talk to them about rumors of his homosexuality because "I want this issue put to bed."

In the same interview, Craig denounced his accusers with some of the more prophetic words of his career: "It's a bunch of false crap!" That's what he was arrested for. Now it's his defense. ... 5:15 P.M. (link)