'Every Issue Has a Built-In Skew' ...

Matt Lewis
|
Posted: Oct 09, 2008 9:00 AM

It is axiomatic in politics that the question is more important than the answer.

... Here's what I mean:  Had I been allowed to select which questions were asked during Tuesday night's debate, John McCain would have easily won -- regardless of how "cool" or "smooth" Barack Obama was.

Instead, the questions selected skewed toward Obama, virtually guaranteeing he would so well.  For obvious reasons, this is the primary reason that selecting a good debate moderator is vitally important.

A few years ago, I watched as Dick Morris explained this concept to Bill O'Reilly.  I saved it because Morris did such a good job of making his point.  Here's an excerpt:
DICK MORRIS, AUTHOR, "CONDI VS. HILLARY": ... I'll tell you what I tell clients when they get negative press. It isn't a question of
whether it's positive or negative. That's what you're looking at,
because you're a human being. But the question is what is it
about? There is no such thing as a negative story about George
Bush on Homeland Security. The more Ted Kennedy talks about
overreaching executive authority, and NSA wiretaps, and Bush's
extensive use of The Patriot Act, the more they're helping Bush,
not hurting him. But the more you talk about.


O'REILLY: Why, why, why?


MORRIS: Because the public is overwhelmingly with George Bush on that issue. And the negative press coverage of The Times and
everybody else can't change that. It's a 70-20 issue for Bush. And
all they're doing is calling attention to it by the criticism. By
the same token, there is no way that Bush will ever succeed if the articles are about healthcare, and the price of drugs, or with the environment or global warming.


O'REILLY: Oil prices.


MORRIS: Oil prices. Those are issues which are 20 to 70 for the
Democrats. Politicians and journalists always overestimate whether the article is positive or negative. It doesn't matter. What
matters is what the article is about, because every one of these
issues has a built-in skew to one side or the other. And all that can happen is the issue gets more coverage or less coverage.
And if the issue is a pro-Bush issue like Homeland Security, the more stink is raised about it, the better. Which should Bush rather have, a negative story that says the 2,100th soldier died in Iraq, which is a tough story and hurts him, or he wiretapped al Qaeda, which is a terrific story for him. Even if they're both negative stories, the one hurts and the other helps him.


O'REILLY: Interesting. So when they attacked me in the war on
Christmas, I actually won because.


MORRIS: You won.


O'REILLY: Most people don't want Christmas denigrated. So the more they attack me, the more I look good.

MORRIS: Precisely.


O'REILLY: You know, you're brilliant, because I never figured that
out at all. I'm going, oh, what are they doing here? All right, so
Bush wins today when Kennedy goes after Bush through Alito.


MORRIS: Great day for Alito because Kennedy should have talked about abortion, about abortion cases of rape or incest, the issues where the Democrats have an edge. Instead he talked about homeland security and the government overreaching in the rights of citizens where the Republicans have an edge because of the war on terror.


O'REILLY: Mm-hmm.


MORRIS: Every issue has a built-in skew...

Right now, the economy has a built-in skew toward Obama.  As such, McCain cannot win as long as that issue dominates. 

In "The Art of War," Sun Tzu wrote (paraphrasing here) most battles are won before they are faught, and that he who picks the turf will win the battle.  So long as we are fighting on the Democrats' turf, Republicans will lose.