October 22, 2004

Wolves, Lower

The Confidence Man has seen the Bush-Cheney campaign's latest ad, "Wolves."

The Confidence Man has also read most of the prominent lefty blogs' dismissive takes on the ad (Atrios, TPM, Pandagon, et alia), as well as steady Fred Kaplan's no-nonsense fact-check of the ad at Slate.

And while those opinions are not exactly wrong, they entirely miss the point of the ad.

(They also miss the fact that this ad is designed specifically to counter Bush's "tax gap" blunder from the second debate, wherein Bush clumsily allowed Kerry to score points on Bush's underfunding of common-sense "boots-on-the-ground" Heimatsicherheit.)

This ad is, yes, explicitly about terrorism.

But the implicit content is about "environmentalism" -- which is also to say, "Liberalism."

Note the Confidence Man's use of scare quotes: neither concept is attacked in the sense of its reality-based essence, but in the sense of its rhetorical status among Bush's electoral base.

Here's the question no one is asking: Why wolves?

The conventional-wisdom assumption is that this ad is in the tradition of Reagan's "Bear in the Woods" ad from 1984. And, again, superficially, this fits.

But why wolves, specifically?

"Wolves" are nearly as inflammatory a political rhetorical trope as "abortion" or "gay marriage" -- with similar Red Stae/Blue State divergence of opinion, but without the "polarizing national debate" denotations in the mass media.

To wax Brooksian:

"Wolves" to a stereotypical Blue Stater are a symbol of a vanishing and threatened Wilderness, a Wilderness that can, through scientific study, government funding, and conservation efforts, be nursed back to health and protected.

"Wolves" to a stereotypical Red Stater are symbolic Predators and Scavengers, a metaphor for government hostility to small business and property rights, Socialist Levelling through attacks on property rights, and eggheaded chilly secularism outweighing practical human concerns.

So, what we have here is an ad that is designed more to mobilize and enrage the conservative base, especially in the Southwest and Upper Midwest, than it is to appeal to swing voters.

Bush and Rove aren't trying, per se, to scare voters here, whether those voters are already scared, merely nervous, or inured to the Ridge-Ashcroft-Cheney Terra! Terra! Terra! attack. Rather, they're trying to solidify support of voters already leaning toward Bush on defense/terror issues by engaging their anger on a seemingly unrelated issue entirely.

And on that count, we have Confidence that the ad will do its job.


Speaking of "environmentalism," no one seems to be taking the bait on the Confidence Man's thesis that Bush's use of the term "steward of the environment" is Top Sekrit Fundie Windtalker-Speak for "property rights uber alles." It seems patently obvious to us; then again, we have Confidence.


Also speaking of "environmentalism," the Confidence Man is stumped as to why Kerry is not making that more of a campaign issue. Yes, Bush's biggest obvious blunder is Iraq and his failure to successfully prosecute the WoT; and yes, "it's the economy, stupid." Bush's environmental record, though, is horrifying. It's a huge weakness for Bush -- even among "sportsmen's associations," who recognize that they don't want to be standing in hip waders in a duck blind in a marsh that's teeming with arsenic.


And finally, a bright shiny penny to anyone who gets the title reference.


radosh said...

REM. Send the penny to the Sierra Club.

Clever idea, but you're reaching. Even more than Brooks.

The Confidence Man said...

I'll grant it's a bit of a stretch.

But you wouldn't have thought so if you'd seen the first cut of the ad, where the wolves actually attack a small businessman on a snowmobile and restrict his drilling access to ANWR and over-tax his capital gains!

Is it ok if I give your penny to the Nature Conservancy instead?