Dear Dr. Bob
I’m running my first reelection campaign. As a challenger I destroyed the incumbent using his voting record. How do I defend my record now?
What Goes Around
Dear What Goes Around,
Ouch! Well, at least you’ve had a personal lesson to explain why we should never torture prisoners, eh?
Ok…enough of that.
I believe there are two ways to defend a voting record:
1. Don’t cast dumb votes in the first place. This is very difficult to do given the nature of politics, fundraising etc. Even those with “bulletproof” districts are going to screw-up now and then or do the right thing even if the voters won’t like it. But I’m assuming that it’s too late for that. So go to #2
2. Never try to “explain” your vote. About 90% of the time you’re voting on things that can’t be easily explained to graduate students let alone average voters. So forget about “defending” your record. It is what it is. Instead focus on the “value” that the vote represents and counterattack.
Sometimes this is called a “pivot” — or in the old days it was called “turning the tables.” But the maneuver is the same: give a very brief and value based response to the attack and then instantly say something that raises questions about your opponent’s values on a similar topic.
The best audio visual example of this that I’ve found is the scene in Animal House when the guys are being railroaded. The frat president tries to make a reasoned defense against the charges without any success. So Otter (Tim Matheson) stands up and launches into a truly passionate speech that quickly dismisses the charges against them “yes, we did those things” and heads off into rhetoric land asserting that their accusers are defaming the United States of America. The entire frat gets up and walks out. This, of course, did not save the fraternity, but the rest of the film is a good cathartic experience if you’re having your butt kicked.
If Animal House isn’t one of your favs, you might try the monologue in the “American President” during which President Andrew Sheperd (Michael Douglas) rips into Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dryfuss). This film was the model for the television series “West Wing.”