By Michael R. Shannon
During my misspent youth, I was a Democrat. Consequently, when I started my political consulting firm I wanted to be true to my mistaken convictions, so I only worked for Democrat clients.
[Note: Now that I’m a Republican who has seen the error of my ways, I often find myself trying to rationalize my membership in the party of debt, dependency and degeneracy by telling people I was a “conservative Democrat.” This is not all that uncommon among those of us who have seen the light and puts me in some pretty august company.
Recently I was watching a rerun of ‘Booknotes’ with Gertrude Himmelfarb — now a respected historian and neo–conservative, but in her youth a Trotskyite, which — for those of you suffering from recent history instruction in public schools — is a variety of Communist. When asked how she made the ideological journey from Trotsky to Reagan, it warmed my heart when explained that she was always a pretty conservative Trotskyite.]
In 1990 I found myself working as media consultant for Tom McRae who was Bill Clinton’s last gubernatorial primary opponent in Arkansas.
At that time Clinton was eight to ten years into his affair with Gennifer Flowers, had played jack–in–the–box with Paula Jones, reportedly used the state troopers to ferry women and was generally known as someone you wouldn’t leave unsupervised with your college–age daughter.
Yet our TV spots featured none of this lurid material for the simple reason that, regardless of the truth, the rumors were old news to voters and reporters. Clinton had been re–elected previously when Flowers was just starting to bloom. The fact that she had now taken root, along with a complete inventory of other women, was simply not a factor as he sought his fifth term.
Instead, our spots were built around “It’s time for a change” and highlighted the fact Clinton was just going through the motions while preparing to run for president. Our woefully underfunded campaign held Clinton to a meager 54 percent.
Two years later Clinton was in for a rude surprise during the New Hampshire Presidential Primary. Rumors he thought dead and buried arose in the form of tapes secretly recorded by Flowers and played for the news media.
Why was his old squeeze from the Ozarks suddenly relevant? Simple, Clinton changed the scope of his campaigning, from statewide candidate in Arkansas to nationwide candidate and new voters were unaware of his randy streak. These voters were encountering information that he thought was safely behind him and Clinton was caught unprepared. Overcoming the shock required a comprehensive campaign of lies to a gullible news media that just barely saved his campaign.
The same phenomenon is being repeated today — minus the lies and the lingerie.
Texas Governor Rick Perry is encountering past issues he previously overcame. If Perry had been content to stay in Texas and run for governor, US Senator or Congress the forced HPV vaccinations for schoolgirls and in–state college tuition for children of illegal aliens would have been non–issues.
This is because winning an election, similar to baptism, washes one clean of all past political sins. Where Christian baptism differs from elections is Christ doesn’t care about geography. You’re just as clean in Austin as you are in Arlington. But in politics absolution doesn’t travel across the border.
In Florida and elsewhere conservative Republicans are appalled at Perry’s executive decision to require schoolgirls to be vaccinated for a disease that comes through sexual activity and his signature on a law that grants in–state college tuition to the children of illegal aliens.
Perry appears to be appalled that voters have found out.
His debate answers are awkward and off–message for Republicans. He says his decision with regard to HPV vaccinations was wrong and he would not do it again. So far so good, but then he rationalizes by saying it would save lives. So would requiring every citizen of Texas to wear a ballistic vest when leaving the house, but it would not be a conservative policy.
His most recent answer to the tuition controversy only served to drive his poll numbers down. Telling opponents of granting special privileges to children of illegals that they “don’t…have a heart” is simply stupid. Democrats are the land of “follow your feelings,” Republicans prefer to follow the rule of law.
If Perry’s answers don’t improve his campaign will be the second bubble to burst, following that of Rep. Michelle Bachmann. But either way, he serves as an instructive lesson for politicians who are looking to expand their political horizons in the future.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at
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