Thursday, November 15, 2012


The New York Times ran a story in its Health section on Monday. The title of the story was “Academic ‘Dream Team’ Helped Obama’s Effort.” It tells about psychologists and social scientists working to help re-elect president Obama.

A panel made up of a “consortium of behavioral scientists” provided the Obama campaign with ideas on how to mobilize voters. The Analyst Institute, “a Washington voter research group established in 2007 by union officials and their allies to help Democratic candidates” was consulted, along with Dr. Craig Fox from Los Angeles, Dr. Susan T. Fiske of Princeton, Samuel L. Popkin of U.C. San Diego, Robert Cialdini of A.S.U., Richard H. Thaler of the University of Chicago, and Michael Morris of Columbia.

Dr. Fox described the group as “a kind of dream team” that proposed ideas to help modify the voting behavior of Americans. The group signed nondisclosure agreements with the campaign, so could talk only in general terms about its work. The Obama campaign would neither confirm nor deny a relationship with the group.

Behavior modification of American voters! Is this getting close to political indoctrination?

Karl Rove, in his WSJ piece today, notes that “the Democratic campaign ground game was more effective in communicating negative information.” He also points out that “Mr. Romney’s character and record were undermined by early, relentless personal attacks.”

I had an earlier post on Mr. Romney’s “rope-a-dope” tactic which did nothing to repulse the negative characterization of him by his political opponents. What’s going on here?

The problem is that the Democratic Party is getting really good at character assassination. With its psychologists and behavioral scientists at work, it is comfortable advancing a “Mitt Romney kills cancer-stricken women” narrative as a campaign message. When the message receives criticism, it simply turns down the rhetoric a notch and presses on.

Is that a little creepy? If the Democratic Party can impugn the character of Mitt Romney, the rest of us are easy pickings. Mollie Hemingway thinks something is going on, but America (so far) enjoys a breezy detachment.

Maybe we should watch “Conspiracy” again to understand how character assassination of a political group becomes “simply business” and then leads to something else altogether.

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