Stoffa: Campaign stops are about marketing not explaining policy

Gabriel Stoffa

Campaigns for presidency are well-oiled machines working to get people elected by telling people facets of information they think will sway people toward their side, and President Barack Obama’s campaign machine was in fine form Tuesday, Aug. 28, in Ames.

From the turn out of the community to the topics of presentation, even to the Mitt Romney supporters outside the venue, the whole event went very smoothly and demonstrated a fine understanding of persuasive rhetoric.

Here’s the breakdown:

Folks began lining up to get inside as early as 5 a.m., a small group though it was. From there came a steady trickle of people for a couple hours before the line became noticeably long. By 10 a.m. the river of people wound round the upper portion of Central Campus.

Obama supporters were already starting to sweat through the coming day’s heat, with more baking yet to come when the gates opened at 10:30 a.m. to pack in some 6,000 people to stand under the midday sun to see the president of the United States campaign for re-election.

The Romney supporters outside, 30 or so, held various signs decrying Obama’s promises for “change,” his work to revive the economy, and his “unnecessary” and unwanted spending/cuts. Of particular note was a sign featuring the “you didn’t build that” attack being used by Republicans in the campaign combat currently underway.

When I asked the student why he chose that particular sign and what it meant to him, I was greeted with the response of “I don’t know,” followed by “they gave it to me.”

At this point he went silent, so I asked the group about their choice to support Romney. Another student responded about the recession our country is in. To which I replied that the recession ended a few years ago; it officially ended in 2009.

After some back and forth, I was told I was being biased. Apparently facts are biased. I informed him that I don’t support Romney or Obama, at which point I was told that was un-American. From there the group went silent to me as another rousing round of chants against Obama came forth.

I was lucky enough to find Shawn McCoy, Iowa communications director for the Romney campaign, to get a little more info. I learned the signs students had were painted the evening before and handed out, which might account for the one student being slightly unfamiliar with the message he was pushing.

McCoy said students were disappointed with what Obama was providing, with 50 percent of young people unemployed or struggling with employment after college. It would have been nice to hear such a reason from any of the students with signs, but you have to appreciate the intelligence of the tactic of keeping responses to questions in the hands of those informed to speak on a topic, rather than just regular folk answering; a tactic the Obama campaign often utilizes.

By this time, Obama supporters had been flowing through the security area, so I went inside to observe the spectacle.

Patrick Tape Fleming, of the band Poison Control Center, was performing for the audience to help pass the time until Obama took the stage at 1:05 p.m. The songs were very Obama-friendly with lyrics including “four more years” and pro-same-sex marriage. Fleming’s singing concluded with the song “Magic Circle Symphony.” The chorus was altered from “love is the answer, until you get cancer, then you’re lying, dying, dead,” to “love is the answer, until you get health care … let’s give out president four more.”

From the get-go of speakers in the countdown to Obama, early voting was pushed. Iowans kick off the early voting Sept. 27. Personally, I don’t understand why in the hell anyone would go ahead and vote before the candidates have even had their first debate. I guess if you are purely partisan you might as well get that “chore” of showing up to vote Nov. 6 out of the way, as listening to how they try to dodge answering questions or explaining methods for platforms isn’t going to change your mind.

During this whole presentation, the press continues to be blocked from attempts to speak to members of the crowd, and staffers continue not to offer comments. It is a smart tactic to not allow the worker bees to let the world know what they think about Obama, as their answers might be ill-informed and thereby subject to ridicule by the opposition.

And let me tell you folks, liberals and conservatives both gag at the opportunity to point out mistakes in beliefs held by supporters of the “enemy.” Those quips and slip-ups are what a lot of media thrives on nowadays, for better or worse.

At 10 minutes till Obama’s appearance, signs appeared in the stands, presumably handed out to make for a better image of Obama being loved for the folks watching at home when the TV cameras went into full recording mode.

Sen. Tom Harkin, an ISU alumnus, took the stage at five minutes to 1 p.m. with plenty of praise for Obama, focusing in on rescuing, restoring and reviving the middle class. Followed by a swipe at Romney borrowing money from parents to pay for school, whereas the rest of “us” require loans; adding both he and Obama come from modest means.

Harkin finished with a joke about Republicans and Democrats. He said we learned how we should vote in this election back in driver’s ed: “If you want to go backward, put it in ‘R’ … go forward with ‘D’.”

A “heartfelt” student appreciation speech from Mischa Olson, senior in biology, introduced the president for an almost on-schedule opening from Obama of the line: “It’s good to be back in Iowa.”

The topics for campaigns are always altered to fit the audience, both in attendance and for news clips. Health care, education entitlement and renewable resources made waves with the college crowd in the form of cheers and applause akin to that which would follow for the Cyclone’s opening football game Saturday.

In a moment of smart explanation of the economic problems not yet overcome during his first term, Obama said: “We knew solving our problems would take more than one year, more than one term, more than one president.” The crowd cheered, seemingly swayed to agreeing it would take time and that Obama was the man to keep the ball rolling.

He spun the health care, Obama-care issue in another popular move, saying how he had warmed to the name Obamacare because: “I do care.” Adding that Romney’s plan should be “Romney-doesn’t-care.”

These messages were all greeted with massive enthusiasm despite the intense heat exasperated by the fairly close-confines of the gathering. Comically enough, the blue color typically accompanying Democrat rallies was instead a sea of Cyclone shirts, making the Democrat audience into a red event.

Obama brought back home the early voting message, alongside the need for youth to come out and vote again period, as he wound down. He spoke of how you need to tell their friends, families, everyone about the importance of voting, and becoming involved, which would trigger further actions in kind: “Everyone is waiting on you to lead the way to vote.”

At 1:35 p.m., Obama was finished. Roughly 30 minutes of persuasive messages to get people on his side, laced with a bit of numbers, but mostly just sound bytes lacking more than a sentence or so of explanation as to means.

The whole event ran like clockwork. The speeches and presenters ran on increments I timed out on my watch. The experience for the audience appeared and sounded as if they were satisfied.

Both Romney and Obama will have events like this over and over again with the intent of bolstering the troops and trying to get the undecided voters — which will decide the election — onto their side as we count down to Nov. 6. And each event will be a marketing event designed to get you to side with one or the other. But don’t let them play softball with your vote, make them fight for it. Listen more closely to how they plan to do things, rather than what they want to do.

And whatever you do, don’t put much stock in campaign adds paid for by either side’s political action committees. The messages in those are misconstrued blanket statements meant to sway you to a side without you doing research. Those things are about as informative as reading The Onion. So go out and see the presidential contenders, Obama, Romney and even the little-known but influential Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, then read up on if what they said is really what they imply it to be, and what you want done.