Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

Yesterday Chris Bowers got the ball rolling with the Googlebomb John McCain project.  I admire Chris's work a great deal, and in particular I think his innovative Google-bomb campaigns have been absolutely phenomneal.  But I think beating John McCain will require a lot more than just a Google-bomb.

Google-bombs work best in a low information election.  For background, the point of a Google bomb is to cause a negative but neutrally sourced news article about a candidate to appear high in Google search engine rankings when web users search for the candidate's name.  So Chris's Google-bomb for 2006 House Republican candidates worked really well because voters quite often didn't know much about those candidates.  In the weeks before the election, voters sought out information about those candidates by typing their names into Google, and came up with the negative stories that bloggers helped push high into the search engine results.

The problem with John McCain is that he's extremely well-known, in a shallow way, by a lot of voters.  The general perception is that he's a maverick clean-ethics Republican, and is therefore more moderate than the rest of his party.  There is also a quiet perception that he's very hard to beat, and that "most" voters like him.  This meta-opinion about the election is perhaps just as damaging to our activists as the fuzzy notion of McCain as a whole, because it dampens the effect of our enthusiasm gap.

While I think Google-bombing will do some good, I think a really effective solution will have to go further.  I think it will have to incorporate a grassroots messaging campaign which a) informs progressive activists that McCain isn't really a maverick, clean-ethics, moderate Republican, and b) informs progressive activists that beating McCain is not going to be difficult.  This campaign has to be virally spread, pushed from friend-to-friend via blog posts, Facebook notes, YouTube embeds, and all sorts of other peer-to-peer venues.

My recommendation is that progressive bloggers establish a regular routine of "buzzing against McCain".  Similar to Atrios and DailyKos's monthly Kerry fundraising days in 2004, these will be days when we exhort progressive activists to flood the social networks with some small, simple, anti-McCain meme, like "McCain is unelectable", "McCain is a lobbyist lap-dog", "McCain wants another 100 years in Iraq", and the like.  Ideally, I'd also like to see some kind of distributed badge infrastructure which allows bloggers to display the meme of the week (or month, or whatever) prominently on there blogs, right alongside a photo of "the hug".  OpenLeft has been doing some great spade work on establishing an anti-McCain narrative in recent weeks, and I think some of that work will come in very handy as we try to come up with anti-McCain memes to be spread virally.  But we'll have to go beyond the Google-bomb to win this election.

(Full disclosure: my company did a bit of technical/design work for Chris and Open Left last year.)

Tags: Google-bomb, mccain (all tags)



Re: Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

This is maddening: When talking to people about McCain, they seem to believe that when he talks like an arch-conservative, he "doesn't really mean it," so while they don't agree with his positions (the war, the economy, etc.), they're still willing to vote for him. The assumption is that he's only saying those things "to get the nomination." He couldn't REALLY be that crazy! Less jobs? More wars? Lobbyists everywhere? NAAAAAAH! Couldn't possibly be what he REALLY believes, could it?

The problem is: either they're willing to vote for a liar, who would sell his political soul to get the nomination and then do what they "think" he'll do, or they're willing to vote for a man who will NOT do the things he says he WILL do! How do you refute that kind of "logic." I.E., "I'm against the war, but I voted for McCain!"

by randron 2008-02-23 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

Well, you might be dealing with someone who's determined to vote for McCain, and wants to rationalize the choice.

But I think as a general rule, once we get our nominee things will be a bit easier.  It'll be easy to say, for example, "sure, McCain might be bluffing about [choose an issue], but why not go with someone who's already saying what you want to hear?"

by Shai Sachs 2008-02-23 09:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

That won't be enough. Ezra Klein asked a couple of weeks ago what would be one of the things you would want candidates to say, but they can't say. One of mines was that voters can't be told that their beliefs aren't enough. Too many voters have been told for a quite a while now that their belief are sufficient, and reason and facts are ony there to support belief, not to provide a basis for them. If they believe a politician is a maverick or for change or for women's right, they never bother to find out whether that's actually factually true or not. Now, the politician may or may not be those things, but no one ever challenges the core problem- the lose of reason. This approach to politics can favor our candidates, but here, with McCain it can also hurt. You can't reason your way of this because there is no discourse in our society set up for reason. Instead, you must we willing to do what Democrats have a problem doing- destroy the emotional appeal by destroying McCain's character.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 10:03AM | 0 recs
Re: issues

You aren't going to win through issues.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 10:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Arizona is the most regressive state, tax wise

Well, frustrating though that may be, McCain doesn't really control AZ state policy.  I don't know how much or little pull he has in the state legislature - a lot, I imagine - but one can certainly imagine him washing his hands of that policy very credibly.

by Shai Sachs 2008-02-23 03:46PM | 0 recs

"Basically, what that means is that in Arizona, they are more in the direction of taking from the poor and giving to the rich, relative to other states."

This is by far one of the most ridiculous comments I've ever read.  Allowing the rich to keep more of their money is not taking from the poor.  The money didn't belong to the poor to begin with.  However, your argument falls right in line with the "tax cuts for the rich" lunacy the Democratic Party has been shouting for the past seven years.  This may shock some people, but there's a reason the poor don't receive tax cuts...THEY DON'T PAY TAXES!  The government's purpose was never to redistribute wealth.  

Liberals (such as George Clooney and Michael Moore) love to moan and groan about the gap between rich and poor.  Why don't they give a large portion of their net worth to the system (or charity) to be used to help the poor?  How about Senators Clinton or Obama?  How about the posters on this site?  Can you part with 50-75% of your net worth to help the poor?  (I won't hold my breath waiting for it to happen.)

by ckjone2 2008-02-24 06:30AM | 0 recs
Reasonable dialogue

True enough. We do need to get a 'not entitled to your own facts' conversation rolling in a big way.

by Natasha Chart 2008-02-24 07:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

This looks good Shai, but you don't need to frame it as a dissent. I'm sure Chris would agree with your statement, "beating John McCain will require a lot more than just a Google-bomb."

by JoeFelice 2008-02-23 09:59AM | 0 recs
Second that

Every little bit helps, but yeah, I don't think anyone thinks we'll have a silver bullet against McCain.

by Natasha Chart 2008-02-24 07:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Second that

Well, perhaps I should have worded this slightly differently - this tactic is not at all mutually exclusive with Google-bombing, in fact the two go well together.  Nor are either tactics silver bullets.  But I do think Google-bombing will be less effective in this race than it was in 2006, whereas buzzing will be more effective.

by Shai Sachs 2008-02-24 10:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

Either way, it needs to begin soon.  His reputation is too entrenched to be affected in October.

by rfahey22 2008-02-23 09:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

Exactly what I said elsewhere. Someone was advocating that the scandal regarding McCain's corruption should happen in Oct, but my point that I try to make when commenting here is that no- it needs to start now, and it needs to be a sustained ongoing, never let up assault to build a narrative. There maybe lulls, but those lulls are only to give the voters time to process the narrative one is trying to build. By the time of the conventions, you want McCain on the defensive trying to address his flaws, not consolidating his already strong image.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 10:05AM | 0 recs
I don't think it will matter.

After watching this election play out since Edwards announced until now, I've come the firm conclusion that this entire election is controlled and orchestrated by the media. Whoever wins in November it will because the media allowed to.  

They've already started with the image rehabilitation of McCain. Even John Stewart likes McCain. Even I like McCain. Do I think that he can be a hypocrite?  Yes. But so can Obama and Clinton. For the most part, all politicians are hypocrites. That's one of the hazards of the job.

As for dems tearing down McCain...that could seriously backfire, especially when he starts playing his war/pow experience against a guy who's claim to fame is as a community organizer. Whatever else he is, part of McCain history is being a war hero. Trying to destroy a war hero in a time of 2 wars might not be a good idea.

The crisis question and answer in the debate shook me 2 days ago. They asked him what crisis has he been through and he responded with his experience as a community organizer.  Clinton was able to knock the answer out the part because she has been through a few a crisis situation. Now imagine them asking that question to Obama & McCain in a debate.

by cosbo 2008-02-23 11:16AM | 0 recs
Re: I don't think it will matter.

Yes, it's easier to pretend its some big conspiracy, and say that Dems can't do something than to actually not acted pampered and actually do it.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 11:21AM | 0 recs
It's not a pretense...

I have absolute no faith that the media is going to cover this election. I fully expect them to cover it with as much fairness as they did in the primaries...which was none. I didn't make that up or have any pretenses about that. I just watch what they did. So far, they're winning and we're losing.

by cosbo 2008-02-23 02:28PM | 0 recs
Re: I don't think it will matter.

By the way- tell what you just said to Max Cleleland. I am often amazed by the utter lack of any short term history come out of some ofyou, much less long term.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 11:22AM | 0 recs
Yep. They completely effed over Cleeland...

and in 2000 they effed over McCain. I remember that. But democrats aren't going to do that.

by cosbo 2008-02-23 02:31PM | 0 recs
Re: I don't think it will matter.

I'm not advocating smearing McCain, but I am advocating tearing him down... using his own words, records, and actions.  Nor does this has much to do with hypocrisy, per se.  Fact is, McCain is not much of a maverick, and certainly isn't a moderate.  He's a conservative war-mongering reverse Robin Hood Republican who would devastate the economy and further embed us into disastrous quagmires overseas.  The idea of this project is to undo the false mythology that surrounds him and to make plain to our friends and colleagues that he would be a horrible president.  What's so bad about telling the truth?

by Shai Sachs 2008-02-23 03:54PM | 0 recs
Re: I don't think it will matter.

I am advocating smearing McCain.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 05:13PM | 0 recs

I know I will regret this, but what are you talking about?

by bruh21 2008-02-23 10:27AM | 0 recs
Re: let me be clearer

Speaking in circular logic may work in CNN, but can you explain why what you say is anything but a bunch of conclusion. I could easily right it's great, it's wonderful, and it's the best same sense butter, and it's about the equalent level of analysis that you are providing here. As I said above, against my better judgement, I asked. If you say something is all that you claim it is, it should be fairly easy with someone with so much passion to explain exactly why.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 11:25AM | 0 recs
Re: let me be clearer

please ignore my typos, and provide me with something beyond conclusions. thanks.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 11:25AM | 0 recs
Re: its like what they say about jazz

a) You should be able to explain yourself without regard to what you think I am able to figure out. That you can't says all.

b) Your assumption is wrong. More importantly, it's also kind of irrelevant to explaining your position, but it certainly does allow you to avoid explaining yourself.

c) Don't worry, this was the last attempt. You gave me the answer I suspected you would give.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 12:03PM | 0 recs
Re: its like what they say about jazz

by the way - just so we are clear, and I can move on, in the three attempts I made at getting you to provide  your reasoning- you attackecd me, used circular logic and then I am guessing wanted to make this about a Democratic candidate. Not sure how any of this helps Democrats defeat a Republican.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 12:06PM | 0 recs
Re: its wrong and dishonorable

you dont have an answer to the question so you repeat the conclusion.

by bruh21 2008-02-23 05:11PM | 0 recs
McCain is Bush's 3rd term.

Good points.  I think earnestly getting the truth out about him and speaking to people viscerally (photo of him with Bush, character issues, etc) will be essential.  We are going to have to earn this win.  And we should have to.  

I also don't think McCain really helps McCain.  It will be interesting if that plays out during the rest of this campaign.  Some of this he can't help and some he can: his age, being Another White Male who mostly surrounds himself with more Another White Males (do most people these days see themselves in that image?), him being MOTS (More Of The Same), unenthused speeches,  tension oozing from his seams,  lobbyists, Bush 2.0, not the one to seek for Change, not inspiring.  Most important: I don't really think he speaks to people on much of an emotional level.  Whether we Democrats like it or not, that's the way the body is made.  

Sure McCain may help us by being McCain, but there is a lot of visceral truth-telling/showing that we'll have to do when we make our case.  Just look at how well McCain polls against Obama in those very blue states of Oregon and Washington (realclearpolitics).  There's a lot of opportunity there.  It will be interesting to see who McCain is in the public's hearts (emotions) and minds after the election.  Both he and us will create that narrative/reality for them.  Perception is reality...      

by Decided Voter 2008-02-23 10:58AM | 0 recs
Re: McCain is Bush's 3rd term.

From the book, The Political Brain, by Drew Westen, published in early 2007:

The book talks about the role emotions make in our political decisions.

On McCain (page 298):
"The key to making use of anger to inspire enthusiasm is to fire it at someone or something, to keep it focused, and not to let it spray like buckshot.  Diffuse anger backfires because it becomes associated with the candidate instead of its intended object.  If John McCain were to get the Republican nomination in 2008, this (along with his remarkably foolish decision to abandon his trademark honesty by the side of the road along with his Straight Talk Express) would be his major Achilles' heels."

On Obama (pages 246-247):
"As of this writing, many Democrats are expressing tremendous enthusiasm about Barack Obama in his running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.  And rightly so: he has enormous charisma, all the nonverbal behaviors that portend political success, and a first-rate intellect combined with an ability to talk to people where they live." ...

Too bad Hillary hasn't shown more of what she showed at the end of Thursday's debate.  I think that's what the author's talking about.  I showed that clip to someone and he got "goosebumps".  She's whip-smart, but that seems to be only half the equation.  Emotions inspire and connect you to a person and then they 'magically' seem more likable.  I think that's part of what draws the Independents to Obama and check the box for him.  

What this author is talking about seems to be playing out in this election just like it has in the previous elections he refers to.  Democrats or any politician can't (only) think their way into the hearts and minds of voters; they have to 'feel' their way too.  (Hope, inspiration, anger fear...look at various elections to see when they were used whether we liked it or not.)  Otherwise, that crucial middle we need to win will change the channel even if against their own best interests.  See 2004.  

by Decided Voter 2008-02-23 11:41AM | 0 recs

Of course it won't be enough. It is one arrow in the quiver and it can be effective. I don't get people who discuss a tactic with what other tactics should be included instead of focusing on how to do a better job at the tactic. Of course it won't be enough, saying so brings nothing to the table.

by Bob Brigham 2008-02-23 01:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain
Probably would be most affective "targeting" sites/articles by Republicans that vehemently hate McCain, you know, think he willbe the death of the party.  That would leave mildly republican independents unsure/unexcited to vote, and moderates thinking that if his own party doesn't like him what are his chances?  Just a thought.
I personally have no idea how to help with googel bombing so you may want to explain how the process works.
by goodleh 2008-02-23 06:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain

The idea of Google-bombing is that you get a bunch of people to write blog posts which link John McCain's name to some web page which is critical of him in some way (as I did just now).  Due to the way Google's search engine works, this tactic results in that critical web page appearing high in Google results when someone searches for McCain.

The reason this worked well in the 2006 races was that there were a lot of candidates running where the public didn't know the candidates well; therefore voters were likely to search for information on those candidates.  In the case of McCain, many people know (or think they know) him well, and are unlikely to search for him.

The idea here is to spread negative ideas about McCain using online word-of-mouth, that is, to create a kind of "buzz" around anti-McCain ideas, like "McCain wants to keep a permanent US presence in Iraq", or "McCain is a lobbyist lap-dog".  There are a variety of ways to do this, from encouraging activists to join Facebook groups with names like "McCain is a lobbyist lap dog" to getting small-audience bloggers to post entries with similar subjects, and so on.  When a progressive activist does something like that, the message only goes out to a small group of people, but those people tend to be his or her friends, and are therefore more likely to trust and believe the message.  Getting a lot of activists to do it at once helps spread the idea to more people.

by Shai Sachs 2008-02-24 06:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain

Just to be clear, the third paragraph in this comment describes the "Buzz against McCain" idea introduced in this post, not the Google-bomb idea.

by Shai Sachs 2008-02-24 06:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

Maybe if your candidates could actually win on the issues, you wouldn't have to resort to such pathetic strategies as Google-bombing the other side.  The mainstream Democratic Party has totally lost it.

by ckjone2 2008-02-24 06:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Google-bombing McCain won't be enough

Wow. Google-bombing.

Busy,busy beavers here.

Who else have you been Google bombing.

Why not articles about the issues and the candidates voting record.

All three are Senators.
They have voting records on the same issue that the next president will face.


That's gonna really tell me, a voter, who will best beable to work with the Legislative branch if they become President.

This is so high school. About issues that are very grown up. You can get so caught up with winning, that you can forget we are talking about our tax dollars and how they are spent.

Trillions of tax dollars folks.

And it is about people's lives. There are soldiers with lives on the line in Iraq. Whether they stay there or not seems to hinge on the vote of the Legislative Branch of our Government. That's people's lives folks. Not a game. While ya'll are "Google-Bombing", these men and women soldiers are facing real bombs.

Not electing the home coming king or queen here. We are electing the next president of the United States. This guy or girl has the codes for nuclear weapons and if Bush folks are to be believed the ability to wage war on another country.

Sheesh. It's not a football game. If it were then Hillary would be in. You did watch the Super Bowl.

by 12 dogs and a blog 2008-02-24 09:29AM | 0 recs


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