Washington War Games

By Ferguson, Niall | Newsweek, October 29, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Washington War Games

Ferguson, Niall, Newsweek

Byline: Niall Ferguson

Which strategy will prevail on the electoral battlefield?

Which matters more: air power or boots on the ground? It's the kind of debate you hear a lot among military men and armchair strategists, arguing (these days) about how best to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. Today, however, it's also a debate among the people who run election campaigns, arguing about how best to win their guy four years in the White House.

The air war is the one waged on television, and it extends far beyond the increasingly gladiatorial debates between the candidates. To live in one of the swing states is to live under an almost unceasing bombardment of political ads. By the time we finally make it to Nov. 6, it's estimated that all the campaigns, political-action committees, and super PACs will have blown more than $3.3 billion dollars on TV advertising, 83 percent of it local and about two fifths for the presidential race.

Even confirmed pol-aholics, like my friend and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, have a shell-shocked air. Kristol lives in Virginia and likes watching baseball. Enough said.

There was a time when the spin doctors swore by air(wave) power. In this campaign, however, the pendulum may be swinging back to the traditional "ground game." According to a recent Reuters report, the Obama campaign has hundreds of field offices in swing states like Ohio and "hundreds of thousands" of people staffing them. The name of the ground game is to get the vote out. According to campaign manager Jim Messina's speech at the Democratic National Convention, his network of activists has made over 43 million calls and registered over 1 million voters, which is more than in 2008.

As in real warfare so in political warfare, the key to victory may lie in a combination of air and land power. First win the debates; then call up the base. Yet that is an oversimplification. For in politics, too, there is a new theater of war: the Internet.

Cyberwarfare is the new, new thing at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently warned of the danger of "a cyber Pearl Harbor." Some would say something like that has already happened in politics. Four years ago, the Obama campaign comprehensively won the cyberwar against John McCain, out-emailing, out-blogging, out-tweeting, and out-YouTubing him.

This time around, the Democrats still seem to have the edge in cyberspace.

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