Dear Big Daddy,
What about Meg Whitman getting booed at that women’s conference for refusing to take her negative TV ads off the air?
–Murphy in Murphys
Meg Whitman getting booed at a women’s conference is like Jerry Brown getting booed on Jupiter. It never looks good when you’re being booed by your own kind. And as with most things that involve the Brown family, I disagree with them on this one. Sure, it’s easy to take your negative ads off the air if you’re ahead. That’s like a challenger who is 30 points behind crying because the incumbent refuses to debate him. While Matt Lauer may have gotten the crowd in Long Beach cheering, I for one spat on the floor the minute that TV robot opened up his pie hole. Perhaps Lauer was, how should we say, trying to increase his own prospects by riling up a room full of 14,000 women. I can’t blame him for that. But I can blame him for pandering. And so I will.
Truth is, I wouldn’t take my negative ads off the air, either, and you can quote me. Nothing beats a good negative ad, and a great negative ad truly is a joy to behold. I say negative today, negative tomorrow and negative forever.
Why would a voter want to look at friendly, happy politicians babbling about how great everything is? Nobody. It’s like those reporters in Washington, D.C. who write positive, source-sweetening, inspiring profiles about the nobility of the incoming members of a new administration. Awful stuff. Thank heaven our California reporters are above that sort of thing.
Sure, the voters think they want positive ads. And yet the negative ads work. Every time. Remember, we’re talking about a population that said they wanted to freeze property taxes, fund after-school programs and lock in education and local government spending, and yet can’t understand why there’s no money for anything.
No, Whitman’s problem wasn’t refusing to denounce the negative spots. Her problem was that she didn’t know how to respond. Pretty basic.
You won’t believe this, but I’ve done some fast talking and often had to slip on my tap dancing shoes. Here are a few things I’ve learned and I pass them on to Ms. Whitman.
First, go with the crowd and agree to anything, you can always parse your position later.
Second, be serious and stern when you’re talking about negatives, or downer topics like unemployment. Don’t smile, smirk, chortle, chuckle, grin, sneer, squint or snicker. And never laugh. This is especially good advice I’m giving you, and somebody else should have given it to you months ago.
Third, come up with something quick in response. Doesn’t have to be particularly good, just snappy. “Gee, Jerry, if we removed all our negative ads you’d be off the air!” or “Great idea, Matt, but I think Jerry may have to run it by Anne Gust” or “What negative ads?” I mean, you have to come up with something.
For a woman candidate for governor to get booed at a major women’s conference is bad indeed. Of course, most of those women were Democrats, so it’s understandable. But so what? Yet another reason I like Democratic women.