The Obama Campaign’s Humorous Dog Whistle

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The best attacks are cast with humor. That’s why it worked when John McCain’s 2008 campaign used Paris Hilton against Barack Obama, and why the windsurfing spot that George W. Bush used against John Kerry in 2004 got so much traction. The humor takes the edge off and builds a bond between the viewer and the attacker. And so the Obama campaign, like the Newt Gingrich campaign before it, has gone to the dogs. Here tweets David Axelrod:

This is a swipe at Mitt Romney, who once put his dog in an airtight kennel on the top of his car for a family vacation. It hits the Obama campaign’s meta-message: Romney is uncaring, out of touch. (In another way, it also cuts against the Obama campaign’s meta-message; perhaps the only thing less common than a dog on a car roof is a dog riding in a limousine.)

The Obama dog whistle, however, is not limited to a stray tweet from a senior adviser. Over the weekend, the campaign rolled out the Pet Lovers for Obama Facebook page, which among other things promotes all the Obama dog swag for sale from the campaign. There is the Bo “I Bark For Barack” car magnet, the Obama leash, the Obama dog collar, the Obama dog bowl … It goes on. The dog leash is inscribed with the phrase “Barack’s Best Friend,” which opens him up to a he-doesn’t-have-any-other-friends left attack, should Romney choose to make it.

As it did in 2008, the swag serves a double purpose for Obama, in that it raises money and builds his lists. (You have to buy it through the campaign.) But the story here is less about swag than silliness. The nation is now almost surely on the cusp of the ugliest, nastiest, dirtiest campaign in American history. Both campaigns have made clear that their paths to victory run straight through destroying their opponents’ reputations. If these campaigns are to be successful, they will have to be funny in addition to mean.

And so we get Romney in Florida joking about Groundhog Day. We get Axelrod and Gingrich joking about Romney’s dog. And we will get many more jokes in the weeks to come, each of them thinly disguising thinly veiled attacks on policy and character. Comedy writers should be put on notice. 2012 is going to be a bull market, in more ways than one.