One Republican playbook: red herrings, cherry-picking, glittering generalities...

Sun Tzu, the first Republican?

Back in the 6th Century B.C., renowned Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote in his seminal treatise The Art of War that all warfare is based on deception. One might apply this observation to modern politics, which is war by other means, to paraphrase Clausewitz. The only corollary: just don't get caught with your paw in the cookie jar like Tricky Dick Nixon & his cronies did back in the day.

Oddly, the Mesa Chamber of Commerce didn't inform potential candidates at their free, May 18 Candidate College of this modern corollary to Sun Tzu. Not that they out-and-out told the 20 persons or so present to lie to the public. But at the very least one of their speakers did advise them of various ways of not being completely candid to the press.

The speaker was Mary Jo Vecchiarelli, former Republican State Senate candidate and the ex-wife of Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker. She spoke to attendees on the subject of "Media, Print and Website." In the outline of her remarks, contained in the handbook given to all participants, there's a section labeled "Strategies," wherein Ms. Vecchiarelli informs her audience that they need to,

Learn to speak like: A patriot. In glittering generalities Intentionally vague Oversimplify complex issues -- buzz Rationalize Create red herring issues. Simple slogans Stereotyping Unstated assumptions Appeal to emotion The non-denial denial Ambiguity Get your message out...spin whenever you can Spin is a manipulative tactic Cherry pick issues that appeal to the target likely VOTER group...

...and so on. "Learn to ask for $$$, ask for $$$, get the check, call, visit, e-mail," she lectured her students. When one of them, supposedly a Republican like Vecchiarelli, raised his hand and expressed his reluctance to engage in such activities, Vecchiarelli reportedly replied, "You want to win, don't you?"

Asked about Vecchiarelli's presentation, long-time Mesa Chamber of Commerce Prez and CEO Charlie Deaton saw nothing wrong with the outline of Vecchiarelli's remarks.

"They may have just been some ticklers for her," stated Deaton. "I don’t recall her using any of those in the way she was instructing the class to handle the media. If she did, it didn’t come across to me that way."

Deaton said Vecchiarelli wasn't paid for her part in the seminar, and that she was chosen because, "She’s been involved in helping campaigns before she moved to California through her earlier job with Americopy."

Now a school administrator in Newport Beach, CA, Vecchiarelli confirmed that she had at one time been "associated" with the Mesa firm Americopy, which she said was a high tech company that does printing, Web sites, and helps candidates market themselves. She also asserted that she had "learned a lot of lessons" by running for office.

"When you get into the political arena, the media isn’t your friend," she informed me. "The media’s looking to create conflict and controversy whenever possible. You can’t depend that you’re going to be quoted accurately, and you need to be able to speak in sound bites. Because you won’t print the whole story.

"When you go into politics or any environment, you go in a little naïve, thinking you can make a difference, study the issues," she continued. "But the media is very superficial. I’m sorry I can’t be more complimentary, but the real issues of finance and budget don’t get the attention. You have a few seconds to make an impression and you either make it in that time, or you get lost."

So politicians have to act the way they do -- creating red herring issues, speaking in glittering generalities, and so forth, all because of the Fourth Estate. Duh, it's the press, stupid! But isn't this what's wrong with American politics today -- these sneaky lil' strategies filled with half-truths and telling people what you think they want to hear?

"It absolutely is," Vecchiarelli answered. "So let's have the media change what they do."

My retort would be that Machiavelli and Sun Tzu pre-date the modern media. If you want to read a classic case of conniving and dissembling, read Shakespeare's Richard III . No TV, radio, or print news in King Dick's time (newspapers didn't happen till 1605). Even if you conclude that The Immortal Bard was unfair to the Duke of Gloucester, I'd say the sort of behavior Vecchiarelli's describing was prevalent before there was a Fourth Estate to report it.

Vecchiarelli's strategies were hardly successful in her own case, as she was soundly defeated 53% to 46% in the September 7, 2004 primary for the District 18 state Senate seat by fellow conservative Karen Johnson. I found this one (now ironic) ad from her campaign which read, "Vote Honesty -- Vote Mary Jo Vecchiarelli."

Of course, you'd think the Chamber Commerce would have had enough sense to vet her remarks. I'm not saying that the sort of Janus-faced politics Vecchiarelli's lesson plan detailed can't work. But I like to think the guys in the white hats can occasionally win as well.

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