Nobody likes an Internet troll. Ya know, the person who has nothing better to do but spend their times on message boards and in comments sections, starting arguments and posting inflammatory statements just to watch the discord unfold. Typically we think of these people as slackers with few job prospects and even fewer social skills. But what if one of them resides in the White House? What if one of them is our president? Major Garrett reports for National Journal:
It is the brainchild of former White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, whose methods loom large long after his departure. The theory goes like this: Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness. This happens, Plouffe theorizes, even when—and sometimes especially when—the White House appears defensive, besieged, or off-guard. I first discovered and wrote about this in July of 2012.
A top White House adviser told me last week’s pay gap dust up was a “perfect” example of stray voltage. This time it was premeditated.
Slate’s John Dickerson, with his own set of White House sources, follows up on Garrett’s claim:
Under this approach, a president wants the fact-checkers to call him out (again and again) because that hubbub keeps the issue in the news, which is good for promoting the issue to the public. It is the political equivalent of “there is no such thing as bad publicity” or the quote attributed to Mae West (and others): “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.” The tactic represents one more step in the embrace of cynicism that has characterized President Obama’s journey in office.
The trolling strategy, which the White House dubs “stray voltage,” was most evident in the case of equal pay. President Obama kept repeating the controversial statistic that working women only earn 77 percent of what men do, even though he knew it was wrong. He didn’t care that he was using the bully pulpit of the White House to spread a message. He didn’t care that Americans deserve to be able to trust the president, of all people, to tell them the truth on policy matters. All that he cared about was that it was politically beneficial to have the equal pay issue in the news because it made him look good to a key political constituency.
But the strategy was also on full display in the debate over Obamacare. President Obama insisted that it bend the health care cost curve. It didn’t. He promised that it would lower the cost of health insurance. It didn’t. He then insisted that if you liked your doctor or your insurance, you could keep it. You couldn’t.
Conservatives fought him at every turn, doing their best to point out where he was wrong, thinking they were fighting the good fight for truth and good policy. In reality we were playing the game that the White House wanted – keeping Obamacare in the news, no matter the reason.
The level of cynicism inherent in this strategy is off the charts. The distrust it brings is impossible to get beyond. It bleeds over into nearly every comment President Obama makes. Take, for instance, the press conference he held last week to spike the football on Obamacare’s success. He cited the higher than anticipated sign-up numbers, the lower than expected premium costs and the lower-than-estimated, but nevertheless, positive reduction in the unemployed. “This thing is working,” he said, almost managing to sound surprised.
But if the president sees every statistic as a win-win. If it’s true, then the press will praise him. If it’s not, then they’ll spend hours debating the merits. And throughout it all the president and his cabal of advisers will sit their and smile knowing they’ve kept the conversation going; knowing that they’ve successfully trolled America.