The US election campaign PR drive is moving into the next phase. Never mind what’s coming out of the mouths: from now on it’s about posing and preening. Gone from centre-stage are the policy issues, gone the personality-based in-fighting about running mates and left of this party, right of that. Now we’re into full-blown Stature Proving, sprinkled with a light dusting of celebrity super-confidence. You see it less in the incumbent than in the challengers, but it’s there all right. When Kerry tagged his introduction of John Edwards, (previously a sworn rival, remember) with the memorable comment about ‘We’ve got real plans and we’ve got better hair’ it just about sums up the kind of trivia which is going to win or lose it for George. Hillary’s a pin-up, the Bush girls (hey, great name!) are looking cute, and we’re bound to see the family pets join the campaign trail soon.
But if all doesn’t go well for the President, unlike his opponent, at least he’s got the power to do something about it. Rumours are flying of various distractions the White House could unleash and spin on the public, like so much decoy chaff, to steer their attention away from the unpalatable. Try this one. On an airbase in Pennsylvania tonight sit three EC-130 USAF aeroplanes at full operational readiness. They’ve been converted to ‘Special Ops’ status and bear the codename ‘Commando Solo’. They won’t be in Pa. for long: they’re heading south next week, possibly to Patrick Airforce Base, at Cocoa Beach, Florida. Their function is to over-fly a target area while electronically sucking all communications out of the airwaves. Radio, TV, Cyberspace, Cellphones, Bluetooth – you name it.
But instead of just jamming the flotsam of our airtime addiction, which has been going on here and there for decades, these fight back by putting out a full range of Psycho-Ops broadcasts in their place, in an attempt to neutralise current enemy propaganda with the day’s American message, whatever that might be. A bit like dropping leaflets, yes. Except there’s no escape.
If things get any worse in Iraq, and Bush should seek a distraction in the media, such flights over Cuba could begin in weeks rather than months. Whatever happens, Iraq is not going to be rebuilt in a day, or even in a decade, after the bashing it’s taken for the last 30 years. But the long-term isn’t something you can market easily in an election atmosphere where any sound-bite over 20 seconds gets cut by the TV channels to under 15. So if Bush needs a ‘triumph’ between now and November, maybe, just maybe, Cuba could provide it. But how can this old chestnut be causing a stir? Let’s think.
Question: Which group of American voters are viewed as the staunchest, rock-ribbed Republican loyalists (apart, of course, from Orange County, California)?
Answer: The Cubans. They’ve enjoyed a profile out of all proportion to their numbers or real significance for decades. Every Senate candidate has had to go to South Florida and kiss serious butt in order to re-assure these ageing reactionaries that, no, they’re not going to go soft on Fidel. It’s one of those mad hold-overs from the Cold War years.
Visiting Cuba is another thing. Under Clinton, the rules on visiting Cuba were getting more relaxed, but things have changed back again; under Bush they’ve tightened up. Elastic government. But, hey, who, pray tell, is most pissed-off about all this?
Answer: the Florida Cubans. The very people who’ve demanded that Cuba be ostracised completely are now making threatening noises about being ready to jump the Republican blockade. They don’t want Fidel, but they do want to be able to send funds home to their families on the island – an area on which the Bush administration is currently cracking down.
Also, in order to show they’re 101% American, a disproportionately high number of young Cuban-Americans have joined the army, and have consequently been getting shipped home from Iraq on a regular basis in those pine boxes we’re not allowed to see. Further erosion of the voter base.
And what if today’s Cuban Cubans dislike and highly resent the slow-moving crates flying over, disrupting their Perry Mason in Spanish? What if they actually decide to defend their airspace? Another military invasion of Cuba is an option that’s been prepared and organised since the last one, the Bay of Pigs ‘incident’ in 1961. There are rooms in the Pentagon where this has all been rehearsed a hundred times. It’d be like shooting fish in a barrel. And even the Bushies have been poring over Reagan’s game plans for years. If they can decipher the handwriting they could be in Havana by Hallowe’en.