John McCain was trained as a fighter pilot. In his selection of Sarah Palin, and in his convention and campaigning since, he has shown that he learned an important lesson from his fighter pilot days: He has gotten inside Barack Obama’s OODA loop.
That term was the invention of the great fighter pilot and military strategist John Boyd. It’s an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
“The key to victory is operating at a faster tempo than the enemy,” Boyd biographer Robert Coram writes. “The key thing to understand about Boyd’s version is not the mechanical cycle itself, but rather the need to execute the cycle in such a fashion as to get inside the mind and decision cycle of the adversary.”
For a fighter pilot, that means honing in above and behind the adversary so you can shoot him out of the sky. For a political candidate, it means acting in such a way that the opponent’s responses again and again reinforce the points you are trying to make and undermine his own position.
The Palin selection – and her performance at the convention and on the stump – seems to be having that effect. Obama chief strategist David Axelrod admitted of the Palin pick: “I can honestly say we weren’t prepared for that. I mean, her name wasn’t on anybody’s list.”
But it was known that McCain’s VP adviser had traveled to Alaska, and anyone clicking on YouTube.com could see Palin’s impressive performance in political debates. The McCain campaign shrewdly kept the information that she was on the short list and that she was the choice to a half-dozen people who didn’t tell even their spouses. The Obama team failed to Observe.
Then they failed to Orient. Palin, as her convention and subsequent appearances have shown, powerfully reinforces two McCain themes: She is a maverick who has taken on the leaders of her own party (as Obama never has in Chicago), and she has a record on energy of favoring drilling and exploiting American resources. Instead of undermining these themes, they dismissed the choice as an attempt to appeal to female Hillary Clinton supporters or to religious conservatives.
Then team Obama and its many backers in the media failed to Decide correctly, so when they Acted they got it wrong. Their attacks on Palin tended to ricochet and hit Obama. Is she inexperienced? Well, what has Obama ever run (besides his now-floundering campaign)? Being a small-town mayor, as Palin said, is like being a community organizer, “except that you have actual responsibilities.”
For more than a week we’ve seen the No. 1 person on the Democratic ticket argue that he’s better prepared than the No. 2 person on the Republican ticket. That’s not a winning argument even if you win it.
Perhaps the Obama campaign strategists expected their many friends in the mainstream media to do their work for them. Certainly they tried, but their efforts have misfired. Voters are onto their game.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen finds that 68 percent believe “most reporters try to help the candidate they want to win” and that 51 percent – more than support McCain – believe the press is “trying to hurt” Sarah Palin. The press and the Democratic ticket are paying the price for decades of biased mainstream media coverage.
I am not the only one to notice that John McCain and Sarah Palin have gotten inside the Obama campaign’s (and mainstream media’s) OODA loop. As I write, Barack Obama is in his second daily news cycle of explaining why his “lipstick on a pig” comments are not a sexist attack on the hockey mom who compared herself to a pit bull with lipstick.
Robert Coram describes what can happen when one player gets inside another’s OODA loop. “If someone truly understands how to create menace and uncertainty and mistrust, then how to exploit and magnify the presence of these disconcerting elements, the loop can be vicious, a terribly destructive force, virtually unstoppable in causing panic and confusion and – Boyd’s phrase is best – ‘unraveling the competition.’ … The most amazing aspect of the OODA loop is that the losing side rarely understands what happened.”
John Boyd would have been a terrific political consultant.