David Axelrod

Hashtag Warfare

If politics is war, then Twitter is the neutron bomb. Politicians are engaging in hashtag warfare to stake out positions and target opponents without ever talking to a reporter or entering a TV studio.

You know you have a powerful weapon, says The Washington Post, when the President of the United States incorporates hashtags into his speeches, as he did last week — #dontdoublemyrate — in pressuring the GOP-led House to block an increase in student loan interest rates. After whipping up a student crowd in Chapel Hill that chanted the hashtag, there were almost instantaneously 20,000 tweets with the hashtag. 

Within 45 minutes, House Speaker John Boehner responded, using the hashtag, blaming Democrats for the student loan rate increase. Conservative groups seized on the hashtag to rip Obama over gas prices and lingering high unemployment rates, a risk you run in hashtag warfare.

Ann Romney chose Twitter to respond to criticism about her being a stay-at-home mom. Her tweet — "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work." — reframed the conversation in thousands of retweets. Critics changed the subject.

Twitter-bombing isn't just an American political phenomenon. It played a huge role in the Arab Spring upheavals. Reportedly the new president of Chile instructed his cabinet ministers to tweet to build grassroots support for his new policies.

Facebook has tons more users, but Twitter has become the go-to place to find out the latest news. That is just the kind of battlefront that attracts political operatives. Shots fired on Twitter wind up ricocheting on Facebook and, ultimately, populate searches on Google.

Half-time with Chrysler

A 120-second ad aired at half-time of Sunday's Super Bowl featuring Clint Eastwood talking about Detroit's comeback sparked a sharp debate among political partisans. Was it a covert pro-Obama re-election ad? Was it part of the payback for massive bailouts that kept Chrysler afloat? It depends on who you talk to, and plenty of people were talking.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said the ad had zero political content.

Eastwood, who described himself as leaning more toward libertarian fiscal views and has been quoted by the Los Angeles Times as opposed to the auto bailout, said the ad was about job creation. 

GOP high priest Karl Rove told Fox News the ad offended him and smacked of Chicago-style politics. 

Obama campaign staffers in Michigan called it "another great Chrysler ad," while the President's political advisor David Axelrod extolled it as a "powerful spot."

And then there are all the tweets and Facebook mentions arguing one side or the other. Thousands of them, which continued on into this week.

Most of the commentary seemed to bypass the policy choice behind all the brouhaha. Commentators and tweeters apparently left that for actual politicians to duke out. Obama touts the bailouts, which actually started under President George W. Bush, as the savior of the U.S. auto industry. Or as one wag summed up Obama's re-election pitch, "Osama bin laden is dead, but GM is alive." Republican presidential hopefuls pan the bailout, calling it an unfortunate intrusion by government into the free market.