In Politics, as in Wine, Keep the Fancy Rhone-Style Under Control

No, I don’t mean “Rhone-style” here as an oblique reference to France.  Bear with me a moment.  Scott’s post two months back (“Hey”) on how Republicans need to study, match or exceed the superb technical skill the Obama campaign showed this year is well-taken.  Last week I was privy to a presentation by the Obama’s campaign’s director of digital operations in California, Vance Hickin.  Now, you may well be wondering, what special effort did the Obama campaign need to make in deep blue California, which was a layup for Democrats in this election from top to bottom.   Well none, of course, but this freed up California Obamanauts to turn their attention to other states, not only by making phone calls but also by going in person to Nevada and Colorado.  California became known as the “death star” at Obama HQ in Chicago, because its resources could be pointed at any state where help was needed.

More impressive still was how many layers deep—and deeper than the Romney campaign apparently—was the Obama campaign’s technological prowess.  You can download a slide deck called “Inside the Cave” that walks through the highlights of the effort.  One factoid in particular jumped out at me from Hickin’s review: Obama got 34 million “Likes” on Facebook.  But that wasn’t the end of it; depending on your FB privacy settings, the Obama campaign could use your “Like” to reach into your FB friends roster, and depending on an algorithm assign everyone of your friends a score of how likely you were to be an Obama voter, and then figure out the best way to reach you and then follow up to get you to vote.  The thoroughness of the effort was astonishing: think of it as No Voter Left Behind.

I expect that the GOP establishment is working hard right now studying this and making plans to match it or exceed it in 2016.  But I’d like to inject one note of caution that it is usually a mistake to suppose that technical performance alone will make up for weaknesses exposed by an election campaign.  Perhaps it’s because I spend so much time out here on the central coast these days observing winemaking trends close up, but pondering the Obama extraordinary technology effort put me in a frame of mind to think about . . . Rhone-style varietals, and what might be learned from the current enthusiasm for them among California winemakers.  (Hey—there’s precedent for this, such as Plato’s Symposium and the Laws.  As Klineas says to the Athenian Stranger in the Laws, “You seem to be saying, friend, that spending time drinking together is a great contribution to education, if it is done correctly!”  To which the Athenian Stranger replies, “Why not?”)  The point is, political practice, like wines, go through fads, and the current fad to think social media technology and “data mining” are the new key to politics may be an overestimation.

Here on the central coast the main wine varietal for years was Zinfandel, and a few vineyards go back over a hundred years.  As the industry grew folks branched out into some of the other mainline varietals such as Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and the California mainstay, Cabernet Sauvignon.  About 20 years ago or so visitors from France starting taking note of this region of California because its chalky soil, and the climate (the Paso area has one of the largest diurnal temperature swings in the world). It reminded them of the soil and climate of parts of the Rhone valley and Provence.  The idea of growing and producing Rhone-style blends caught on here, and now dominates the local wine scene.

The Rhone rush coincided with wine drinkers growing bored with the heavily oaked, buttery Chardonnays in favor of the leaner, tighter style of French burgundy, and also bored with the big, tannin-rich Cabernets.  But now it is getting hard to find good, old-fashioned standard varietals any more.  Just about every winery has a splashy MSG-blend (that’s Mourvedre-Syrah-Grenache), but Zinfandel and Chardonnay seem almost like an afterthought at many places.   (There are exceptions.  The Stolo Family winery, just five minutes from my house, has some extraordinary coastal Chardonnays—one of them just an amazing $13 a bottle, but you can forget about it—I bought the last five cases.  Daou Vineyards is making a major push to bring back big-style Cabs to the region, and my pals at Adelaida Cellars are planting substantial acreage of new Zinfandel vines that I’m looking forward to.)

The parallel?  Ultimately in politics what counts is not just execution, but the content of the ideas.  Fancy bottles and splashy label designs can give a new wine a pop, but aren’t sustainable if the quality of what’s in the bottle isn’t any good.  All the technical “data mining” tools in the world won’t help the GOP win if they don’t sort out their problems with their appeals to voters they’ve been steadily losing.  I keep hearing people say conservatives need to “make the case.”  Talking about “making the case” and actually making the case are two different things.  What is “the case”?  I keep hearing lots of fancy ideas that remind me of fancy SMV wine blends.  How about some basic conservative ideas, skillfully made and presented to people who are soon going to start hungering for old-fashioned remedies to our increasingly untenable liberalism.  People say they are bored with some of the old conservative slogans; maybe so, but soon they’ll tire of the fancy blend Obama is offering.

Besides, there’s a new Paso Wine Guy video out this week.  Who’s up for a Power Line Wine Tasting Weekend in Paso?  We’ve got a long four years to get through: