Thingish Things

Black Op Patriots

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Feb• 08•12

My father once told me that he and his fellow infantrymen in World War II kept a little distance from the snipers. The American ones that is. They kept as much distance as possible from the German marksmen.

The snipers induced discomfort in all those around them. Their type of killing was personal and exact, and even though they were taking out the enemy — the ones firing rifles and lobbing mortar shells their way — the snipers were to be avoided, without hurting their feelings of course.

In politics, the snipers are the “oppo” men, the never-seen-or-heard opposition  research experts who can take down an enemy campaign with a single shot. These are the guys — occasionally, but rarely, girls — who know how to scour for drunk-driving records, draft-dodging evidence, spousal infidelity, and prohibitively bad breath. Most people on a campaign never meet the “oppo” guy. Only one or two people know his name, and you know you’ve arrived when you’re one of them.  But everyone knows he is out there, lurking somewhere, like Kaiser Soze in the darkness. (His shadow becomes bigger and more powerful the more a campaign needs to be saved, like those fantastical savior weapons that never quite materialized were to the Japanese at the end of the aforementioned war.)

I ran into one my favorite “oppo” guys at a restaurant in New York some years back.  I hadn’t seen him in a long time. I asked where I could reach him to catch up. He handed me a card for a California company and said, straight faced, “Call this number and ask for me.  They’ll say they don’t know me.  Tell  ’em you want to leave a message for me anyway.” That’s too good a line to discard from the mind. 

There is a tell-all book just out from two oppo research experts wonderfully titled “We’re With Nobody,” the standard answer to anyone asking what you’re doing rifling through the stacks of the Pentagon with knee pads, a coffee thermos, and three sandwiches. “We’re just aspiring college students hoping to freelance an online column for a publication that hasn’t started yet.” That kind of thing.  It has to be worth a read for anyone interested in politics.

But like snipers, oppo men are essential, not just to campaigns, but to American democratic success. No one else has the time, resources, or expertise to parse candidates to the extent they do. Good journalists can do the work, but newspapers don’t have the budgets anymore to put investigative researchers on drill-down missions that most often meet dry wells. They pay reporters to write, and to write every day. Only campaigns are willing to expend five-figure sums to have trained eyes look through the enemies trash — and that of their own candidate.

The higher the level the candidate, the more important the “oppo” team becomes. At the federal level, a compromised candidate — one with a hidden life — is an instant candidate for blackmail. John Edwards, Gary Hart, and Herman Cain all ran for president with giant skeletons in the closets. That’s dangerous, not just to them but to the country.

“We’re with Nobody” is sure to raise eyebrows and bring additional ignominy to the field of politics.  But it shouldn’t.  As wary of them as I am — do they have a file on me??? — opposition researchers do their duty and they do it well. Heck, they could start a union, if they would only emerge from the shadows to show up at the meetings.  

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  1. Me says:

    Nicely done, Mr. O’Reilly:-)

  2. Oppo Guy says:

    Yes. They have a file. Always assume they have a file.

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