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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Issues and Character

There was a revealing comment at National Review‘s The Corner yesterday by Mark Steyn, who sneers at a Michael Cowley quotation of a Bush political operative who said: “You guys never get it….People don’t vote on issues. They vote on character.”
Sez Steyn:

Well, why shouldn’t they vote on “character”? Barack Obama has no accomplishments, no legislative record, no nuthin’. So if you don’t want to vote on character (ie, his condescension to crackers too boorish to understand how sophisticatedly nuanced it is to have a terrorist pal and a racist pastor), what else is left?

Uh, gee, Mark, how’s about those “issues?” Does Barack Obama have to have “accomplishments” with respect to the war in Iraq to offer a slightly different form of leadership on Iraq than John McCain? And for that matter, do you really want to bet the presidency on John McCain’s “accomplishments” and “legislative record” when it comes to the economy?
Get used to this, folks. Republicans are going to do everything imaginable to make the general election “about” something, anything, other than the simple fact that they are out of touch with a majority of Americans on a wide variety of “issues.” This will definitely include elitist, snobby instructions to Americans that their interest in “issues” is a form of false consciousness that obscures their actual obligation to vote on the basis of “character,” as defined by people like Mark Steyn.

2 comments on “Issues and Character

  1. edkilgore on

    I understand “character” is going to matter, but you might want to look at my next post, wherein I clarify that the real issue is whether anything but “character” is going to matter.
    Thanks for the comment.
    Ed Kilgore

  2. David in Nashville on

    Several years ago I found myself on a jury hearing a civil case. My panel was a good group of people, taking their job very seriously; nonetheless, in deliberations it was apparent that many of them had no good method of weighing evidence. Their preferred method was weighing the people who presented it; thus much of our deliberation consisted of character assessments of the witnesses and the opposing counsels. Most voters are like that, maybe even more so. Unlike my fellow jurors, most voters don’t give up a sizable chunk of their lives to the full-time contemplation of policy issues, which are often enough really complex, are frequently presented in a misleading manner rife with blue smoke and mirrors, and may well in the end bear little relationship to how the candidate will actually perform in office. Accordingly, the best way for people to judge a candidate’s issue positions is by judging the candidate her/himself, not the other way around. Most people feel incompetent to sift through the intricacies of health-care reform; on the other hand, they feel perfectly capable of sizing up a candidate, usually by looking for those small but telling features that reveal her/his trustworthiness. To be sure, “character” isn’t the only marker they use; the most important remains party affiliation, which may work better for Democrats than it has in the recent past. But if voters vote Democrat, it’s not likely to be because they agree with us on “the issues”; more likely it will be because they’re fed up with the results of Republican rule and/or think our candidate’s one they can trust. That being the case, we [and more important, since he’s the likely nominee, Obama] have to be concerned about this. I hope Obama’s learned something from this, but I and a lot of his other supporters will continue to be concerned that he’s not terribly adept at disciplining his “character” signaling. George W. Bush was good at that, and–his own arrogance, incompetence, and general out-of-touchness notwithstanding–it made him president for eight years.


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