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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Going Negative With Class vs.The High Road to Nowhere

Sooner or later, all presidential campaigns go negative, the good guys, as well as the bad guys. The “we’re better than that” conceit is a self-delusion shared by losing campaigns everywhere.
Of course there are two basic ways to go negative — with lies and sleaze, or with integrity and class. Dems should always chose the latter option, and usually do.
The key decision associated with going negative is timing. The McCain campaign has made their decision. As Michael Kranish observes in the lede of his article “McCain ads go negative early on Obama” in the Thursday edition of The Boston Globe:

By launching a series of TV ads that ridicule Senator Barack Obama and question his readiness to be president, Senator John McCain has made a strategic decision to go directly negative much earlier than usual in the presidential race.

Actually, it’s been going on a little longer, as Kranish notes,

The Wisconsin Advertising Project, which monitors campaign ad spending nationwide, reported yesterday that of the $48 million worth of ads the two campaigns have aired since Obama clinched the nomination in early June, 90 percent of Obama’s ads have been positive and mostly about himself, while about one-third of McCain’s commercials referred to Obama negatively.

Obama has to go negative and he will. The only question is will it be too late to help him win? Who Obama should not be on the morning after election day is the loser who sniffs before TV reporters “At least we kept on the high road. I’m proud of my campaign.”
The high road strategy makes sense for the candidate who is protecting a lead in the primary season, because party unity among contenders’ supporters is paramount. But it makes little sense in the general election campaign when surrounded by snarling jackals. If anyone in Obama’s campaign has doubts that McCain’s strategists will go as low as is neccessary to win, Daily Kos writer Dengre has a sobering reality check.
No, I don’t think Obama should personally get into it with McCain’s mud-slingers. But he would do well to heed Ed Kilgore’s advice, in his Friday post,

…Obama really does need to spend less time on broad-based indictments of “Washington” or “lobbyists” or “politics as usual,” and spend a lot more time talking about his actual opponent, the actual opposing party, and the actual incumbent that links them.

McCain and his strategists understand that, to work, a negative meme has to be launched early and hammered throughout the campaign. Then, in the closing days of the general election, McCain can affect a ‘high road’ persona, the dirty work having been done.
So far Obama’s attacks against McCain have been a little too tame. The Obama campaign needs to define the precise meme they want to hang on McCain and implement a strategy to make it stick. Easier said than done, but a challenge that has to be made — and soon — for Democrats to take the white house.

One comment on “Going Negative With Class vs.The High Road to Nowhere

  1. quinn on

    We Americans Owe Our Souls to the Company Store
    Judging by the uninspiring and dispassionate campaign launched by the McCain camp, one can conclude that the current regime along with the entire Republican ‘leadership,’ are completely unconcerned with the outcome of the November election, and with good reason. Last week, the White House announced that the next administration will inherit roughly, a 500 billion dollar debt. The question the American people continue to avoid is, to whom do we owe this astronomical sum? The answer, while ugly, is quite simple. We owe it to them. When Georgie W. took over the family business in 2001, he had one and only one goal: to establish a perpetual source of wealth for his father’s friends and the private interests who installed him in office. Through a campaign of lies, deceit, and propaganda he has achieved his goal.
    It is astounding that, in the realm of global politics, the majority of Americans and, for that matter, most citizens of the world, find it easy to dismiss the obvious while embracing the absurd. The simple truth is that Georges Bush, Senior and Junior; Dick Cheney; David Addington; along with the entire Carlyle Group; are on the same payroll as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nouri Maliki, and Muqtada al-Sadr. These individuals will do anything necessary, independently or in cooperation with each other, to manipulate the price of oil. Let’s face it; it’s in their best interest.
    John McCain, along with his cheerleaders continues to tout the fact that, contrary to Obama’s predictions, “the surge has worked.” In reality, the surge “worked” because agents of the United States government in collusion with representatives from the Big Three Oil Companies have made substantial cash deals with the warlords and gang leaders attempting to fill the power vacuum left by the Bathist Regime. Muqtada al-Sadr, now the highest paid extortionist in world history, has restrained his guns and has assumed the responsibility of turf assignment to his capos. The “surge” has merely kept the parties apart until the final deals could be finalized.
    Furthermore, McCain somehow holds Obama responsible for rising oil prices by attributing the phenomenon to Obama’s past refusal to support offshore drilling (did I mention absurdity). It is a foregone conclusion that even if oil was extracted from these sights, it would not impact gasoline supplies for seven to ten years and the target market for this supply would be in China. More importantly, no American voting in the next election should be complacent with the prospect of driving a gasoline-powered vehicle ten years from today.
    The American people have a single issue on the ballot: are we willing to allow big oil and special interests to dictate global policies of war and peace, environmental preservation, and economic stability? Are we willing to allow our children and grandchildren to kill and die for Exxon Mobil and Halliburton?
    It’s time for America to embrace the obvious and reject the absurd. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and their entire multi-billion dollar propaganda machine must laugh themselves to sleep at night when they consider the following: for eight years they were successfully able to convince the American people that the American heartland, with the most powerful military in the world; with the most technologically sophisticated intelligence apparatus known to science; one which boasts of the ability to read a license plate from outer space; is under constant threat of attack by an international terrorist network with a capacity to strike at a moment’s notice that is commanded by three individuals operating from a cave in Afghanistan. Nice work Dick. In the final analysis, even if the Republicans lose the Presidential election and every seat in the legislature, they will still be in power by order of the golden rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules.


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