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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama Must use the “R” Word

The editors of The New Republic have a post scolding Senator Obama for his reluctance to use the word “Republican.” Here’s the gist:

If voters thought McCain was just another Republican, they would run away screaming. That is why McCain is desperate to shed the label–and Barack Obama is desperate to make it stick.
Except, um, that’s not what Obama is doing. On the day before McCain released his ad, Obama gave a major speech on economics. It was a hard-hitting address, in which Obama proclaimed, “It’s time to put an end to a broken system in Washington that is breaking the American economy.” But the word “Republican” never came up. The next day, Obama released a somber ad in which he addressed the camera for two minutes. It included plenty of smart ideas (something he has never lacked, notwithstanding the bogus charge that he’s “all talk”). But its message was all about Obama the non-ideological reformer–that is, the guy positioned to clean up Washington. “Partisan fights and outworn ideas of the left and right won’t solve the problems we face today,” he said. Republicans? They didn’t make cameos here, either. Neither did Bush.

It is a consequential decision, but not necessarilly such an easy call. I tend to agree with the TNR editors that Obama has to use the label to make it stick. Surrogates’ sound bites just don’t get the necessary buzz. Yet Obama is making some inroads with “Obamacons” and seniors (see new CNN poll), many of whom are Republicans. And his campaign’s internal polling may show a potential for many more in light of the deepening financial crisis. Not all conservatives are gung ho in favor of bailing out failed businesses, elective war and nation-building in other countries. He has to be a little careful, not to be perceived as engaging in name-calling that would alienate potential supporters.
That said, the Republicans are directly responsible for the deregulation mania that lead to the financial meltdown, and you can’t hold them responsible without saying so at some point. The challenge is artfully making the distinction between Republican office-holders “who have betrayed their conservative heritage” and fed-up Republican voters who may be considering a Nov.4 cross-over. It’s about simultaneously holding the GOP responsible, while at the same time expressing welcoming respect for potential converts.

3 comments on “Obama Must use the “R” Word

  1. myerslaw on

    Perhaps, just perhaps, when Democrats decided to join in the canonization of Ronald Reagan, and failed to point out his horrendous failures in foreign policy, the destruction of legitimate governmental regulation in our country, the conversion of a health care system to “for profit HMO” banditry, and so on, the Party’s principles were forgotten. We won’t be winning over any confirmed pseudo conservatives, and people vote out of fear — so it’s high time to let them know who, and what, they should be afraid of.

  2. tfisher on

    It is more than just Obama’s desire to work with Republicans, though that is a piece of it. I know an extraordinarily large number of former Republicans and still-Republicans who support Obama. They believe that a specific element of the Republican party has hijacked the party and betrayed the rest of its members. And they see real hope in Barack Obama–sometimes even more than we Democrats see.
    As someone who has never been a Republican, I view the present crises as creations or bad responses by that party. But if the Obama campaign can build a solid majority by bringing in Republicans, more power to the campaign. And all the better for both the Democratic party and for the country in the long run.
    I don’t keep my Republican friends as friends by insulting their party, despite our heated debates, and I don’t try to embarrass the ones who will enter the voting booth in November and vote for Obama. Why brag about my party or trash theirs when I really want their vote. November’s vote for Obama could turn into more Democratic votes in the future.
    One way to win is to marginalize or demonize the other side and motivate your people. Another way is to win the other side over. If you can win the second way, you win with a real mandate.

  3. Keith Smith on

    Yes, but Obama actually, and deeply, i think, believes in his rhetoric about a new way in Washington. I don’t think anyone is going to get him to vilify the Republicans he is promising to work with. Is he just innocent? I hope we get a chance to find out.


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