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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

All the Nastiness the Market Will Bear

There’s quite a public debate going on in conservative circles this week about whether or not John McCain should take the lowest road possible in trying to make the rest of the presidential campaign about Barack Obama’s association with scary-sounding people like William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. What’s most interesting about it is that nobody on either side of the debate seems to have a problem with going that route if it could actually work.
Yesterday, Bill Kristol of the New York Times endorsed robust attacks on Obama about Ayers and especially Wright through the odd lens of “letting Palin be Palin,” on the theory that the spunky hockey mom knew better than campaign operatives how to tear Obama a new one.
Today Rich Lowry of National Review and Ross Douthat of The Atlantic dissented on grounds that “changing the subject” from the economy simply wouldn’t work. And at RealClearPolitics, Jay Cost took a break from numbers-crunching to argue that McCain might as well “change the subject,” since any efforts to convince voters that Republicans could be trusted to fix the economy were simply hopeless.
While as a Democrat I particularly enjoyed the Douthat-Cost debate over which McCain strategy was the more hopeless, it is a bit sobering to realize that these supporters of the Candidate of Honor and Decency and Bipartisan Civility and Country First agreed that there was nothing inherently suspect about trying to make the election turn on “issues” that have nothing to do with anything remotely relevant to the real-life challenges facing the next president. I’ve yet to hear a claim that America faces a dire threat from hippie bomb-throwers or black nationalists. And all that jazz about Ayers and Wright reflecting vital concerns about Obama’s “character” and “judgment” really just represents the self-serving rationalization that anything which could be used to damage him is legit because he’d then be damaged goods.
Interestingly enough, Douthat earlier provided a values-free version of this objection, in a post defending the infamous Willie Horton ad of 1988, and the Jesse Helms “pink slip” ad of 1990, on grounds that the lurid images at least connected with “real” issues (crime and economic insecurity, respectively). Since “unlike Willie Horton, Bill Ayers isn’t tied to any of the issues that are uppermost in voters’ minds,” going after Ayers is a bad idea. But again, according to Douthat, the problem is that such attacks won’t resonate. Otherwise, they would apparently be fine.
Look, I’m not naive. Politics is a blood sport, and I am abundantly aware that winning elections by the most effective means available is the condition precedent to all the policy ideas I care about. But the entire rationale for John McCain’s candidacy, this year as in 2000, was that he was better than this sort of tactic, and wouldn’t try to ask voters to prefer him over a rival based on rattling hobgoblins against ancient culture-war staples like the Scary Black Man with his Scary Friends. Instead, in a grand bit of irony, we have the candidate desperate to separate himself from the unpopular incumbent more and more reminding voters each day of the last Republican nominee who promised to “restore honor and dignity to the White House,” and serve as a “uniter, not a divider,” George W. Bush.

2 comments on “All the Nastiness the Market Will Bear

  1. madamson on

    This post concerns a great example of dog whistle racism in today’s politics. And there are so many more!
    We’re tracking political race baiting at http://www.stopdogwhistleracism.com. We find the good, bad and ugly from the right, left and center about race in the race. Visit us today for a non-partisan take on the race card, and the race card card, in today’s politics.
    Hope to see you at StopDog!

    Reply
  2. PrompterBob on

    You’re absolutely right, Ed. It’s interesting that after the Palin choice, Republicans were praising it to the skies, not on the basis that the candidate had found the most qualified person for the job, but that it gave him a bump in the polls. We need leaders who can be pragmatic, but not at the expense of their (and our) principles. The debate over these attack ads hasn’t been presented as a matter of revealing a reality about Obama’s associations, but as a matter of trying to con people into believing such associations exist. Shame on them.

    Reply

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