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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why GOP ads assert the odd notion that rejecting Obama is just like breaking up with your lousy boyfriend.

Greg Sargent returned to one of his ongoing concerns yesterday, framing the issue as follows:

The Republican National Committee released a new ad today starring a former supporter of Obama who is in the process of breaking up with a cardboard cutout version of the President. Here’s what the woman says, more in sorrow than in anger:

Listen: This just isn’t working. It’s been four years. You’ve changed. You’re spending is out of control. You’re constantly on the golf course. And you’re always out with Hollywood celebrities….your jobs council says you haven’t even showed up in six months. You’re just not the person I thought you were. It’s not me. It’s you. I think we should just be friends.

…. The ad’s tagline: “Tell us why you’re breaking up with President Obama, at BreakUpWithObama.com.” Americans for Prosperity is also running an ad featuring former Obama supporters saying (again more in sorrow than in anger) that they feel duped by Obama’s promise of hope and change.

Sargent then notes:

I’ve probably suggested this too many times now, but each time an ad like this appears, it’s worth reiterating. The GOP theory of the race seems grounded in the assumption that many Obama voters are reluctant to part ways with him for purely emotional and symbolic reasons. They personally like him; they understand he inherited an unthinkably difficult situation; and they don’t want this historic and transformative presidency to end in rejection. These voters believe Obama’s performance merits replacing him, or are close to believing this, but they hesitate to boot him from office because it will make them feel guilty. So the ad tells these voters that they can feel okay about breaking up with Obama because, ultimately, he is the one who created sky high expectations for himself; it’s not your fault he let you down. “It’s not me. It’s you.”
But the thinking underlying these ads may neglect another possibility: What if the Obama supporters the Romney camp is trying to woo (but apparently has yet to win in the numbers he need) are reluctant to part ways with him for substantive reasons? …Perhaps these targeted voters are taking a more nuanced view of the economy and the Obama presidency, and are in the process of choosing between Obama’s ideas, priorities, values and vision and those of Romney. …

Sargent notes that, based on his conversations with Obama’s polling and media strategists, he suspects that the Obama team believes that this may be what is really going on.
But, if one pursues Sargent’s line of thought, there is actually an interesting psychological reason why the Republicans are quite literally incapable of seriously considering the particular possibility he proposes. There is, in fact, a kind of mental axiom among conservatives that all truly “normal,” “real American” people absolutely must perceive Obama in exactly the same way that they do. Oh, sure, lazy welfare spongers, social and cultural deviates of various kinds, silly, irresponsible students and corrupt union thugs may support Obama for “rational” reasons, but all “real Americans” must, and I mean simply must, see him in the way that Fox News presents him.
This is a necessary psychological deduction that follows from what is a core psychological premise among conservatives: that there is not – and in fact, simply cannot be – such a thing as millions of sincere, reasonable and honest liberals, progressives and moderates living alongside them in “real,” mainstream America. For conservatives, the world is rigidly divided into the real American “us” – who all see the world in a fundamentally conservative way — and the culturally and ideologically foreign “them” who see the world in some messy Islamic/Kenyan/Greenwich Village/Harvard/ Ghetto/Beverly Hills/East L.A./Woodstock way. For conservatives, there is simply no such thing as a pro-Obama or Obama-leaning “real American.”
The result of this inflexible mind set is that when conservatives try to imagine the reasoning process of the “persuadable” voters who the polling data demonstrate are indeed “out there” somewhere in the real America and who have not rejected Obama, conservatives find themselves forced to fall back on notions like gullibility, celebrity worship and media induced hypnotism to explain why these voters don’t see Obama in exactly the same way that they themselves do. The fact that the polling data show that Obama remains personally more popular than many of his policies seems to validate the gullibility/hypnotism hypothesis.
This explains why the GOP commercials this year so insistently present the case for voting against Obama in a way that appears to most Democrats and progressives as very weird and indeed hallucinated – as being something comparable to deciding to break up with a boyfriend who turns out to be a total jerk or becoming disillusioned with a hippy “love and peace” guru who turns out to be a fraud.
As it happens, Democrats should probably not be too unhappy about this conservative blind-spot. It is reasonable to suspect that for many weak Democrats and persuadable voters – even those who are in fact genuinely disappointed and disillusioned this year – the underlying subtext of the GOP ads actually comes across as extremely condescending and insulting.
Listen carefully to the “voice” that is speaking behind the message – the voice that is saying “Don’t worry, dear, it’s OK to break up with that lousy, no-good boyfriend you picked” or “Thank goodness darling, we’re so glad you finally left that weirdo cult you were in.” When you listen carefully, this voice suddenly becomes recognizable as the voice of pompous, gloating, self-righteous parents telling their wayward but now chastened son or daughter “We told you so from the beginning, you silly gullible idiot, why don’t you ever just listen to us.”
As anyone who has ever been a parent –or a child for that matter — will quickly recognize, this kind of sanctimonious parental lecture is, to put it mildly, rarely received by the son or daughter with vast, unbridled gratitude and joyful re-submission to firm parental control. I tend to suspect that on some subconscious level the Republican message may be received with an equal lack of appreciation by the persuadable voters to whom these GOP ads are directed.

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