Friday, February 1

Sometimes angry ain't enough.

I do my level best to stay out of whatever intraparty squabbles the Democrats might be having during a given primary season, mainly because I think those kinds of fights damage party unity as we head toward the general election. But goddamn, I read stuff like this and it pisses me off.

That blog post was forwarded to me by a co-worker who is a lifelong liberal Democrat, who likes Barack Obama as a person but isn't sure that he has the experience or the cojones necessary to stand up to a full-bore Republican attack in the general election. I can understand why she and others might be nervous about throwing their support behind a relative newcomer to the Senate, someone who may not have been "battle-seasoned" the way Hillary Clinton has been -- but reading the No Quarter post and, in particular, the comments that follow it make me shake my head at the realization of just how little some of us Democrats have learned over the past eight years.

I have some questions of my own for the commenters who applauded Melissa McEwan's post, namely: How did Hillary Clinton, who caved to the Bush administration on the authorization of the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act (twice) and who still hasn't taken a stand on the proposed Senate bill repealing the Military Commissions Act, get such a reputation for being a bare-knuckle brawler when it comes to the Republicans? And how is it that a bunch of people who claim to hate Republicans so much can sound so much like them when criticizing Obama?

But the most salient question of all is this: How did y'all decide that "meanness" was to be taken for granted as a positive trait for a candidate?

Look, I'm not a wuss when it comes to politics. I've paid enough attention over the last couple decades to know that "bipartisanship" is something that's talked about a lot more than it is actually practiced; I was deep enough in the 2004 presidential campaign to know that politics is an ugly and frustrating business. I was enraged over the fact that the United States started an optional, pre-emptive war in 2003, and I won't lie, I really wanted to punish someone for it in the following year.

But my '04 experience taught me something else: that simply being angry and willing to fight with the other side is no way to win an election. Allow me to be both humble and blunt here: For the most part, we Democrats ran a shitty campaign that year. We ran with a whole lot of anger and not a whole lot of new ideas; we hollered all day about how much we were against Bush but didn't do much hollering about anything we were for. And on Election Day, that turned out not to be good enough.

Now I see these folks unleashing this tide of negativity -- against the Republicans, against Obama, against his supporters -- and I wonder if we're headed for that kind of doomed strategy all over again. It's not a matter of being too thin-skinned to take it when my guy gets criticized; it's a matter of wondering whether these folks want to win a fucking election, or just settle 15 years' worth of scores.

You want to fight Republicans? Great, no doubt we'll need to do plenty of that between now and November (and afterward). But that can't be all this election is about. Yes, the Republicans dominated Washington for a good long while by engaging in venomous partisanship and mudslinging, so I can understand why the idea of matching them at their own game would hold some appeal. But have you noticed something? People loathe the Republicans now. They lost the House, they lost the Senate, and if the presidential election were held today, the major polls indicate they'd lose the White House, too. The Republican Slime Machine is being lowered onto the historical junk pile of failure, and you pick now to get fired up about co-opting their strategy? Christ almighty, if y'all were running Boeing right now, you'd be designing biplanes. Hey, they worked once, right?

I've been called naive for believing that Obama's message of unity might actually appeal to a wide segment of the electorate in 2008; I've been patted on the head and told "bless your heart" for believing Americans might "rally around a common purpose," as Obama said in the speech that McEwan quoted in her blog post. I suppose I could retreat back into my old cynicism and say, yeah, that's all bullshit, Americans have become too selfish and hateful for that ever to become a reality. But I can't, and here's why.

For the last few weeks, as I've told you once or twice already, I've been going back and forth between Birmingham and Cullman, Alabama, to help out with the campaign of a gentleman named James Fields. Reverend Fields ran as a Democrat in the special election for House District 12, whose seat was vacated when the previous representative was appointed to head one of Alabama's two-year colleges. That representative, a Democrat, was appointed specifically because the Republican governor saw his seat as a potential GOP pickup in redder-than-red Cullman County, and yet on Tuesday, Rev. James Fields -- an African-American man running in a district that had never elected a minority in its history -- whupped his Republican opponent by twenty percentage points.

Even as a lifelong Southerner, I was amazed at what I saw every time I walked into his campaign headquarters. African-Americans mingled with white folks who looked for all the world like they would've driven there in pickup trucks with rebel flags on the back. Plenty of people openly declared their Republican Party affiliation, then asked where they could sign up to volunteer for Rev. Fields. We got regular visits from a guy who'd been in the Klan for 20 years, keeping tabs on the opposition's direct-mailings and making sure nobody messed with our volunteers. They all liked James Fields because he had a positive message, never ran negative against his opponent, and welcomed anybody into the campaign who felt like walking through the door. And it was enough for Rev. Fields to win in a landslide.

Now, a national race is not the same thing as a special election in one Alabama House district, I know that. But the fact remains that I saw Obama's kind of unifying, bipartisan message work on the micro level in a 97-percent-white county that black people were afraid to even set foot in once upon a time and that Bush carried by 53 points in the last election. Tell me I'm naive, tell me Obama is a lightweight, but don't for one second try to convince me this country is too far gone to buy into the kind of unity that he's preaching.

Obama's not talking about caving on issues like the war or gay rights. He's not talking about turning into Republican Lite the minute they (God willing) paint his name on the door of the Oval Office. He's not talking about standing idly by while the talk-radio crazies try to slander him. He's simply talking about offering everyone a chance to come together in his campaign. If they say "no thanks," so be it -- but the idea that any candidate should go into a campaign targeting certain people or groups for automatic exclusion sounds awfully counterproductive to me. Remember how we went through two presidential elections targeting only the blue states on the coasts and around the Great Lakes, writing off the Southeast and the "flyover country," crossing our fingers and hoping that'd be enough to win -- and remember how that failed? Remember how we didn't take back Congress until Howard Dean was smart enough to initiate a 50-state strategy that went looking for smart, charismatic candidates in places like North Carolina, Kansas, and Montana? Obama is talking about something similar, only on an individual level. If you want to automatically write off 40 to 50 percent of the electorate before you even get to the general election, fine, but you're making your job a lot harder than it has to be.

There's a time for fighting, perhaps even a time for "I told you so," but right now we've got to have more than that. We can either be as aggressively nasty as the Republicans were all throughout Bush's presidency, or we can have a little faith in the American people that they're getting tired of that. After the 2004 election, I wasn't sure I had that faith anymore; after Cullman, I know I do again. I may be proven wrong, but I'm willing to take that chance.

12 comments:

CoolSchool said...

Great post Doug but I do want to quibble some about your slamming of Kerry's 04 campaign. He did make some mistakes but if Bush had not stolen the election by rigging Ohio John Kerry would be campaigning right now for reelection.

TheUnknownStuntman said...

Amen.

Barrack Obama's message is made even more powerful by the way he challenges Americans to change the country with him. He's not just telling people that he'll waive a magic wand and the world will change--he's inspiring people to make a difference with him.

It's not a campaign of pandering. He's a Democrat who actually talks about personal responsibility, but personal responsibility not just as it relates to yourself but as it relates to your country.

You are dead on about these hard-line party hacks. They're the Democratic answer to those on the right who are screaming their heads off at the thought of nominating McCain on the Republican ticket.

America wants to turn the page on 51% politics. Obama enables the Democrats to accomplish that. He could be the Democratic Reagan--a man capable of revolutionizing the party and greatly expanding the base.

DAve said...

...if Bush had not stolen the election by rigging Ohio John Kerry would be campaigning right now for reelection.

Was this before or after the Bush family began conspiring with the Illuminati and Santa Claus to perpetrate the 9/11 attacks?

Anonymous said...

"But the most salient question of all is this: How did y'all decide that "meanness" was to be taken for granted as a positive trait for a candidate?"....We ran with a whole lot of anger and not a whole lot of new ideas; we hollered all day about how much we were against Bush but didn't do much hollering about anything we were for."

I don't like Hillary for meanness; rather for toughness, and there are few politicians who have had to be as tough as she has been to survive. Barack? Maybe he is tough, but I just don't know and to be completely honest there isn't going to be any way to find out. Clearly, John Kerry wasn't very tough, and that brings me to the second part of the selected text: tell me some details about one of Barack's 'new ideas'. That's my other problem. He can't run on 'feel good' and stay under the radar all the way to November. If he gets the nomination I will support him, but until I get some idea he has both toughness and some specific plan on at least one issue, I have remain a little skeptical. Doug, you write well, I like your spirit and your ideals and you make great pep talks, like at the half of a football game, but that is no replacement for actual game planning.

Stanley Holditch said...

Hells yeah. Hillary has never shown any ability to stand up to the Republicans as a Senator and we have no reason to think she would as President. Also, the undeniable fact is she supported the war wholeheartedly until it became overwhelmingly unpopular. At least Obama has shown that he can vote his conscience. Hillary votes whichever way the wind blows.

CoolSchool said...

Dave Santa Claus had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. What, are you part of the war on Christmas? You'd better be good or Bill O'Reily will get you.
P.S. Who won the 2000 election?
Answer: Thanks to the Supremely Packed Court, who knows?

dc trojan said...

The reason that Senator Clinton's supporters are creating and sustaining this myth of her toughness is that they want to focus on the process of campaigning rather than the substance of campaigning. By that, I mean that they are claiming that Senator Clinton has the campaigning chops that Obama hasn't because that allows them to ignore that she comes to the table with higher initial negatives than Obama does, and that there are portions of the population that will vote for him that will not vote for her. For heaven's sake, a lot of rural white Democrats are more likely to vote for Obama than Clinton.

If by "toughness" supporters of Senator Clinton mean that the Clinton campaign is trying to use tensions between the Latino and African-American communities to paint Obama as an old-school member of the civil rights community who doesn't care about Latinos, then sure, there's toughness on display. If they mean that she's willing to claim that Bill Clinton approved the bombing of Iraq in 1998 because Saddam Hussein "kicked out" weapons inspectors when in fact the UN withdrew them, then sure there's toughness on display. If indeed they mean that Senator Clinton is willing to spin her vote for a resolution to use force as not being approval for war in Iraq (as opposed to what then? A water balloon fight?), then there's toughness on display.

The fact of the matter is that Senators Clinton and Obama have roughly equivalent time in elected office. They have fairly similar voting records barring some key differences. They have web sites full of position papers. And yet supporters of Senator Clinton claim that Obama is short on details and light on experience. I suspect that's because they know that whether it's fair or not, and regardless of her hard work and preparation, Senator Clinton has more experience of taking a beating because a lot of people don't trust her and find her objectionable. I guarantee you that if Senator Clinton was the one running on charisma and the promise of change, and that people were willing to take a bet on a slightly unproven commodity, we wouldn't be hearing the same spin from her supporters. After all, it worked for Bill Clinton.

DAve said...

More than three months after Democrat Al Gore conceded the hotly contested 2000 election, an independent hand recount of Florida's ballots released today says he would have lost anyway, even if officials would have allowed the hand count he requested.

In the first full study of Florida's ballots since the election ended, The Miami Herald and USA Today reported George W. Bush would have widened his 537-vote victory to a 1,665-vote margin if the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court would have been allowed to continue, using standards that would have allowed even faintly dimpled "undervotes" -- ballots the voter has noticeably indented but had not punched all the way through -- to be counted.

The study, conducted by the accounting firm of BDO Seidman, counted over 60,000 votes in Florida's 67 counties, tabulating separate vote totals in several standards categories.


I can't believe there are still people insistent that Bush "stole" the election, and I can't believe I get so annoyed by it that I have to respond with rationale, reason, and statistical fact every single time.

The answer, then, is "George W. Bush".

dc trojan said...

Dave, if BDO Siedman counted ballots like they managed my in-laws' accounts, I suspect that Zoltan the Magnificent could have won the Florida vote and we wouldn't know it.

On a more serious note, your reference to an ex post facto vote count is correct insofar as it goes. However, you didn't mention the military votes that were counted well past the deadline for submission - many after the initial results were announced - as well as the other election rule shenanigans undertaken by Catherine Harris.

You didn't mention any of the election day irregularities in predominantly Democratic districts, nor the "accidental" over-reach in purging voters from the rolls.

Nor indeed did you mention organized efforts to derail vote recounts by Republican congressional staffers and lobbyists who all mysteriously decided to take vacations at the same time.

And, you don't mention the outrageous intervention of the Supreme Court superseding Florida courts and indeed precedent.

In the narrowest sense, you are right. The fact that the press and many Americans chose to accept the narrow accounting that you described is down to a fear of stepping into the maelstrom that would be trying to unravel the Florida vote absent judicial fiat.

In a broader historical sense, the narrow accounting view is neither here nor there. It's an ex post facto attempt to paper over election irregularities that would befit a banana republic, a contempt for the rule of law from both sides, and a win via a Supreme Court opinion that will rank alongside Dredd Scott and Korematsu as decisions that had fuck all to do with legal principle and everything to do with power and bias.

President Bush was the de facto winner of the 2000 election, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that he won it.

Megs said...

You know, before Hillary ever announced she was running...hell, way back when I was living in NYC, which was 2000-2004, there were several articles in publications like the NYT and the New Yorker talking about how surprised many of her fellow Congressmen across the aisle were at the job she was doing. She was smart, but not a know-it-all; she reached out to put together legislation with Democrats and Republicans alike; she worked hard and wasn't afraid to let someone else take the lead or the spotlight. When you're running for office, you have to be out there, you have to make a show of yourself. But a lot of the rest of the country wasn't really paying attention to Hillary when she was actually doing her job, and doing it well, in a way that earned respect from her peers from both parties. Just would like to point that out.

In other news, Doug, I just want to say that one of the things I really respect about you is that no matter how strongly you believe in something, you respect other people's rights to think differently, and give them credit for being able to make a reasoned, rational decision that may not quite match up with your own. Some of your fellow Obama supporters are not quite so generous, and it scares me, and is not at all in keeping with what I perceive Obama's message to be: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/03/AR2008020302526.html

Anonymous said...

I read your posts often enough to know where you stand politically but I am still confused on why war is a bad thing?

Aside from the "what? are you stupid?" comments, what makes war a bad thing that we cannot protect our common defense? I believe that is the constitutional word for it. It would not matter if the war in Iraq was a result of "hidden agendas" like oil or whatever the reasons people claim. The fact is that how many terrorists attacks have we seen on US soil sense we kicked the crap out of those terrorists.

Answer: NONE

The fact is that war, while it is not always good, is necessary. It is necessary because our constitutions demands that "we the people" "provide for the common defense."

Certainly, hindsight is 20-20, but there was no other way to eradicate terrorist activity on US soil. You can yell and scream all you want but remember the reason why you get to yell and scream...I, me personally, risked my life so that you have the ability to yell and scream and your are not cowering in fear of when the next terrorist attack will come.

Barrack Obama will not get my vote because he insists that authority rests with the individual rather than the constitution. He says that we need personal responsibility. Personal responsibility to what? For him and his cronies, it is a personal responsibility to whatever an individual's heart desires, whether its is dictating moral ethics, (i.e. gay rights and legal abortions), or destroying religion, (i.e. taking power away from the home in placing the responsibility of rearing children upon the government "read public schools" and ridiculing anyone who believes in God as a cro-mag.).

I certainly hope that someone can explain to me why I must vote for someone who insists that they are for America when in fact they think we need to be like all the other European countries with socialized medicine and government sponsored health care. Under the guise of helping the unfortunate the Democratic party has squandered opportunity after opportunity.

I ask one more question. What about the helpless and unfortunate women and children under Hussein's totalitarian regime? Do they not deserve your "Democratic" help when the opportunity arises, like after Sept. 11?

Steve said...

Doug, As one of the people who argued with you during the 2004 election, I'm glad to see you actually come over to my pov on at least one point. That being you couldn't win by just arguing that Bush sucks. You need better ideas.

On the current election, as a Republican, I'm rooting for Obama to be the Democratic nominee. Not because I think the Republican can beat him, but because I could see myself actually voting for him. I can't think of any possible scenario that would have me voting for Hillary Clinton. I believe that the Clinton's are slimy and nasty and will do anything to promote themselves. I think her campaign so far has born that out. If the Republican nominee turns out to be a turd, my guess is I wouldn't vote at all.

I certainly don't agree with all (or even a majority) of Obama's stands, but some of the Republican candidates fall into that category as well.

I'd like to have an actual choice this time. The last time I had what I believe were true options was between Carter and Reagan. Since then, I couldn't bring myself to vote for the Democrat nominee. Obama I can see.