I am finding it increasingly frustrating to watch pundits this year, and that includes the ones I really like. I think the problem comes from the fact that everything they discuss comes from a perspective that doesn’t seem to realize that the political metric in this country has changed drastically over the last four years.
For example, on last night’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, there was a discussion of the GOP’s desperation this year. Rachel Maddow, whom I love and respect more than just about anyone in the media at the moment, speculated that one possible way the Republicans might go after Obama might be to play dirty; to play gutter politics with him, because such politics, as played by Hillary Clinton, seemed to throw him off his game.
Now, like I said; Rachel is amazing. She’s incredibly intelligent, and she has decent political instincts. But even she doesn’t seem to see the incredible sea change that is happening in politics right now. This is the biggest movement we’ve seen since probably 1932, yet the people who are supposed to be watching this and reporting on it for us don’t seem to see it.
The right wing is dead.
There, I said it. They’re dead, politically speaking. Gone. People simply aren’t buying that crap anymore. It probably would have died sooner or later as part of the natural cycle of politics, anyway, but this is happening sooner than anyone expected, precisely because of the Bush Administration.
The right wing spin machine really doesn’t work as well as media pundits seem to think, anyway. Just because media talking heads buy some line of right wing bullshit, doesn’t mean voters do. The reason the Democrats had such a long down period was because they allowed the volume of the right wing drown out all logic and reason. Those days are gone. In the six years between January 2001 and January 2007, when the Democrats took back the House and stopped the hemorrhaging in the Senate, the far-right-led Republican Party certified themselves as absolute losers in the minds of most of the American people. They will have no influence in the 2008 election — none.
On the surface, I know it looked as if the right-wing-style smear machine utilized by Hillary Clinton was working against Barack Obama, but that’s only if you don’t look so closely. So, let me get out my magnifying glass and show you the picture a little more clearly.
As those who have been reading me for a while know, I have been saying for years that we Democrats (and especially so-called "progressives," but that’s another column for another day) are our own worst enemy, not the wingnuts in the Republican Party. You also know that I have absolutely nothing but loathing for most of the leadership of the Democratic Leadership Council, or DLC. I think they are some of the stupidest people on the planet, with no political common sense whatsoever. Their entire strategy involves taking the "centrist" position on everything, and working hard not to say anything that might piss someone off. Their idea was to move the entire party to the right, because the country had moved to the right. Everything about them was conservative in nature, including their ridiculous strategy of only running candidates in races they had a chance to win. They wrote off half the population, and assumed the other half would always be on board. make no mistake; it is possible for a Democrat to win in the South, without carrying an assault rifle and locking his chastity-belt-wearing daughter in the local Baptist church, while he or she goes out and pickets the local Planned Parenthood office and beats up a few gays on the side. But it takes more political finesse than the DLC has ever demonstrated.
As a result, most of the DLC’s untoward influence, most Democratic candidates who ran from 1986 to 2004 represented a series of milquetoast political platforms. They suppressed their Democratic and/or progressive tendencies to such a degree that they didn’t seem to stand for anything. And let’s get something straight here; voters care less about what you believe in, than that you believe in something.
That’s one aspect of this. Look closely, and you’ll see that you’d have a difficult time telling me what DLC-backed candidates such as Dukakis, Gore and Kerry (and to a lesser extent Bill Clinton) ever stood for. The 2008 Al Gore would kick George Bush’s ass; so what changed between then and now? NOW, Al Gore stands for something; he’s a force for change on global warming and social justice. The reason Democrats keep losing elections is NOT as a result of the negative campaigning coming from the right! Negative campaigning doesn’t work unless the person being attacked is susceptible to attack. and only those with perceptibly weak characters can be done in by a negative attack.
So, why did the negative campaigning seem to work on Obama during the primary season? Why did he seem to be thrown by it? The simple answers are, it didn’t and he wasn’t.
There is a good corollary to this situation in our recent past, and it has to do with Ralph Nader. I will always blame Ralph Nader for making the 2000 election close enough for the Supreme Court to steal for the GOP. But it’s not because of the number of votes Nader received. In fact, under different circumstances, Nader could have received 10% of the vote or more, gotten the Green Party what it was looking for, and we still would have had President Gore and not President Bush.
Ralph Nader attacked Al Gore far more vehemently than he attacked George W. Bush. FAR more. He undermined Gore almost every chance he got. It was a politically stupid strategy to begin with, but it also resonated with the moderate voters who always decide elections. The reason is simple; whether you agreed with his politics or not, Nader had credibility with most people. People believed what he said. So, when Rove would call Gore a liar in 2000, and Nader would follow up by agreeing with Rove, he was actually boosting Bush’s credibility by a huge margin. Now, as I have said; Gore ran a lousy DLC-style campaign, and seemed to lack the courage and passion he demonstrates these days. But he still could have won, had Nader not undermined him at every turn. If Nader had sided with Gore against Bush far more often, Gore would have won in a landslide, and the Green Party wouldn’t have to fight for a spot on the ballot now.
Hillary Clinton is effectively the "Ralph Nader" of this primary season. She has credibility with Democratic voters. So, when she lied about Obama regarding NAFTA, and when she piled on/weighed in regarding Reverend Wright, it had a much more pronounced effect in the media. And Obama hesitated to respond, because one of the cardinal rules of Democratic Party politics has always been that you attack your primary opponent on the issues, but you never kneecap them, or offer the Republicans ammunition for November. Look more closely; when McCain attacked him on anything; the response by the Obama campaign was immediate and forceful. When the attacks came from Clinton, he worked it out a little more quietly. In other words, what he has demonstrated is a deftness at knowing when to respond and when not to; something that no DLC candidate has ever mastered before.
There is absolutely no comparison to be made between the attacks on Obama coming from Hillary Clinton, and the ones that will inevitably come from the Rovian wing of the GOP. Attacks coming from Clinton have been doubly disappointing, because she knows she has credibility, and she knows he can’t respond the same way McCain could. The ones from Rove will be lame and not have any credibility at this point in time.
This is why my response to the potential of attacks by the Rovians in the Republican Party is pretty much "bring it on." The right wing has discredited themselves, and the American people are ready for change unlike they have been for quite some time. And we finally have a candidate in Obama, who transcends the DLC’s triangulation on every issue, which has resulted in the "strangulation" of the Democratic Party for the last 22 years. This is a guy with very strong character, who knows what he stands for, and isn’t afraid of telling you. he doesn’t change his story constantly, based on the group he’s talking to on a certain day, and he speaks to people as if they’re not morons. The more people get to know this guy, the more they will like him, and be inspired by him, and the more they’ll roll their eyes when the far right tries to smack him with the Reverend Wright stick.