Friday, April 18, 2008

Putting negative charges into the proper context

Like most campaign seasons, there have been a lot of charges that don't have much to do with issues. Some of them are barely even relevant to character. Naturally, both sides use them to say that the candidate they don't like is completely unfit for office due to this or that charge.It's just not true in either case. There are some silver bullets that completely blow up a candidate's reputation and make them clearly unfit for office, but we haven't seen anything approaching that in this fight so far.But that doesn't mean that the charges are meaningless. They do speak to an aspect of the candidate that may or may not be important to you. For example, McCain's potty mouth and temper give him a boorish aspect that turns a lot of people off. The Rev. Wright controversy calls into question just how much of a uniter Obama is. However, in McCain's case, it doesn't mean he can't be a great Commander-in-Chief. Many military officers lack tact and have an explosive temper. In Obama's case, does he have to be the Ultimate Uniter to be a superior candidate to Mccain? Absolutely not.Now, to drop the veneer of balance, here's why I think the Obama stuff is more damaging than the McCain stuff. McCain's faults are mostly well known. Everyone knows he's like a bull in a china shop at times. Therefore, that deficiency is already built into his current approval numbers. The only thing that really damages McCain are the repeated Shiite/Sunni confusion, which hurts him where he is perceived as most credible: on foreign policy.Obama, however, his great appeal was as a uniter. As an agent of change. That's a very delicate narrative to maintain, so unless he actually is a uniter and an agent of change, the facade will fall pretty quickly. The Rev. Wright scandal works against that narrative. The NAFTA/Goolsbee thing is a great example of politics as usual, telling voters one thing while your advisors tell interested parties another(Clinton's campaign did it too, but people already expect that of her. It's built into her "value" already). His speeches also gave the impression of a strong leader. I used to extol him as the next JFK, but as time went on it was noticeable that he didn't do so well without a prepared speech and when challenged his appearance of strength vanished.To sum up, in politics, the most damaging accusations are ones that contradict your narrative, that question the very heart of your candidacy. Bill Clinton was absolutely hammered throughout the 1992 campaign, but survived, in large part due to the fact that for all those charges, none of them challenged what he portrayed himself as: a really good leader, a former governor, who could economically turn this country around. None of them challenged the narrative that he was a "different kind of Democrat", another major attraction. He was DLC. Practically FOUNDED it. There was no way to portray Clinton as a liberal Democrat, even though the Bush team tried.You have to run as what you actually are. Obama is running as something he is not. What he is is a Democrat in the Kerry/Mondale/Dukakis mold, albeit far superior to those three in terms of intelligence and strength(he's not what I'd call courageous, but he's not nearly as wimpy as those three.) But he's running as something else, a centrist, bipartisan Democrat trying to change politics. It's not who he is and voters are going to see right through it.

I guess I should also mention that despite my distaste for liberal Democrats, I would never go so far as to say a liberal Democrat can never win or that they are unfit for office. Obama is a very good candidate, he's just not all he's portrayed as.Voters who want a liberal Democrat are going to stick with him through thick and thin and we're seeing that. None of the revelations really bother them because they really didn't care whether he was actually a unifying, bipartisan figure or not. If the country is truly ready for a liberal Democrat, the country will elect him. But to expect the bipartisan, unifier facade to stay in place until November is just not realistic.