Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"polite Democrats and fighting Republicans"

Good observation from Andrew Tanenbaum, "The Votemaster" at

The traditional media seem to have picked up on two themes for the convention so far. First, for some of Clinton's diehards supporters, the primary is not over yet and they say they won't support Obama. It is more than a bit ironic that some of the most ardent feminists say they will support John McCain (who they oppose on virtually every issue--especially abortion) rather than Barack Obama (with whom they agree on virtually every issue). The other theme is that the Democrats are letting McCain off easy. Long-time Clinton insider James Carville has been all over TV saying that the Democrats have let slip a golden opportunity to pummel McCain. Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) compared Obama to Adlai Stevenson, another cerebral Illinoisian, saying that both of them liked to give long thoughtful answers to complex questions, when soundbites would be more effective. Sen. Chuck Schumer(D-NY) said the Democrats should throw more rabbit punches. Indeed, the keynote speaker, Mark Warner, emphasized bipartisanship and working with the Republicans to solve the country's problems. Of course, Warner is running for the Senate in a fairly red state, so he has his own reasons for making nice to the Republicans, but it is still odd for a keynote speaker not to throw any red meat to the party's activists.

In contrast, the McCain campaign was in full-bore attack mode. Not a word about bipartisanship. It was running ads attacking Obama as too young to lead and bellowing that he is too weak to be commander in chief. To a considerable extent, this looks like a rerun of 2004, with polite Democrats and fighting Republicans. When asked, the voters say over and over that they can't stomach these negative ads, but as Lee Atwater discovered a long time ago, they are immensely effective. Some of the convention speakers last night mocked the fact that McCain couldn't remember how many houses he had, but the suggestion was that he had too many houses. If the shoe had been on the other foot with an elderly Democrat vs. a young Republican, the Republicans would have harped on the memory loss aspect (if he can't even remember how many houses he has, how can he remember what happened in the last cabinet meeting?). Democrats don't like that kind of personal attack. It is just not in their blood.

Keeping the last two days of the DNC convention in focus, it should be noted that regardless of who the nominees are, as a party Democrats are more seriously fragmented than Republicans. Historically, this is not news. The history of American party politics seems to be the wealthy and powerful (and those who admire them) versus everyone else.

Obviously, not all Republicans are rich and powerful in the same way that not all who fought for the South in the Civil War (the Recent Unpleasantness or War Between the States, as we in the South like to say) were slaveholders. It's not called the "Southern Strategy" for nothing. Bedfellows. Politics. You know the drill.

So preparing for an election is a bit more time-consuming for Democrats. They have to make sure everyone is wearing shoes and has their socks pulled up, that personal hygiene is not going to be a problem and that all the people out in front have enough teeth to flash a toothpaste smile.

Underscoring that party quality, Daniel Nexon makes a good point.

Clinton gave a great speech. Lots of commentators say that it hurt the Republicans.

But they're wrong; this was a tactical victory, not a strategic one.

The Republicans won the last two days... the meta narrative was about Democratic unity, and not about the Democrats agenda or their critiques of McCain.

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