Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ok, it’s official. I’m getting nervous.(Part 2)

Yesterday, I looked at how Obama was damaging his own message and why it troubling. This is a look at the second reason that I’m worried: We haven’t come close to seeing the full sound and the fury of rightwing attacks and braindead media talking points for this election cycle, and I'm terrified of how Obama's campaign is going to fight them. And for those who think that things have been bad in the media so far, just brace yourself because it’s going to get a lot worse. And I mean A LOT worse.

The landscape is about to become much less favorable in two ways. First the McCain campaign will pull out all the stops to slime Barack. He saw last week that he can gain some traction by going entirely negative so expect that to continue. But instead of just hinting at racebaiting and mild amounts of lying, there will be a full scale blitz of this stuff. I'm guessing that by the end of September Barack Obama will be forced to either to support or denounce any black person in the history of time. That may be a joke, but based on how stupidly our country deals with race I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where were headed.

The second way it gets worse is that as we get closer to the election, the legitimate differences between the candidates will be minimized and worse yet, the media will move into full "Hillary Clinton primary mode" where they attempt to tighten the race by only being critical of one candidate. As in any election, when we don’t talk about issues, it’s not just our democracy that loses, but 90% of the time it means that Democrats lose as well.

Now, none of these developments are a death sentence for Obama’s campaign, but as Mike Lux points out, his campaign seems to be in full “play it safe mode”, which is the quickest and most effective way to lose an election. Mike Lux is a legitimate political insider, and he even starts his post with the following disclaimer:

As readers of OpenLeft know, I am one of those folks who personally doesn't like to criticize the Democratic Presidential nominee once the general election campaign gets underway. For me, as I have written, whatever faults they exhibit in the campaign almost never outweigh the risk of doing anything to damage their chances of winning. I believe in gritting my teeth and muttering curses to myself whenever they disappoint me, but not saying much critically in public and doing whatever I am asked to do to help the team win.

That puts him at odds with myself for one, but also it shows his dedication to putting Obama in the white house. And it also gives him more credibility when he says this:

However, when the campaign is drifting seriously off course and threatening their chances to win, I make an exception on the no criticism rule. And I fear we're reaching that point. I think I know what the problem is, too. It's that Capitol Hill Caution has taken over the campaign.

. . .

I am haunted by this because of my past experience with Capitol Hill-shaped "wisdom" around elections- being told by my brilliant young friend David Plouffe, who was running the DCCC in 1998, that the PFAW/MoveOn.org time to move on regarding impeachment campaign was a huge mistake, when in fact it was the theme that ended up turning the tide on congressional elections in our favor that year; being told by Gore's people in 2000 that if they just didn't respond to the NRA's attacks on the gun issue, the issue wouldn't have an impact; being told by Gephardt's top aides in 2002 that the only way to win the congressional elections that fall was to "take the war off the table" so that Democrats could get on with other issues; being told by Kerry's team in 2004 that if they just ignored the Swift Boaters, they wouldn't get any attention.

Caution kills when it comes to national elections, and the caution of my friends in Obamaland is hurting him. It's why despite the good coverage of the overseas trip and one gaffe after another by McCain, Obama is drifting down in the polls. And in an election where it is very likely we will lose some older blue collar white voters a Democrat would normally get, caution will kill us in the fall by dampening the enthusiasm Obama has sparked among young voters and new voters in the primary.

The Obama campaign's caution is allowing the McCain's campaign to define Obama and the terms of the debate- and as Drew Westen points out here, they are doing much of it at the unconscious level. Obama needs to be direct about confronting the image of him that the McCain team is trying to create. Unfortunately, as the stories above suggest, the Democratic establishment has generally tended to be fearful about confronting their attackers directly. On impeachment, on war and national security, on Swift Boat attacks, on NRA attacks about guns, on immigration, on way too many issues, the establishment Democratic response has been to avoid the issues on which they are being attacked. But our recent history has proven again and again that avoidance of problematic attacks doesn't work- you have to have the confidence to answer back and define the debate in your own terms.

I feel the tightness in my friends in Obamaland: they know that all the dynamics favor the Democrats, that McCain is a weak, uninspiring candidate running a weak, uninspired campaign. They know they should be winning this thing, and they are playing not to lose, which is the worst thing you can do in Presidential politics. The Obama team at the top hasn't been good at getting help or letting people in the door, because they feel sure that if they stay in control of the message, they will win. But, to my wonderful friends on the inside of the campaign, it's time to loosen the reins a little, not be so tight and careful and cautious, because you are in real danger with the course you are on.

Like he says, there’s plenty of time to change the dynamics of the race, but this is why I’m getting worried. How Obama’s campaign responds to dropping poll numbers this week should tell us a lot about whether they’ve learned their lesson.


  1. Ok, I understand your nervousness, but I think those of us who are caught up in the day to day back and forth of the campaign are living in a political bubble.
    Most of the world is on vacation or in the doldrums of August. All they are doing is trading daily barbs back and forth. None of this will have any lasting impact.
    The day to day polling is worthless. Barack, overall,
    is doing very well, and looking at the state races gives a better picture of his overall performance. Even small leads in Colorado, Virginia and Ohio are encouraging.
    Do not forget, the numbers of new folks registering
    to vote totally favors Obama, and Republican registration is down. And the enthusiasm factor
    for removing George Bush from office will come to
    the forefront as the day draws nearer. McCain is just too much a part of the past, and shows himself
    to be a grumpy old guy more every day. His potential for gaffes appears to be limitless, although he does seem to still get a free ride on

    Plus, Barack has accumulated millions of dollars that he will use when things get hot and heavy.

    Re: the perceived move to the center on FISA &
    Drilling. I say perceived, because it is such a hot button issue. Barack is wonky as hell. Having just read his comprehensive energy strategy, i am fairly confident that he will more than do the "right
    thing" in pushing us toward alternate fuels
    and reductions in energy usage when he is elected.
    This is a complex strategy that should have been adopted years ago (thanks Al, for those eight
    years of whispering green nothings in Bill's ear)--and it makes for uncomfortable reading for our friends in the oil industry. He brings up the taboo subject of all the leases the oil companies are holding for ridiculously low fees.
    The offshore drilling is only something he has said
    he might be willing to consider as part of the larger
    comprehensive energy package he wants, and in fact, I think he said it to take it off the table -- just
    as John McCain did. The mood in the country seems
    to be shifting a bit on that--there are more and more folks out there who are starting to reconsider
    offshore drilling as the price goes up. But doing this would take years-- and these bills
    go through so many changes, who knows what
    final version will appear. He will be President soon
    enough -- long before any new drilling anywhere.

    He doesn't want McCain to hammer him on this. He
    also said he doesn't like it (like FISA), but he is determined to get something passed. This is consistent with his legislative career, and while it is not my style, my style has led to eight years of grid lock. Barack is playing the hand that has been dealt right now.

    If, as I hope, that the numbers change so that real
    reform is possible, I suspect that his ability to deal
    with reasonable Republicans could be very useful.

    It used to be that politicians took the summer off
    and the campaigns started for real right after Labor
    Day--those were the days. The absolute drivel that
    is out there now--he said, she said-- is really embarrassing. You know things are bad when you
    hope Chris Matthews returns from vacation soon.

    Forget that I said that.

  2. You're definitely right about us paying more attention to some of this stuff than the majority of the country. The majority of the country doesn't pay attention to this stuff till the first debates, and I also agree that the day to day (he's up! He's down!) polling is pretty meaningless.

    He definitely also has an overwhelming advantage of voters as far as trends go, but my point is that when his brand starts to be trashed publicly (Jon Stewart, Letterman and Leno have all recently made jokes about him trying to have it both ways on things) That is a sign that these things are going into mainstream discourse. And once they're there, they can do serious damage, a la kerry as a flip/flopper in 2004. People may not be paying attention now, but you can't let themes trashing your brand simmer and develop and become common place by the time people start paying attention.

    RE: The drilling: If he gets elected president I wouldn't expect him to drill and I'd hope that he'd do something closer to Gore's plan. The problem as I see it is that public opinion is shifting on this issue is because other than a strong statement by nancy pelosi (who would have thought?) most high profile dems have either been slient or caving on the issue. If no one strongly opposing drilling because of political cowardice, by default drilling will become more popular because people want action. So it's really a chicken or egg thing, and that a lack of giving the public an option of opposing drilling is just as responsible as anything else.

    The only thing that I really disagree with here is: "He also said he doesn't like it (like FISA), but he is determined to get something passed. This is consistent with his legislative career, and while it is not my style, my style has led to eight years of grid lock. Barack is playing the hand that has been dealt right now.",

    While you're right that bipartisan legislative compromise is definitely Barack's style, your style HAS NOT led to 8 years of grid lock.[By your style, I'm assuming you mean more opposition by the dems, if I interpreted that wrongly you can discount the next paragraphs]. If your style had been implemented, it would have been the 8 Years amazing years of gridlock fighting the Bush Administration's every move. Instead of 8 years of gridlock, we got 8 years of bi-partisan bullshit from compromising with the worst president in the history of the united states. The Iraq War, Medicare reform, CAFTA, Peru FTA, Military commissions act, the energy bill, Kyl-Lieberman, FISA just to name a few of the worst... all passed because the democrats refused to fight, or act as "partisans". I've asked this before but I'd love to know of the good bill that failed during the last 8 years because the democrats were too partisan.

    Not all bipartisanship as bad, and when you split the opposition to pass a good bill it's an extremely useful thing. But having terrible bills pass over and over again with democratic capitulation is what passes for bipartisanship in a lot of peoples minds (and I hope not Obama's, although he voted for several on the list above), and that is the type of shit I can't stand.

    In other words, I wouldn't blame your style for the last 8 years, but you can blame bipartisanship and a lack of your methods for much of the ruin that the Bush Administration has brought us.

    Sorry to rant there, but that "not enough bi-partisanship" is one of my biggest pet peeves. And the last thing I want is for people on our side to discount their own good ideas, and listen to the mainstream media narrative of why we failed to be an effective opposition party during these last 8 years.

    Great comments, hope to see you back soon! Oh yeah, and I'll just say that if you'd seen "The Chris Matthews Show" 2 sundays ago, you wouldn't be waiting for him to come back. A half hour conversation including only buzz words on Obama being "Safe or not" ended me on Chris Matthews for this election season.

  3. is this at all encouraging? what do you think?

  4. It's encouraging mainly because it's more proof that McCain has no clue what's going on in his campaign. McCain's campaign workers went so far as to make tire gauges with Obama's name on them to make fun of his statement. The fact that McCain didn't know this and backed up Obama is a sign of zero coordination within his campaign, which is always a good thing.

    So as far as seeing if Obama's learned from his fuck ups, we'll see. This was more of a McCain screw up that he aptly made fun of, I guess the problem is I just don't trust Obama's advisors at all. If they thought these other things were good "tactical moves" then what the fuck else is going to seem like a good move? I'm more in "surprised when something goes right" mode, which is a sad place to be.

    Ughhh, and don't get me started on Bayh and Kaine as leading VP candidates and the fact that Obama disarmed all the outside groups that could be spending silly money right now keeping mccain off message...

    I still think we'll be alright in the end with all the factors going against republicans... but I'd be lying if this didn't feel like a flashback to 2000 or 2004 strategy wise.

  5. i should've elaborated. i thought this was more of an example of McCain not getting as much of a free pass as he has been. the Obama tire gauges thing, namely. seeing a Democrat absolutely hammer a Republican on something like this is so foreign to me, even if this is total softball lob that Obama should Josh Hamilton anyway. i'm interested to see what the rest of the press & pundits say about it though.