Capitol Hill Caution

by: Mike Lux

Tue Aug 05, 2008 at 14:12

Cross-posted at Huffington Post

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.

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.

Mike Lux :: Capitol Hill Caution
It's no accident that the only two Democrats to win the Presidency since 1968 were governors who were from small states, far away from DC, unaffected by the Culture of Caution that tends to grip Democrats on Capitol Hill, and that those nominees most shaped by the Capitol Hill culture in that same period- Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, Gore, Kerry- all ended up losing. Good legislators are consensus builders, good at crafting compromises, always aware of all the ideological and regional factions you need to get the votes. They tend to be more naturally cautious than a governor or mayor or general with executive experience, and more cautious than a candidate trying to win a national election ought to be.

My hope was that Obama would be more like JFK in that although he was a Senator, he was enough of an outsider and confident enough in himself that he was not infected by the Culture of Caution. Much of the time in the campaign he has shown that kind of confidence and strength. But I fear that, at least for the moment, the Capitol Hill Culture of Caution has taken hold of the campaign.

I'm not even talking about the much commented-on move to the center. While, as I have written, I don't think he needed to do this and in fact felt like a more open call for bold new thinking would have been a better general election strategy, I haven't minded the centrist shift as much as some others in progressive politics. It is, after all, a pretty predictable playbook move, one that most candidates in both parties have done for many years. And the Westen/Greenberg research I wrote about the other day showed that while Democrats could take clear stands on controversial issues and still win, it also showed that centrist-sounding inoculation language on those issues was necessary to win majorities on those issues.

What I'm talking about instead is the sense of overall caution that seems to have utterly infected the campaign. Instead of having the confidence to win the bigger argument on investing in alternative energy production and conservation, they make the shift on drilling. Instead of pushing back firmly and assertively on the race card accusation, they have the campaign's reply be "No, we're not playing the race card." Instead of having the confidence to really negotiate with McCain on debate formats, they fell into the we'll-just-do-what-candidates-have-always-done formats. Instead of having the confidence to lay out some of his good new ideas on foreign policy that are clearly different from the Bush doctrine in his widely watched Berlin speech, he stuck to cautious generalities. Instead of having the confidence to back up his strong and effective primary rhetoric on FISA and NAFTA, he cautiously moved towards the conventional wisdom.

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/ 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.

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McCain is weak, cynicism is not (4.00 / 3)
I think I agree with your criticism, but it will undoubtedly be exploded into a lot of nonsense here and elsewhere.  

Forgotten in the gut desire to crush the enemy is the fact that Obama or anyone else has a very tough road to hoe to change many years of Republican campaigning on how government is bad and useless, and that one should never believe any politician.

Also, certain kinds of cultural wedges still have some power. McCain's campaign has demonstrated that they are not afraid to keep playing those cards, and something will hit (it may or may not already have hit.)

So destroying the weak McCain cannot be easy; I think it's nearly impossible.  Nobody ever says by how much he "should" be winning, it's always about that poster's dissatisfaction.)

I think the next 30 days will be telling as to whether you're generally right or not, Mike.   I certainly trust your judgment more than any other blogger because you've been there.  

maybe (4.00 / 3)
you should talk to your wonderful friends on the inside of the campaign.

If they're taking phone calls at this time that is.

Yup. (4.00 / 1)
That's what I've spent the last 3 weeks doing, wasn't getting very far.

[ Parent ]
I think his tone today in Youngstown is encouraging (0.00 / 0)
certainly better than the first wave of response TV ads.

The news coverage was much more favorable too. First day since he returned from Europe that he drove the narrative.

[ Parent ]
If you've got their ear, (4.00 / 1)
I've got a suggestion for them. If you think it might be of value, maybe you can pass it along.

The primary audience for this strategy would be local media; the secondary audience would be national media. (It is my understanding that more people watch their local news than watch the national and cable news programs.)

Surrogate issues tours

The idea is to get several groups, each comprised of two or three prominant surrogates, to each go on a campaign tour with a focus on a specific issue.

Al Gore could go on a tour focused on global warming and energy issues. He could be accompanied by someone like Bill Richardson (former Energy Secretary.) The point would be to get people who can draw a crowd and local media attention by themselves, but together at the same event would be even more of a big deal.

Perhaps Hillary and John and Elizabeth Edwards could campaign together and focus on healthcare.

Wes Clark, some other Obama-supporting general, Jack Reed, and Paul Hacket or the guy from VoteVets could talk about security issues.

Robert Reich, Sherrod Brown, and someone representing unions could focus on the economy.

These are just examples off the top of my head. I'm sure the campaign could come up with better names if they put their minds to it. The key point would be to have the messaging coordinated and working on several levels:

1.) Policy level: Explain and promote the progressive position on the specific issue. Explain why Obama's plan is awesome. Explain why the Bush/McCain position sucks.

2.) Thematic level: A well-designed narrative - positive about Obama / negative about McCain - needs to be strategically woven through all of the speeches so that every sound bite is reinforcing the planned narrative

People who actually come out to the events will hear a thorough presentation, but the local news station will just show some crowd shots and pick out a 7-second sound bite to play. The sound bites need to be spoon fed to the local news crews. The campaign needs to come up with several good ones and sprinkle them throughout the speeches of each surrogate. And they all have to reinforce the planned narrative.

The point is for local (and national) news media to think they're reporting on an energy speech or a healthcare speech, but to actually be repeatedly transmitting the planned narrative, whatever it may be ("Obama cares about me and my problems." "McCain is just like Bush; he has a weak character and is a puppet of Karl Rove and the big greedy corporations.")

The tricky part, as I see it, would be to get high profile surrogates to put their egos in check and get out there on the bus (or plane,) take directions, stay on message, and understand and accept that it's not an Al Gore speech or a Hillary Clinton speech; it's one moving part of a coordinated message machine being directed by the Obama campaign. Their speeches need to be co-written with Obama's people so that they all work together and all stay on script. The whole must be bigger than the sum of the parts.

Anyway, that's my idea. Let me know what you think of it. Pass it on to Obama's people if you think it has merit.

[ Parent ]
why are you surprised by any of this? (4.00 / 7)
Look at Obama's voting record in the Senate and tell me he's not cautious.

Where was he when Chris Dodd was leading the charge on FISA and defunding the war?

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I wholeheartedly agree; however, any (4.00 / 3)
caution shown so far in this race, while annoying, has led Obama to victories. He won the primary against one candidate with more-or-less exactly the message I wanted and another with huge institutional advantages.

I personally lost the majority of my enthusiasm for the Obama candidacy over FISA (and his response--'if you can't support me because of this issue, that's okay with me'--certainly doesn't make it any easier to get off my ass and knock on doors), but also this feels eerily like the primary to me.

I switched to Obama after Edwards and Dodd dropped out. And I distinctly remember feeling that as soon as Obama started winning, he started drifting. I hope with as much justification.

[ Parent ]
He lost big to Clinton (0.00 / 0)
in the last month or so of the primaries, partly because he appeared to give up on states where she was favored to win, and allowing a meme to develop about him that he was lazy and full of himself and not willing to put in that last 10% to "seal the deal". And primaries are very different from general elections. Kerry pretty much locked up the nomination in the first month or so without really trying hard, but the same caution and laziness doomed him in the general. Much the same with Gore in '00. '08 is not '04 or '00, but certain fundamentals always apply. And one of them is that pols who take things for granted, and are perceived to be too cautious, tend to lose. LBJ was a lock in '64 but still camapaigned his ass off because he wanted not just a win, but a huge win. And he got one. Why Obama isn't doing the same is troubling. He'll probably still win, but possibly not by as much as he could have.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Perhaps it's just a matter of timing (4.00 / 2)
I've been assuming that the Obama campaign has just been biding its time, while getting its organizational house in order.

Is there an argument that can be made that it's better not to come out too aggressive immediately?  If nothing else, I think McCain has already managed to label himself as the more negative campaign, maybe because Obama has let him take the lead.

I think it also bears noting that, during the primaries, the Obama campaign seemed at its best when counterpunching.

Your question goes right to the heart of the matter (4.00 / 8)
'Is there an argument that can be made that it's better not to come out too aggressive immediately?'

This is what the American people seem to be judging when it comes to candidates: how aggressively the candidate and their campaigns work to achieve victory seemingly translates into will fight as hard for me, the voter when I elect/vote for him.

So when Democratic candidates don't fight back from labels and characterizations they are given by Republican operatives the same voters see that as 'if he can't stick up for himself, he won't stick up for me, the voter if I elect/vote for him

Candidates have to show the voter that they want this job, that they are willing to fight for this job. This is point where 'playing it cool' works against the candidate.

Aggressive doesn't have to be seen as a negative.

[ Parent ]
Indeed. (4.00 / 1)
Voters want to see candidates embody the principles for which they're fighting  -- it's an offshoot of Mark Schmitt's mantra that "it's not what you say about your policies; it's what your policies say about you" that matters most.  Don't just say you'll "fight"; damnit, fight.

[ Parent ]
Exactly, they want to see candidates stand proudly for something (4.00 / 2)
even better for the voter if it is a clear sharp contrast between perfectly framed progressive prinicples and perfectly framed conservative  prinicples because they have been given a clear choice. And I know that we would defeat the conservative choice easily...our consultants,obviously, do not have that confidence.

The problem is that the democratic consultants, just as Mike Lux pointed out, are exhibiting an over abundance of caution and extreme reticence about showing off progressive priniciples....either that or they haven't the slightest idea of how to showcase them then we are really in trouble!

I can't stand this notion that any hint of displaying what Mcsame stands for constitutes 'negative campaigning' and that somehow that the American people are tired of that!

When are democrats who get paid to actually work in campaigns figure out that sharp contrasting ads that invoke progressive prinicples, not a laundry list of programs, WORKS in getting the undecideds and leaning to committ to our side?

I really do not want to show up on this site on Nov 5 knowing that once again we have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

[ Parent ]
It baffles the mind (4.00 / 1)
There have been a string of decisions over the past two months that seem so obviously wrong that you're just left asking "what the?!"

Its like last night, tie ballgame in Texas in the 9th; Yankees have already squandered a lead but tied it up in the 8th. Marte came on in the bottom of the 8th and locked it down for the Yankees with 3 outs. But in the 9th Marte walks the bases loaded! So he's thrown like 40 pitches at this point. AND Girardi leaves him in! What happens? BAM! Marlon Byrd whacks a grand salami to end it.


Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

I'll recommend your comment (0.00 / 0)
because it's an apt analogy, and I'm also a sports fan.

But the yankee reference really deserves a troll rating in my book! : )

[ Parent ]
I suspect another problem as well (4.00 / 15)
Cenk Uygur wrote this yesterday at Daily Kos:

There are two principal reasons why John McCain has caught Barack Obama in the national polls. 1) McCain has changed the whole conversation about this election into one question - do you want to vote for or against Obama? This is genius. Obama needs to switch the conversation if he wants to win. 2) Obama has only played defense so far and has not attacked at all. This is weakness and a sure-fire way to lose an election.

There was more to the diary, but that was the heart of it.

I feel that the Obama campaign walked into this trap because at some level, they believed their own spin about Obama's tremendous appeal.

How long have we been hearing that Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime candidate who is so amazing as a speaker, getting so many new people involved, that he would would win in a landslide?

I was hearing this from Obama volunteers in Iowa a year ago: "He would win in a walk." "Whatever it is, Obama has it."

I do not deny that Obama has tremendous appeal to a very large group of people, and he has energized a lot of volunteers.

However, the general election is the time when he needs to make the sale to people who weren't buying what he was selling in the primaries.

It seems that the Obama campaign wasn't prepared for the possibility that he would lose ground if the election became about whether people want to vote for or against Obama personally.

The McCain people quickly realized they have a lousy, unappealing candidate in a year when national sentiment is strongly against Republicans. So, they had to change the subject.

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That Was A Very Good Diary By Cenk (4.00 / 6)
He really hit the nail on the head.

You can't win an argument about kings, when all you're talking about is cabbages.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I'm sorry to say it (4.00 / 2)
but it's getting close to the point when Obama has to take Hillary as VP. A lot of this weakness comes from Hillary die-hards refusing to buy in. Evan Bayh won't do it. It has to be Hillary (IMHO).

I think it's nothing to do with his VP (4.00 / 8)
choice. Anyone voting for McCain over Obama because he hasn't chosen Clinton as VP is looking for an excuse, and won't vote for him if he does choose her.

He's gotta start acting like a President who can turn this country around. If he's about new politics, give us something new. Give us big themes, big dreams. Stop messing around the margins. If you can't take control of the narrative around a presidential campaign, how the hell are you gonna take the wheel of this country and drive us out of the ditch?

[ Parent ]
I wish we spent (4.00 / 6)
time developing an interesting narrative against McCain rather than attacking our own candidate.

Having said this, I don't think problem is caution or ideology.

It's just that the campaign isn't interesting.  McCain found a way to make his ads interesting (by including Brittany) but Obama has not.

This has nothing to do with inside the beltway or outside the beltway, or DLC versus progressive.

It's about understanding what interests people.  It's about understanding what Drudge will put at the top of his site - it's about generating Buzz.

And I must say - at this we don't have a clue.  And I include blogsphere in the "we"

Who is this 'we' of whom you speak? (4.00 / 3)
The 527s we've been asked not to fund?

Even if we in the blogs do have a clue--and many do, as the comments at this very blog reveals--we can't 'close the triangle' ourselves. How do we move from 'a clue' into 'generating buzz' without either a) the candidate or b) a 527-like organization?

I think this is part of Mike's point. Obama's made it clear that he doesn't want our help. Hell, he'd explicitly said that if some of his, erm, unsteadiness on progressive issues leads us to withdraw our support, 'that's okay'.

[ Parent ]
please name a successful dem 527 (0.00 / 0)
one that contributed to winning an election...

[ Parent ]
America Votes, the DLCC, (4.00 / 1)
SEIU, EMILY's List, Change to Win, America Coming Together, Democracy for America. Together they spent about $50 million in 2006, if my math is correct.


[ Parent ]
because I think 527s are (0.00 / 0)
sleazy and creepy. They represent the worst of politics and I am glad that Obama has banished them.

[ Parent ]
Ah. Well, I'm not sure I (0.00 / 0)
agree that Democracy for America and America Votes are the worst of politics, but click through if you wanna see some serious creepiness.

You'll get the heebie-jeebies!

[ Parent ]
I know... (0.00 / 0)
I guess its the potential for sleazy and creepy. we hate theirs and love ours??  

[ Parent ]
I can hate GWB and love (4.00 / 1)
FDR even though they're both presidents. I can love Feingold and hate Lieberman even though they're both Senators.

Hating theirs and loving ours makes complete sense. Ours are better. The problem isn't 527s, any more than the problem is Senators. The problems is sleazy 527s.

[ Parent ]
It's foolish to disarm (4.00 / 2)
when your opponent hasn't.  Like it or not, Obama has disarmed.  It's foolish to take the high road when it will lead you off a cliff.  Sometimes you have to go down into the sewer because that's where the rats are.

[ Parent ]
well we need them (0.00 / 0)
especially with a candidate who is not doing what he's supposed to do.

People are no longer just going to vote for him becasue they love him....that was th eprimary....the general is a different group pf voters....

The genral has differnt rules...he can't use what he used in the primary.  like the press's animus toward the other candidates....the press loves John McCain.

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
Most of these still exist (4.00 / 1)
MoveOn is doing its own ads, Emily's List is raising money, several environmental groups are doing congressional ads.  No one is stopping any of you from contributing to any 527.  Only America Coming Together, which was problematic, is gone.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
Actually I think that open left has been influential (0.00 / 0)
Now the only influence has been to help get across the message that Obama is a cynical dc pol who has no core and will betray his supporters at every opportunity, but open left has been influential.

The latest attack on him being that defunding 527s is actually just because he hates progressives will show up soon enough.

The liberal wiki
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[ Parent ]
We Can Walk And Chew Gum, Too (4.00 / 7)
So it's not an either/or thing.

And Drudge is rightwing troll, so trying to get him to link to something, or using that as your standard in any way is a fool's errand.

Finally, the notion that the campaign isn't interesting strikes me as ludicrous, given not just the levels of participation and the size of crowds that Obama has been able to generate, but the degree to which non-political media has been covering this campaign.

What McCain has done is inject a level intensity--born of desperation--that contrasts sharply with Obama's increasing caution... the very thing that Mike was writing about.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Letting your opponent define you is the first no-no in i right? (4.00 / 8)
To a certain extent, this past week, I feel like I am watching what happened to John Kerry in 2004.  The Obama campaign has come out this week with the energy ad's and that has changed a bit of the conversation.  However Rove's guys over at McSame's place are doing a good job of framing Obama so far.  If not this race would not see this side of 10 points.  I can only hope that the Obama team remembers that in football, the prevent defense doesn't win have to go after your opponent.  And define him before he define's you.  I have hope, but the Obama people and his SURROGATES (whom I have not seen a lot of) need to go on OFENSE against McSame.  I mean Jesus, after the last 8 years it should be EASY.  

Boy Howdy! (4.00 / 9)
Although it's neck-and-neck with the converse: make sure that you define your opponent.

And Obama has failed miserably at both.  Which is pretty damn amazing, considering how well he's handled more advanced stuff.

The utter failure to nail McCain to Bush is root of all these recent problems, since doing that first would have definitively sealed this election as a referendum on Bush.

It's still not to late to do that, of course, but it is sort of hard to say, "John McCain, whom I deeply honor and respect as a great war hero, is the spitting image of George W. Bush, who was not."

He's got to stop worshipping McCain, if he's going to actually run against him.  Which gets back to the too-easily-forgotten point that aside from getting his ass whupped by Bobby Rush, he's never really been in a tough campaign that stayed that way to the end.  He's always lucked out.  Which isn't a slam at him, since he's obviously taken a pro-active role in making his own luck.  But the end result is that he hasn't had to run the sort of bare-knuckles campaign that's called for now, and he thinks he doesn't have to, based on his past success.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
This Is A Very Strong Diary Mike (4.00 / 3)
Very tight and methodical.  The sort of thing that's well-matched to the mindset it's trying to get through to.

And not to be disloyal to Open Left, since you've already published it here, how about a spin on Huffington Post?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Huffpo. (0.00 / 0)
Your wish is my command.

[ Parent ]
caution (4.00 / 2)
Mike Lux is correct in summarizing much of the problems of Obama's transition from primary to general as being an excess of caution.  McCain has briefly defined the debate on energy, the sort of issue where whoever came out first could define a debate where, really, in the short-term, at least, the market rules and there is little government can do.  McCain's "solutions" are no better than Obama's, he just said them first.

Obama needs to find broad themes, beyond just "change."  He could carry "change" in the primaries but a lot of swsing voters are so unfamiliar with him they are not sure he is the one they trust to bring that change.  Plus, the world around swing voters is changing too fast for many -- high gas prices, weak dollar, loss of international prestige, sharp decline in our home equity -- so political change, by itself, is scary when the messenger is so unlike most of us.  

Obama has to get back to core issues like health care, workers and union rights, ending foreign policy adventurism, and not allow events to overtake him or rely on his tired mantra of "change" to do it for him.

Confucius said (4.00 / 3)
"Politics is a blood sport and you ain't gonna win it with a nerf paddle."

Not you too! (4.00 / 2)
Frankly I am surprised. I expected leadership from Sir Lux.

Listen up: The Sky Is Not Falling.

Let me count the ways.

1. AP 047 - M41

2. Gallup O47 - M43

3. A ten day trip overseas was risky, bold and presidential. It was a brilliant move that will pay off in time.

4. As we saw in the primaries--the daily tracking will never be Obama's friend--the folks who are uncomfortable about a black man as president will always be overrepresented in those polls.

5.  November Election is an Electoral Contest--as you know daily tracking polls are irrelevant compared to state by state polls. No matter how you slice it his options for winning on a state by state basis are growing and there is a potential landslide in the making. We are contesting more than just Ohio and Florida this time around.


7. Have you registered any democrats today? Well the Obama campaign has and is and will up until a minute before the deadline(s). This will make a difference in more than  several states. Those of you who are running around like chicken little should seriously consider participating in voter registration drives this weekend. It will restore your faith

8. Did I mention George Bush? Or the fact that McCain is an idiot.

9. VP may surprise even you as newsworthy and media friendly and good for polling.

10. Bronco stadium speechifying will also help.

11. Obama will not resort to lowest common denominator. That is just a fact.

Obviously this election is not in the bag and I am not suggesting that it is, but why not spend all this extra energy fighting McCain and bashing Bush (just read TPM there is plenty of ammunition) rather than this constant and daily second guessing of Obama?

It actually reminds me... (4.00 / 3)
Of the bad advice generations of parents have given children when they are dealing with bullies - just ignore them, once they see they don't get a reaction, they'll bother someone else.  

Repeated psychological studies have shown this isn't how bullying works.  Bullies pick on people because they are passive.  The way to avoid being bullied is to defeat the bully, either physically or through some other confrontation, and then the bully moves on to softer targets.  

To continue the schoolyard metaphor, I think the framing of the last several presidential candidates has been about buying into these deeply-held, schoolyard archetypes - all negative considering the President is essentially running (on a psychological level) to be the alpha male/female of the U.S.  Al Gore was obviously cast as the nerd.  Kerry was cast as being the poseur - the rich kid with the nice car, who is always trying to impress, but is ultimately a coward.

Obama is more complex, as he clearly, when seen, exudes confidence and eloquence.  I think he is being cast as the "freak" by the Republicans.  This is a less timeless high school cliche, probably only existing in its present form since the 80s, but to recap: They are those people who have disdain for the "normals" don't seek to impress them, and can't wait to blow this soda stand and move on to bigger and better things.  I think the element of condensation is essential to this frame - the McCain campaign would have to make people believe Obama actually looked down on them.  

Anyway, I agree with Drew Westin that Obama needs to hit back, and hit back hard.  At this point I'm not sure you can say Obama's doing it by accident though - in all of his campaigns he has been conscious of "peaking too soon," and it may just be he sees no permanent damage done (look at how soon Wright blew over).  

If he's still doing nothing to respond to these attacks in October, however...

October? ... (4.00 / 4)
screw that .. Labor Day is the day ... I am not worried yet ... but if the hard-hitting substance filled attacks don't start coming the day after Labor Day .. i'll be disappointed

[ Parent ]
word (0.00 / 0)
It's just annoying now, but if they don't start showing some serious chops coming out of the convention...

Me | My Work | Future Majority

[ Parent ]
The convention will save us! (4.00 / 3)

 It used to be, "The foreign trip will save us!"

 And it'll later be, "The debates will save us!"

 The time to go after McCain is right now. Actually, last month.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
Well, no (0.00 / 0)
It's more like, "The convention is the last logical place you can plan to open up a new strategic campaign direction."

It's all junkeyball right now, insiders and press. Blitzing attack ads during the Olympics would be dumb. People don't tune in until Labor Day, etc.

As long as there's a strategic plan (which we have no way of knowing, natch) that has a big kickoff at the convention, there's room to maneuver.

Also, worth noting that at this point there's no need for "saving" at all. Obama remains in the lead, and likely won't be able to open up the wider lead we all think he deserves until:

1) More low-information voters tune in (which is when it's important to attack)
2) McCain starts recieving non-fluffing treatment from the press (there are signals, but he still gets a lot of gloss)

The reality is that the conventions and debates are where this really happens. McCain has a lot of soft support right now, and his general brand value keeps a lot of people undecided. That will change.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

[ Parent ]
I don't understand this criticism (4.00 / 1)
Obama's people hit back after every McCain commmercial.  He has two "contrast" ads up on energy.  I'm sure he is going to recycle his economy spots or do new ones during the Olympics.  Time came out saying he was right on tire pressure.  Obama criticized the GOP with the immortal line about how they were proud of their ignorance.

He's up 11% among women, 49%-38%.  He's up 11% among  working class whites per yesterday's WaPo.  He's up 30-40 points among Hispanics, and by 95% among Af-Ams.  On women:

Pollster Celinda Lake (D), who conducted the survey with Kellyanne Conway (R), says that Obama is outpacing John Kerry, who won the female vote by only three points in 2004. But she stressed that the Democratic nominee must pass the 50% mark to "put this election away."

I think too many people here fall back into cynicism because Obama isn't doing the campaign the way they want and they are afraid Obama will lose.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
I don't get it either (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
It's just exasperating (4.00 / 2)

 A week ago or so Chris chastised us here for being too willing to push the panic button on the basis of a couple of bad polls. I don't think it was the polls, specifically, that were causing the unease of Obama supporters as much as the way the campaign narrative and tone were unfolding. My God, he's doing exactly what John Kerry was doing!!! AND THAT DOESN'T WORK!!!

 We hear this every election cycle from the Democrats. This time it'll be different. This time we're ready for whatever the Republicans throw at us. This time the gloves are off. And what do we get? Caution, equivocation, high praise of the electoral opponent, a complete reluctance to go on offense, a hasty distancing from the base, a muddled appeal to the "center" that seems to be based upon never, ever uttering an unkind word about the Republican -- while the RNC opens fire on our candidate.

 It just gets really old. The vast wimpiness, the lack of message coordination, the media deficit, the sorry state of the surrogate operation, the constant tumbling into Republican frames. There have been countless Dem advocates over the years pointing out that the Democrats have a serious messaging and media problem -- and the Democratic establishment STILL hasn't made ANY progress on that front.

 Many of us really, honestly thought that it WAS going to be different this time. Obama wasn't enough of a DC insider to fall into the beltway traps -- he showed every indication of doing things HIS way. And in the primary he showed real grit and aggressiveness.

 That's all gone now. He's been getting some horrendous advice from somebody. But ultimately it was Obama's decision to hire these hacks.

 I should have visited Barbara Jordan's gravesite while in Texas, just to see where the last known Democratic vertebra is interred. Guess she'll be retaining that distinction for some more time to come...  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

This was inevitable (0.00 / 0)
Obama is nothing more than a politician on his way up. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, he has come too far too fast.

The Republicans aren't wrong in comparing him to a pop star. Is he Justin Timberlake (talented) or Britney Spears (train wreck)?  They think he's the latter. Hillary Clinton wouldn't have had to waste a week traipsing off to Europe. She would have spent her time running for president.  

Dick Cheney ruined this word, but it still has salience: GRAVITAS. Obama doesn't have any. Without it, it's hard for him to find a platform upon which to hit back.

Imagine this scenario (0.00 / 0)

 Obama -- or a surrogate group -- puts out an ad highlighting a couple of McCain's most egregious gaffes. (There are plenty to choose from.)

 Fade to a picture of Bush. "We've already lived though one idiot in the White House."

 And then a dopey picture of McCain. "Can we afford another?"

 An ad like this, three weeks ago, using exactly the word "idiot", WOULD have gotten some free media. Plenty of it.

 And the conversation today would be completely different.

 But noooo... too "risky".

 Meanwhile, McCain compares Obama to freaking Britney Spears and Moses -- one after the other -- and doesn't even bat an eye.

 Would Obama prefer to lose an election in order to not buck DC conventional wisdom? Seems like it.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

Stupid, not risky (0.00 / 0)
It's not risky, it's stupid to produce ads as you say.  They don't work as you think.  You don't call your opponent an "idiot."  You will never see a TV commercial selling anything saying X sucks.  Negativity does not persuade.   This approach would be a disaster for Obama or any Dem...outside of NYC or SF.

This is not the same as using fear or innuendo as the Republicans do.  

You are dying to smash McCain and feel good about it; you are leading with your emotions.  

And above, you say Obama's message is not coordinated....balderdash.  Certainly legitimate to say it's not contrasting enough; but to say he doesn't have good message discipline makes me think you just want to slam him.  

[ Parent ]
Yes, it is an accident (4.00 / 1)
It's no accident that the only two Democrats to win the Presidency since 1968 were governors who were from small states....

Al Gore won. Bush might have been granted the White House by the Supreme Court, but we all know that Al Gore won.

How could you know what Obama is doing? (4.00 / 1)
I don't know how anyone can know how Obama is reacting or what he is doing as the media is presenting him not through his own words and actions, but through the McCain campaign lens.

What you can do is use whatever clout you have with any producers you know to stop portraying BOTH candidates through others interpretations but rather show the public BOTH candidates own words and interactions with the crowds on the trail.

The contrast would be stark.  It would tell us what the candidates think, say rather than Tucker Bounds opinion.


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