Obama, Clinton, and HobgoblinsApr 4, 2008 · peterb · 4 minute read
I typically avoid making political posts because, first, they tend to be boring, and second, they violate Peterb’s First Law of Human Nature, which, expressed concisely, is:
“You can never tell anyone anything.”
Lately, however, it has become impossible to turn a corner in Pennsylvania without hearing people discuss politics, and in particular the politics of personality that surround Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I think that these discussions are emblematic of a particular failure of the Democratic party, and will be the proximate cause of their close-but-no-cigar heartbreaking loss to John McCain in November. Since I’d rather not live under another 8 years of Republican misrule, I’m going to violate my own no-politics guideline and spend a few minutes talking to the world at large, and hope that it makes some small, hopefully positive, difference.
First, let me show my own personal biases: I do not care whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee. I would, happily, vote for a moldy wheel of cheddar cheese if it was running against the Republicans.
Some partisans and fans of Obama and Clinton devoutly, and honestly, believe that only their candidate can triumph in November. These people also seem to believe that John Kerry lost to George Bush because he performed poorly as a candidate. Both of these beliefs are false. The election, such as it is, will already be won (or, more likely, lost) well before the party convention blesses one or the other candidate. The Kerry election was lost long before the party convention blessed him as a candidate.
The issue causing the Democrats to fumble ineffectually for their car keys in the zombie-infested parking lot of modern American politics can be reduced to a single sentence: The Republican party, and its operatives, have a clear and consistent message, and the Democratic party, and its operatives, are busy having arguments with themselves.
Note that the argument I’m referring to is not “Clinton vs. Obama.” The Republicans have (and have always had) plenty of vicious infighting about which dog will get the choicest bone. Rather, I’m saying the Democratic party still has not figured out its message.
In political terms, this is absolute death. Voters, like bees, can sense fear. Obviously there are certain political third-rails that even the Republicans dare not touch, but by and large the average voter does not feel too strongly about most issues. For those issues, the average voter cares less about what your position is, but just that you have a position at all, and that he knows what it is.
Let’s pretend that there is a brand new Republican mayor in your town. His name is Wilford Q. Forsythe. That’s all you know about him. Where do you think Wilford stands on the following issues: abortion, what to do about the War in Iraq, tighter regulation of the airlines, NAFTA, school choice, and gun control?
Go ahead. Take a minute and answer those questions in your head. They’re easy questions to answer, aren’t they?
Now imagine that there’s a Democratic mayor, Marilyn Q. Impatiens. Where does she stand on those same issues? The answer is obvious: you have no idea whatsoever.
The point here is not that Republican candidates are hopelessly, tragically evil in all of their political beliefs (although, of course, they are). The point is that – for the most part – those positions are part of the package, and that frees Republican commentators and partisans to work on targeting and shaping their message years before the Democrats have even decided whether, say, they intend on supporting free trade this month. And yes, I’m aware that one can always find a Republican candidate who is an outlier on one issue or another. But compared to the utter chaos on the other side of the aisle, those are mere eccentricities and outliers.
This consistency of message is something that resonates very deeply with the American public. George Bush didn’t win because John Kerry was an idiot. He won because the American people had a perfect understanding of the nature of the pig they were buying. The Democrats -- not Kerry – were unable to explain why America should buy their soy protein pig instead. Bill Clinton was able to close the sale on his candidacy by focusing the entire Democratic party on one singular, simple, easy-to-understand question: “How much money is in your pocket?” and constantly hammering home the easy-to-understand answer: “I’ll make sure you have more.”
I can’t say for sure what issue will electrify the electorate this cycle. Perhaps it will be the war in Iraq. Perhaps it is our collapsing economy.
What I can say for sure, however, is that the Democrats are doomed to yet another humiliating and ignominious defeat unless they stop trying to convince people who to support, and start trying to convince people why the Democratic party is the right choice.
I didn’t mention it earlier, but this post has a soundtrack. Enjoy. See you at the wake in November.