Thursday, 29 May 2008

Play The Tape To The End

The liberal blogosphere (and man, how I hate that word) has been alive for some time now with a discourse which can be narrowly divided into three parts.

The first part is the most common one, which can be roughly summed up as "Obama FTW". Which, you know, is probably true. The Republicans are horribly divided, painfully aware that what they're doing isn't working, but not actually having any idea as to what to do instead. Various ideas have been floated by some of the party's high-fliers, but all seem to fall into one of two categories: too obviously cosmetic to fool anyone, or too obviously radical to be of interest to the hardliners, who are generally unwilling to entertain the possibility that their current dire straights might actually point to a flawed philosophy, as oppose to a good one that failed to work in practice. Far worse for the Republicans, though, is that they are also low on funds. The recent story about changing locations for a McCain fund-raiser for fear the paying guests would be outnumbered by anti-war protesters was one of the funniest I've read in ages, once the GOP starts being careful as to when and where they get their money, it surely has to be a bad sign for them.

So they have no real idea as to how they'll turn their image around, nor do they necessarily have the funds to do it. All that's being managed at present (as the Democrats continue to pummel the crap out of them at the Congressional level) is some half-hearted attempt to distance McCain from Bush (as though having the latter campaign for the former behind closed doors will help; if there are people in the US who will only support for McCain if Bush is there to hold his hand, surely they're seriously outnumbered by the people for whom watching McCain disappear into a shadowy enclave with Mr 27% is going to be an immediate nay vote). There are many reasons why that's liable to be an impossibly hard sell, but that's another story.

So I agree with the basic sentiment of Group No 1, even if I might quibble over the specifics (and frequently the spelling). The second line of discussion, though, I agree with too. This one can be roughly surmised as "It ain't over 'til it's over." Now, sure, that's obviously true. There's always another potential swift-boating. Certainly the bizarre behaviour of the American media continues to implicitly favour McCain. The most talked-about political events of the last month or so included how bad Obama is at bowling, how he ordered orange juice instead of coffee at a diner, and how he told people his great uncle helped liberate Auschwitz and then said the day after, "Whoops, sorry, it was actually Buchenwald" [1]. The Wright scandal was orders of magnitude greater than McCain's problems with Pastor Hagee , and while I'm not really a fan of Wright for several reasons (and those commentators who tried to play down the fact that he did shout "God damn America!" and suggested the federal government created HIV were, I think, trying too hard to characterise the media reaction as entirely unwarranted when it was really merely hysterical), but since Hagee has suggested Hitler was doing God's work by setting up the board for the Apocalypse, I don't think a greater degree of parity should have been out of the question. So whilst the election is pretty much the Democrat's to lose, they could still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After all, nothing falls apart faster than a bunch of liberals who actually get within sniffing distance of winning something.

The third strand is the most complex, and thus the most interesting: this one points out that even if Obama does win in November, it could turn out to backfire on the Democrats spectacularly. Digby over at Hullabaloo is one key voice here, although hers is far from the only one. The basic point here is that the Republicans excel at disruption [2]. The endless filibusters in the most recent session are one example of this, as is the total sinking of Clinton's attempts to reform the health care system (reform that the voters at the time, and right now for that matter, desperately wanted) are just two obvious examples. The theory goes that conservatism is so completely shot to crap right now the best plan is to relinquish the reins for four (or even eight) years. That way you leave a Democratic President in the Oval Office, sat on the floor with a tub of super-glue, staring at the Humpty-Dumpty like mess the US is in right now, wondering how the Hell he (and it will be a he) can possibly put it back together again.

And he won't have the luxury of being able to tackle it one issue at a time. The GOP (and the media) won't let him. There are dozens of messes to sort out, many left behind by Bush but still more that were never cleaned up after Reagan, or even Nixon, and if the President mucks any one of them up, the Republicans will never let it out of their teeth. And the conservatives in congress can make damn sure it does get messed up, what with their endless disrupting and ad hominem screeching and lowest-common-denominator attack ads and working the Blue Dogs etc. etc. etc. If Obama isn't careful he's going to feel like an NQT in his first lesson, with thirty different tasks to balance, all of which have to go right, whilst surrounded by people who are determined to force failure. If the country were doing well the Republicans could get a lot of mileage out of this tactic, with so many problems out there that need to be addressed, the GOP could do incalculable damage to their opponents.

So, here's my question. With so many people convinced Obama will win, and so many people convinced that the Republicans will continue to use their tactics of disruption and character assassination to try and prevent it (aided and abetted by their usual free pass from the media), and so many people convinced out that the Republicans already have an excellent strategy ready to secure the Oval once again by 2016 at the latest, why is there no-one out there that I can see actually talking about coming up with a play-book that a Democratic administration could use to actually fight back?

[1] Incidentally, the RNC responded to that last one with "Obama's frequent exaggerations and outright distortions raise questions about his judgment and his readiness to lead as commander in chief", which is interesting not only because they're applying their 2000 tactics all over again, but because this is coming from the party whose presidential candidate keeps repeatedly confusing Shia Muslims with Sunni Muslims when discussing who we're supposed to be shooting at in Iraq. It's also worth noting that, again like in 2000, the statement was not only corrected, but whilst left uncorrected gives no benefit to the candidate. Claiming (as Bush did in 2000) that a tax cut will positively affect"the vast majority" of the lowest-earning tax-payers is a political lie meant to hide the unpalatable truth. Forgetting which concentration camp your relative helped liberate would be a nonsensical lie to tell.

[2] The tactics of the truly vile branch of the Republican party (of whom Bush is certainly one example) are easy to understand once you understand the aim is to get your rich friends as much money as quickly as possible. There seems no evidence over eight years that Bush has a developed political philosophy, beyond "leave me alone". The Bush years can be seen (with disturbing ease) as a limousine ram-raid upon the federal budget. And once you've robbed a liquor store, you don't mind if the police chase you out of it. Just as long as you know there's another store on the block you can rob again in, say, eight years. It's no wonder they might prefer
winning power to retaining it.


Jamie said...

Very good question. Probably focusing more on winning the election as opposed to what is coming afterwards. Seems to be the usual blindspot in politics, making a massive generalisation and simplification of course.

SpaceSquid said...

With the board the way it is right now, I don't see any way the election could ever be more in the bag (I'm not saying it's a done deal, I'm saying we won't likely ever get closer to a done deal). The obvious problem here is the more certain an electoral win, the greater the mess that must have been made in order to bring about that certainty in the first place. The natural instinct when the country goes to shit is to make damn sure the ruling party gets the boot, but of course the worse off the country is the easier that task gets, and the harder everything else to be done after that task gets.