Friday, August 29, 2008

How Democrats Lose Elections

The Republicans have been on the ground here in Denver. They even threw parties for Clinton supporters. They did what Obama acolytes should have done.
This is from Gina at What About Our Daughters, and I think she's dead on. Some fun historical facts, via PBS' coverage of the DNC: in 1976, both parties (on a national scale) supported abortion rights; both parties supported passing the Equal Rights Amendment. And then, the Republicans lost. And they decided to do what Republicans have been doing best ever since; they decided to go out there, change their message, and woo voters who traditionally would not have voted for them (and also, fight dirty). They became more evangelically friendly, after years of the evangelical branch of Christianity staying out of elections. Now, those people are their voting block. What the Democrats do, what they have continually done, is expected voters to come to them. And that doesn't work. The historical lesson the Democrats should have taken from Al Gore's loss in 2000 wasn't that Ralph Nader cost Gore the election, but that Democrats have to work harder to earn their constituents' -and people who should be their constituents- votes. But they still don't. I'm now an Obama supporter. I'm firmly and keenly planted behind Obama. But my hackles are still being raised by editorials like Nora Ephron's. Why? Because Obama won. He won, and Hillary Clinton, although she has been maligned by the press even after she conceded, has done something different in giving Obama her pledge of support even before going to the DNC. Seriously, that is incredibly rare. What is even rarer is to have the defeated opponent offer up a speech like hers at the DNC -or a speech like Bill Clinton's for that matter. Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Jackson, all of these people did not endorse their party's candidate when they spoke at their national convention. Jerry Brown's speech was considered a win by the The Atlanta Journal Constitution because it did not contain a direct attack of Presidential nominee Bill Clinton. Hell, Jesse Jackson refused to release his delegates and threatened to put his name into nomination for vice-president. And you know what happened? 3/4 of the time, the candidate lost. Ford lost; Carter lost; Dukakis lost. But Ted Kennedy isn't reviled for it, and Ronald Reagan certainly wasn't reviled for it.

So, as I said before, I don't understand Clinton supporters who would vote for McCain. But it takes enormous hubris on the part of Obama's supporters to assume that they can strong-arm Clinton supporters into endorsing Barack Obama. Some of these people devoted years of their lives to getting Clinton elected. Others have felt like their hopes have been crushed; still others feel like this is one more example of an older woman being usurped by a younger man (and yes, that last one is a bit emotional; but it is a response, especially for women who know that the older they get, the more invisible and less valuable they become). It is easy to say, "my party, right or wrong", just like it is easy to say, "my country, right or wrong" -but as John Kerry said, "Absolutely my country right or wrong; when right, keep it right, and when wrong, make it right". Obama is an incredible candidate. He has not engaged in the politics of fear; but he also has a long way to go, and one of the things we have to accomplish is true party unity. What Obama supporters have to do -and should do, if they truly wish to see their candidate elected- is to stop attacking Clinton, and stop maligning and attacking Clinton supporters. There are certainly reasons for Obama supporters to dislike Clinton, but she is no longer part of the narrative. She is not the nominee. She is not the vice-presidential nominee. She is now part of the greater Obama narrative, and her job is to do her damnedest to get Obama elected. So let it be. Because the more the attacks grow, the more it seems like the Obama supporters -at least those on the interweb- are sore winners, are petty, and refuse to extend the hand of friendship to Clinton supporters. Who may very well refuse to accept it. But there has to be an offer made first.

John McCain is very crafty. He is also an incredible politician. He grabbed all of Barack Obama's post-convention air time, and he made a vice-presidential pick based at least partially on the fact that some Clinton supporters are angry, some Clinton supporters are feeling attacked, and some Clinton supporters -and women in general- are being overlooked under the assumption that they will come back to the pack because there is no where else for them to go. That kind of thinking hurts Democratic chances in national elections. That kind of thinking loses elections. Because women -and gays, and blacks, and environmentalists, and progressives- make up the Democratic base. But if these different groups are only being thrown a bone every so often while legislation is being pushed through that continually erodes their rights, the cold comfort of this party being the better of the major two may not be enough to get them to the polls come November. Cater to the base; always cater to the base first and foremost. And Obama supporters need to not assume that Clinton supporters -or independents, or Edwards supporters- are selfish, aren't considering the consequences of their non-vote for Obama, or are in some way defective. As Bill Clinton said, "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than the example of our power", and that same sentiment should reverberate among Obama supporters. Threats aren't going to work; but examples and thoughtful analysis and respectful discussion -along with the in roads Obama made last night by mentioning abortion rights and gay rights- may help turn the tide.

We've got two months to make to make the case for Obama. We've got two months to make those who feel invisible to this campaign feel like they are not only visible but an important consideration. We've got two months to prove that McCain doesn't care for women much, and that his VP isn't a victory for women on the national scale either -though it is definitely a step forward for there to be a woman on a presidential ticket of a mainstream national party; too bad it is mostly in an effort to get the disenfranchised Clinton voters. And too bad it took 24 years to get another woman on a ticket since the last one.


John said...

It does seem interesting that McCain would pick a woman with less experience than his competition (annihilating the experience argument) who once ran for Miss Alaska (hamstringing the celebrity argument) and who has polar opposite views on nearly every issue to the other female candidate. Then again, how many PUMAs will even bother to find out what she stands for at all? She's the excuse to vote McCain that they've been looking for, so long as they stick their fingers in their ears whenever she opens her mouth.

MediaMaven said...

I really liked CNN's triva tidbits on the bottom of their screen.

Also, I heard a bunch of people at work maligning McCain's choice because they thought he was an idiot for not picking Hillary as his running mate, because that's how he could capture her votes, as if that was 1) actually possible, 2) she'd accept and 3) her supporters would automatically vote for that ticket. Gah!

petpluto said...

I think if Obama and his supporters start wooing PUMAs and men and women who have yet to make up their minds, then there is a good chance that he can get those votes back.

Like I said, Obama's problem isn't an Obama problem but a Democrat problem. He arrogantly assumed that women could come flooding back due to the importance of Roe v. Wade. But that isn't the only issue women care about, and like some of my fav reads like to point out, "women" aren't exactly a monolithic voting block. That would be like saying Christians are a monolithic voting block. Plus, even in a long-term commitment, the people within that commitment have to continue to wine and dine each other, to keep the spark alive. Women and other Democratic voting blocks are kind of in a stale relationship right now with the Party at large, and it is up to both sides to invigorate that relationship!

I also think it would behoove the Dems to get out there and focus not only on Roe and Wade, not only on what McCain won't do for women and for gays and for the environment, but what Obama will do. And I think last night he started to really do that, and that was a great, great thing. The sane voters out there know why they shouldn't vote for McCain if they care at all about those issues; what they don't know if precisely why they should vote for Obama, and Obama being a democrat isn't going to be enough of a reason -and neither will the idea that we should vote for Obama simply to prevent the next four years from looking like the past eight. That is a good supporting reason, but I think a lot of people who poured their heart and soul into Hillary or into Edwards or are just on the fence need to really pay attention and learn why Obama is The Guy.

petpluto said...

That is crazy! Why would McCain ever put Hillary on his ticket? She wouldn't accept, and on the off-chance that he did, the GOP would go nuts, and he would lose HIS base without gaining much in return!

mikhailbakunin said...

But from what I've seen, the Obama camp is feaverishly wooing PUMAs. They spent most of the convention praising her, and Obama's surrogates always go out of their way to compliment her.

You have to make a distinction between Obama surrogates or members of the DNC (who are always supposed to be on-message) and bloggers (who are supposed to say whatever they want, whether or not it hurts Obama's chances).

Would you tell an op-ed columnist for the NYT who likes Obama not to write her honest opinion of Clinton at this point? (I'm not asking that rhetorically. Really, would you?)

mikhailbakunin said...

* feverishly : )

petpluto said...

I think I do make that distinction, what with commenting on what the Obama supporters themselves and not the Obama campaign, and I think the article I linked at the top of the page did a good job there as well. And the Obama campaign, especially in the days and weeks after Hillary Clinton finally dropped out of the race, didn't do a great job in wooing her constituents. He and his campaign did do things the OLD way, which was thinking that those voters would OF COURSE come back to the pack because where else could they go? This isn't an Obama problem, but a Democratic problem. This is what frustrates me about the Dems, because time after time they ignore or insult their base -women, minorities, gays- in an effort to pander to people who in all probability won't vote for them anyway.

Obama's begun doing a better job recently, but the key isn't really in just complimenting Clinton but doing a better job representing what they want to do for those voters who supported her. Too often, the Dems run on a ticket that basically says "____, Better Than The Other Guy". And I can see where certain voters would be tired of that, who don't just want to vote for someone because he is "better than the other guy" in some increment but because he is great on his own and without the comparison. These voters feel invisible to the Democratic party; some of them feel as if Roe v. Wade is being held over their heads like a knife, a sort of anti-carrot if you will. But threatening women voters with the possibility of Roe being overturned and NOT offering something else as support has been an issue for a couple of elections now. Luckily, Obama has Biden. And I'm serious there. He's got his role in the VAWA to highlight, and I think that will certainly do a lot of good if they play it right.

And I would tell that op-ed columnist who likes Obama to write about Obama. Clinton's story this campaign season is OVER. What she did, what missteps she made, what errors she perpetrated, what wrongs she committed, those now have very little baring on what is happening in the political scene. It is more than about not ripping open old wounds on Clinton supporters. It is about the fact that we should be concentrating on OBAMA, what he brings to the table, how good a candidate he is, explaining why the op-ed columnist likes him. We need to be working toward electing him, and tearing into Clinton, even if those tears are reasoned and right, isn't going to get the job done in that regard because it takes the focus off of where the focus should be.

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jjfs85 said...

I'm sure you've heard by now, but Sarah Palin's 17 year old daughter is pregnant. How do you suppose that will affect her likelihood of being McCain's running mate? I'm willing to bet that she will be dropped from the Republican ticket because of her daughter's actions. Tough break for her and for McCain.

petpluto said...

Nah, I think they'll use it to their advantage. After all, "It's not a choice, it's a baby!" So, it will just be one more example of how a teenage girl "took responsibility" for her actions by keeping the baby and marrying the father. Which sucks, because this girl and her child should not be politicized but what are you going to do?

jjfs85 said...

It's true that they shouldn't be politicized, but how can you ignore the fact that this, like so many other teenage pregnancies in the US, confirms the need for us to fund and support real sex education classes in public schools. Abstinence only, as Ms. Palin demonstrates so tragically, does not work. It's true that the poor girl made a costly mistake and it's true that I believe that you can't this necessarily on poor parenting, but this is a good example of poor educational policies.

And then there are the stupid critics who will say
If Palin can't manage her own kid, how can she manage the White House?"

I think it's smart of Obama to leave the scandal alone. It reinforces his previous stance that he's against mudslinging in politics. And besides there are enough people in the media and on the web blowing this issue out of proportion anyway.

In conclusion, the end.