Friday, June 15, 2012

Campaign message: Running against crazy

In politics, one of the most important tasks is to stop the crazy extremes in the other party. In fact, that's often the top agenda item because it's easier to block the other party than to gather up enough votes to make your policies happen.

It was ostensibly the agenda for the GOP after their losses in 2008, and it's been the agenda for the Senate and Obama since the GOP swept the House in 2010.

In this campaign, it makes sense for the GOP to talk about its agenda (tax reform, spending cuts, tax cuts, defense buildup, etc.) because they might actually get to enact this agenda. For the Dems, they have so little chance of displacing the House GOP that it hardly matters what their agenda is. If Dems talk non-stop about what they're going to do, they sound delusional. So they should be talking about what GOP plans they're going to stop.

Obama is already starting this. But it should be a centerpiece. They can line up what the GOP says it's going to do, and give the plans a critique. The GOP say they'll do 'A,' but really you'll get 'B' and 'B' has these negative consequences. The GOP has been doing a great critique on the Dems for years--that's what "tax-and-spend" is.

Frankly, the Dems can make a good case not to trust the GOP to do tax reform. If the environment is a high priority for you, you already don't trust the GOP on pollution regulation. If you depend on some government program or you're a federal employee (insert shout out to a family member), you probably don't trust how the GOP will trim (slash) spending.

For those concerned about Social Security and Medicare, it's not as clear-cut. Both the Dems and GOP are trying to trim the growth of the programs, particularly Medicare, so either or both can arouse suspicion. Since the GOP are going to attack the method the Dems are using to trim Medicare, the Dems might as well attack the GOP plans.

One other terribly important campaign point for the Dems--they can say that they are open to negotiating. That's a message not coming from the GOP. Of course that message can demoralize the Dem base, but if they remind their base what an unfettered GOP will do, the base should turn out.

I'd give the same advice about negotiating to the GOP, but their position has been pretty clear: our way or the highway. I doubt they'll be making any conciliatory noises unless they're way down in opinion polling or the election results split governing power between the parties (my preferred government configuration in any case).

So, to recap, my advice to Dems is:
  • Paint a believable but wretched picture of what the unfettered GOP will do.
  • Emphasize that you can stop that without going crazy in the other direction.
  • Make reasonable noises about negotiating, which is what the country will need in the most likely outcome from the election.
Finally, I have to admit that I don't expect that the Dems will actually campaign this way. There seems to be an unwritten rule that parties pretend they're going to win the triple crown, even when they're entering the race a little lame.

Will they try it? Do you think it will work? It'll take a miracle.



Anastasios said...

Oh my, MP, you do seem to have turned on the GOP this cycle. I agree it would be very bad to have united GOP control -- if only because it would effectively reward intransigence and belligerence, and thus bring forth more of it. Unfortunately, I think that is what we are likely to have. The economy is very anemic, Obama is not the best communicator in the world, and Romney is likely to look quite reasonable to the low-info types. Too bad. But Obama may have doomed himself by making two critical miscalculations about the real depth of the recession and the intensity of GOP animosity. Of course he caught some bad breaks with Europe and Japan as well. But the American people are not known for their wisdom or depth of knowledge, and the press is bored and ready to write Obama off as a failure with nothing new to say (or a whiner, which is worse). Oh well, I fear that not much good will come of this, but then it is always a mistake to expect much from the political system.

ModeratePoli said...

I'm not sure why you say that I've turned on the GOP this cycle because 1)I only started with blog less a year age, so I don't have a history
2)My registered-voter self (with a real name, birthdate, etc.) hasn't ever been a strong supporter of the GOP.

Preventing crazy isn't a new theme for me. I've observed a lot of it in DC, though it also happened when I didn't understand it was going on (Social Security). I've seen the Democrats go nuts with Hillarycare and against welfare reform, and the GOP stage ludicrous impeachment hearings and pretend that their tax cuts wouldn't blow a huge hole in the budget. I'll take last-minute painful compromise over those psychotic episodes any day. So perhaps I'm the only person in America who has some positive feelings about the August debt deal.

Anastasios said...


I will rephrase and say that your particular tide is running against the GOP at this political juncture. So does mine, but once again, I am afraid our preferences are going to be swamped by larger currents.

On the other hand, Democrats are making a surprisingly strong run for the Senate. If Obama loses, as at this juncture I suspect he will, a Dem senate with a Romney White House would probably not be so terrible. But I fear, given a Romney victory, that he will have GOP senate. I am afraid a return to the situation circa 2000 is very likely.