The campaign strategy of staying out of sight

From a piece about Harry Reid’s difficult re-election campaign:

Reid has what some political strategists refer to as an “Al Gore problem.” It is widely believed that Gore would have won the 2000 campaign if he would have just stayed out of public view for the last two weeks of the campaign. But every time Gore would emerge into the spotlight, George W. Bush’s numbers would improve.

For an incumbent (or in Gore’s case, quasi-incumbent) who is not well-liked, visibility is the enemy.

via Today’s Power Play: Reid Withers in the Spotlight | Foxnews.com.

Would that more candidates would try that strategy of not making public appearances!  I suppose it would only work for incumbents, but still, not being visible would make many politicians more likable.  In the early days of our republic, presidential candidates would make a point of not campaigning, allowing their surrogates to do that for them.  It was considered undignified to appear in public asking people for their votes.  And it is undignified!

Can you think of other politicians, past or present, who might have “an Al Gore problem”?  I don’t want to bash them.  Let’s limit this to politicians who actually might be pretty good at their job, but simply don’t come across all that well.

Obama uses Clinton's 1994 speech

Pro-Obama pundit Dana Milbank notes a curious fact about the President’s campaign speeches:

As he barnstorms the country in these closing days before the midterms, he has borrowed Bill Clinton’s 1994 stump speech — in some cases, word for word.

“It’s up to you to remember that this election is a choice,” Obama said in a recent speech. “It’s a choice between the past and the future; a choice between hope and fear; a choice between falling backwards and moving forwards. And I don’t know about you, but I want to move forward. I don’t want to go backward.”

Compare that to this common Clinton passage from ’94: “Ladies and gentlemen, this election, all over America, represents a choice, a choice between hope and fear . . . between whether we’re going forward or we’re going to go back. I think I know the answer to that. You want to keep going forward.”

Obama has even extended Clinton’s automotive metaphor of ’94. Clinton’s model: “You know, if you drive your car and there’s a lot of stuff on the windshield, you could think it’s dark outside when the sun shining. . . . That’s what they’ve done. They’ve put a lot of dirt on America’s windshield. We got to clean it off between now and Tuesday. Will you help? Will you do your part? Will you go forward? . . . Think about it like this: Every one of you is in the driver’s seat.”

In Obama’s model, Republicans drove a car into a ditch and were “kicking dirt down into the ditch, kicking dirt in our faces, but we kept on pushing. Finally we got this car up on level ground. And, yes, it’s a little beat up. . . . But it’s pointing in the right direction. And now we’ve got the Republicans tapping us on the shoulder, saying, ‘we want the keys back.’ You can’t have the keys back. You don’t know how to drive. You can ride with us if you want, but you got to sit in the back seat. We’re going to put middle-class America in the front seat. . . . I’m going forwards, with all of you.”

via Dana Milbank – Obama isn’t ducking role in election reprise of ’94.

I don’t consider this plagiarism.  There are only so many cliches that one can use to describe both presidents’ dilemmas, and I’m sure they are in the public domain.

Political dysfunction

Robert J. Samuelson on why are political divisions are growing, even as most Americans get along with each other pretty well, despite their political differences:

It’s not that the public has become sharply polarized. In 2010, 42 percent of Americans call themselves conservative, 35 percent moderates and 20 percent liberals, reports Gallup. In 1992, the figures were 43, 36 and 17 percent. So there’s a widening disconnect between the polarized political system and the less-polarized public. There are at least four reasons for this.

First, politicians depend increasingly on their activist “bases” for votes, money and job security (read: no primary challenger). But activist agendas are well to the left or right of center. So when politicians pander to their bases, they often offend the center. In one poll, 70 percent of registered voters said Republicans’ positions were too conservative at least some of the time; 76 percent likewise thought Democratic positions often “too liberal.”

Second, politics has become more moralistic from both left and right. Idealistic ideologues campaign to “save the planet,” “protect the unborn,” “reclaim the Constitution.” When goals become moral imperatives, there’s no room for compromise. Opponents are not just mistaken; they’re immoral. They’re cast as evil, ignorant, dangerous, or all three.

Third, cable television and the Internet impose entertainment values on politics. Constant chatter reigns. Conflict and shock language prevail; analysis is boring.

Finally, politicians overpromise. The federal budget has run deficits in all but five years since 1961. The main reason: Both Democrats and Republicans want to raise spending and cut taxes. To obscure their own expediency, both parties blame the other.

Politicians have always assailed one another. But the totality of these changes has altered the system’s character. Many players have an interest in perpetuating disagreements and differences. Advocacy groups and their allies derive psychic rewards (a sense of superiority) and political benefits (more members and contributions) from demonizing their adversaries. Cable TV needs combat, not comity.

The impulse is not to govern from the center, which still represents most Americans, but from “the base.” President Obama’s health-care “reform” was a good example. Strongly favored by Democrats, it was consistently opposed by about half of Americans. To be fair, George W. Bush governed the same way.

The result is mass discontent. Overwrought expectations are regularly disappointed. Liberal and conservative bases feel abused because their agendas are rarely entirely enacted. They are too radical or unrealistic. The center feels frustrated that the bases’ disproportionate power impedes action on long-standing problems (budgets, immigration, energy). Can next week’s election resolve this stalemate? It seems doubtful.

via Robert J. Samuelson – The dysfunction of American politics.

Non-political spheres

R. R. Reno, in the context of another interesting discussion of the Juan Williams debacle, raises a point that conservatives need to remember:  Conservatives believe that some spheres need to be outside government interference, and thus not political.  (Unlike current leftist ideologies.)  Conservatives, therefore,  must be careful not to politicize those spheres themselves:

First, as I point out, the tendency to task everything to the political purpose of the moment is not good for the nation, because it has the tendency of perverting the non-political missions of important institutions, e.g., education, news-gathering, art museums, and so forth. Unfortunately, the Left has theorized culture in such a way as to make everything into politics, which eases their consciences as they politicize non-political institutions. What worries me is that conservatives in America assume that they must do the same.

The second thought follows directly. The struggle for political power is important. There are civic goods at stake in American politics: questions of fiscal responsibility, foreign policy, appropriate regulatory controls and social welfare policies, as well as the always important question of whether our laws are in accord with moral truths. But it is very important that conservatives not become counter-revolutionaries who have an essentially Bolshevik mentality oriented toward supposedly conservative ends.

One of the signal principles of true conservatism is that there exist personal and cultural spheres of life that are not the proper domain of government power. Therefore, no true conservative should use these spheres—family, education, art, and most importantly of all religious life—as mere instruments in the struggle for political power.

via More on Juan Williams » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Someone might reply, yes, but since the left HAS politicized the family, education, art, and religion (hang out at a big university if you doubt that; browse the academic journals) undoing that influence will have a political shape.  Still, this is a good point, isn’t it?

The insanity charge

Kyle-Anne Shiver notes another trend in today’s political rhetoric from the left:  Accusing those they disagree with of being insane.  We have Jon Stewart’s upcoming “Restoring Sanity” rally, the NPR exec who said before she fired him that  Juan Williams should just confide his fear of Muslims to his psychiatrist, the psychoanalyzing of the President about  lizard-brained voters, and all kinds of comments about tea-party populists.  She notes:

The Soviets were infamous for declaring any vocal dissident “insane,” putting them in psychiatric “hospitals,” turning the shock therapy machines to full voltage, and throwing away the keys.

via Pajamas Media » Dems Playing Soviet-Style Insanity Card.

When I was in Estonia, I met a poet who had just been released from a mental institution where he had been consigned for writing a poem critical of communism.   Under Marxist theory, art and literature reflect the economic superstructure of the society.  Under a socialist society, a poet who do does not reflect the reality of socialism must therefore be disconnected from reality.  Therefore, insane.

It isn’t that the culture czars were simply trying to shut up a critic.  They really did think he was insane, according to their worldview and their definition of insanity.  (We even had that here in a comment in our discussion of the president’s remark about his opponents not being rational or “scientific” because when they are afraid a different part of the brain takes over.  The commenter argued essentially that  conservatives really ARE irrational.)

I’m not saying that these silly political slams are equivalent to the Soviet persecution of artists. Just that this is dangerous rhetoric to be throwing around.

Taking Jon Stewart’s rally seriously

Jon Stewart keeps insisting that his “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” that he and Stephen Colbert are putting on next Saturday is not going to be a liberal or progressive partisan event.  It sounds designed to be more like a postmodernist-style meta-rally, a rally making fun of rallies.  And yet lots of liberals and progressives are taking it seriously.

Arianna Huffington is offering free transportation from New York to her Huffington Post minions.  Oprah Winfrey is paying for a bunch of her followers to be there.  The Democratic Club at the University of Pennsylvania is busing in college students.  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will be there in force. So will the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  President Obama has been pushing the event and might show up.  More than 200,000 people have posted on Facebook that they will attend.

Never mind that the weekend before the Tuesday election is the most important time for actually campaigning for the people you want elected.  From the Washington Post:

Many conservatives have watched smugly as liberal activists have become caught up in a gathering that will probably resemble a circus more than it does a serious political event and that is taking place on a prime day for campaign volunteers to help get out the vote.

Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for the “tea party”-affiliated Freedomworks, is a fan of Stewart’s show and recently appeared on “the Colbert Report,” but he said he will be in West Virginia on the day of the rally, knocking on doors for Senate candidate John Raese (R).

“I’d rather have as many liberals in D.C. that weekend as possible, because I don’t want them out doing the phone calls and get-out-the-vote,” Steinhauser said.

via For liberal groups, “Daily Show” rally on Mall, not just for laughs.


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