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Hullabaloo


Thursday, January 15, 2004

 
Bad Politics

Chris Suellentrop gives a rather tortured defense of his incomprehensible screed from the other day to which I won't even bother to respond in detail.

I do take issue with his characterization of both Clark and Dean engaging in "bad politics" by making what he calls "impolitic" statements. Clearly, what Suellentrop knows about politics, bad or otherwise, could fit on the head of a pin.

Yes, both men have made impolitic statements, as have Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt and even(Gawd help me) George W. Bush. I would bet that every single candidate for office in the history of the world has made "impolitic" statements, and many of them won because of them. They give several speeches every single day and answer huge numbers of questions which are then poured over by smug, superior reporters who search for small niggling inconsistencies with which to Gore them. Fine. We all know that.

Suellentrop, from his perch atop Mt Olympus also apparently believes that each of the candidates are perceived in exactly the same way by the voters (as clowns, evidently, since that is how he sees them) so when they make these "impolitic" statements they are also received by the public in exactly the same way. This is ridiculous.

It is bad politics for Wesley Clark to make an "impolitic" statement about abortion because it reinforces the perception that he doesn't know anything about women's issues or the minefield of abortion politics in America. In the Democratic Party that is a BIG mistake. That comment plays to his weakness and is therefore, bad politics. On the other hand, when he makes an "impolitic" statement about national security it reinforces the idea that he is prepared to take on the conventional wisdom about George W. Bush on national defense. That plays to his strength.

When Howard Dean makes an "impolitic" statement about national security it reinforces the perception that he is inexperienced in an area that makes him vulnerable to George W. Bush. This is a big issue for Democrats. That comment plays to his weakness. On the other hand, when he makes an "impolitic" statement about his supporters being unwilling to back another candidate it reinforces his independence from the Democratic power structure. It plays to his strength.

These alleged impolitic statements aren't made in a vaccuum. The candidates are a package of image, talents, experience, strengths and personality. The fact that they each may be making similar claims that sound "impolitic" to the ears of Chris Suellentrop does not mean that any of the the claims are wrong or that it is equally bad politics for all candidates to say them.

Frankly, I'm not really sure that journalists such as Suellentrop are in a position to guage what bad politics are in the first place. To completely butcher a great quote by Rebecca West, they seem to believe that Democrats practice bad politics whenever "they express sentiments that differentiate them from a doormat."



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