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Hullabaloo


Monday, September 08, 2008

 
Self Correcting Conservatives

by digby

You have all read the latest polls by now, I'm sure, and know that the race is currently anywhere from tied to McCain being ten points ahead. This is a somewhat surprising development to those of us who had thought this race couldn't be lost because of the political fundamentals: a terribly unpopular Republican president, a Republican party in disgrace, a failing economy, a useless expensive war and an elderly, warmongering candidate from a bygone era. It was hard for me to see how even the Democrats could lose an election under those circumstances, even if they ran an inanimate object with a piece of algae as a running mate. But the built in advantage has disappeared. The race is back at parity, and it's a letdown, particularly after all the months of excited talk about expanding the map, landslide and realignment etc. The race can certainly still be won, but the playing field is different than most observers expected.

For a time it was considered an act of heresy to even suggest that running a campaign purely on the basis of when you "came to Obama" might not hold up over the long haul. (And that's not to say that running the campaign on "the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuit" would have been any more successful --- the same problems existed for Clinton.) Democrats decided to take their shoe-in and turn it into a nail biter because they wanted a huge symbolic victory for either African Americans or women. I took pride in that --- it's a bold gamble. But I've never thought there wasn't a cost.

And I always felt that Democrats should have run hard against conservatism itself so that a majority of voters would reject the GOP brand no matter who was wearing it. Instead we saw airy campaigns rife with symbols of liberal progress and the promise of some new post partisan agreement that only one side had signed on to. Indeed, they have all spent way too much time for the last year extolling the other side, genuflecting to their icons and pretending that there was some national consensus that everyone wanted Democrats to stop their vicious partisanship --- when they hadn't lifted a finger. It's been maddening to watch.

So here we are. It doesn't mean Obama will lose, of course. He probably won't. Their side is even fundamentally weaker now than when the campaign began. But since both sides decided to run on personality and symbols we now have an empty campaign. McCain had no choice because his party is as decrepit as he is and their ideas are even more dessicated. But Democrats didn't have to help them hide it. If they had worked a little bit harder at discrediting conservatism itself, people wouldn't have felt so comfortable coming back to it, which is what Nate Silver thinks may have happened.

There's much about the Obama campaign that I admire. But I have always believed it was a mistake to box themselves into a post-partisan trap. They probably had to be careful about the tone, so that people would feel "comfortable" with a young black presidential candidate, but I think they overcompensated. This was a partisan year and it should have been a partisan rout. But somebody had to make that case.

It's probably too late to make the message of conservative failure stick at this point. It is now a 60 day dogfight fight between a gifted, young African American reformer and a grizzled old veteran ... reformer. The Republicans are "coming home" even in the face of their massive, nearly unprecedented disaster at governance over the past eight years because there's no price to pay as far as anyone's concerned --- the Republican brand is "self-correcting."

It's a tie today (or very close) and if the Obama campaign focuses on the economy, does well in the debates and gets out the vote as well as the GOP's re-invigorated churches do, they should win. But the days of arguing that this is a map changer or that "The Obama Movement" represents a seismic political shift are over. It's a 50/50 fight, just like it was in 2004. Half of the country still doesn't know that George W. Bush's failed governance wasn't a bug but a feature. And you certainly can't blame them for not telling anybody.


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