What Are They Waiting For?
D-day says that I'm one of the biggest pollyannas in the blogosphere about the November election. My sunny upbeat belief that the Democrats are pretty much a shoe-in and that all this unpleasantness will be long forgotten by then is what gets me through these days of obnoxious online life.
Today, however finds our positions reversed. D-day is obviously energized and optimistic, while I am down in the dumps. Not that I don't agree with him in the abstract. But this story in the Politico knocked the wind out of my sails:
Democratic talk of an early, hard-hitting campaign to "define" and tar Arizona Sen. John McCain appears to have fizzled for lack of money, leading to a quiet round of finger-pointing among Democratic operatives and donors as McCain assembles a campaign and a public image relatively unmolested. Despite the millions of dollars pooling around Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, anti-McCain funds have fallen far short of the hopes set in November, when a key organizer, Tom Matzzie, reportedly told The Washington Post that the "Fund for America" would raise more than $100 million to support the activities of a range of allied groups.
The Democratic National Committee, too, is organizing an anti-McCain campaign, but a spokeswoman, Karen Finney, said fundraising to support that effort has met "mixed" results.
So while news releases and Internet ads have been launched, the largest-bore weapon in contemporary politics — a sustained television campaign — hasn't. That's because, people involved say, the soft-money groups don't have the soft money.
"Many of the people who would normally be involved in such an effort are overly focused on the primary, which is a mistake," said Michael Vachon, a spokesman for George Soros, who is the largest individual donor to the Fund for America, which in turn has passed on at least $1.4 million to what was expected to be the main attack group, an organization called the Campaign to Defend America.
"We know we're going to have a good Democratic nominee — it's time for Democrats to turn their attention to John McCain," Vachon said.
As recently as January, Democratic circles were abuzz with talk that a Democratic hammer would fall on McCain as soon as he secured the nomination, fulfilling the conventional wisdom of politics that it's crucial to define your opponent early, before he has a chance to make his case.
The Campaign to Defend America even solicited drafts of advertisements from several Democratic consultancies, which it showed to potential donors and tested on focus groups, said a person familiar with the activities. But McCain's victory speeches came and went without the group making an impact on his campaign.
"We all know the importance of early framing and being aggressive, but if you do it the wrong way you can't undo it," she said. "We recognize that now is the time to define him."
Finney also said the committee is now working to raise the money to finance an anti-McCain campaign.
"We've been making a pitch to Clinton and Obama donors that regardless of who you support in the primary, you need to support the Democratic Party now," she said, saying results of that pitch had been "mixed."
"We're getting there. People are starting to understand the urgency," she said, adding that new polling would be released next week. "When they see the polling, they'll understand that we have a really sharp opportunity to define McCain, but we've got to do it now."
That is pathetic.
The article says there is at least one big Hillary donor who doesn't want to spend money for the party unless Clinton's the nominee. And I have also heard that Obama donors don't want to fund any efforts that will be construed as "negative" for fear it will blow back on his campaign. Whatever the reasons, and I suspect it's complicated, this is the stupidest damned thing I've heard yet. It's almost as if the Democrats want to lose.
I don't care which candidate they are supporting in the primary, taking on John McCain will benefit their candidate if he or she wins. Surely they are all maxed out by now, so this is the logical place to put their money either way.
All of this might make some sense if McCain didn't have this ridiculously cozy relationship with the press that's been solid as a rock for more than a decade. He is going to be terribly difficult to redefine. It will take everything they have to do it. And if they don't do it, he could very well win this thing even if he is as old as Methuselah and has the campaign style of a pet rock.
I was talking to a staunchly liberal friend of mine over the week-end who told me that he really didn't worry about the primary because if the party is damaged and McCain wins, it will probably be ok. The reason: he's not stupid like Bush or crazy like Cheney. After I picked up my brains from the floor and put them back in my head, still reeling from the explosion, I tried to explain how that was wrong. It was pulling teeth and I don't think I succeeded. He just likes the guy and doesn't believe he's really capable of being as bad as Bush because he "thinks for himself" and isn't a GOP lackey.
The Democrats had better get themselves together. The Republicans picked the only candidate in the entire country who could elicit that kind of praise from my pal and others like him. He's the only one who could possibly win, and win he may very well do if just let this congenial image continue without challenge.
The Republicans certainly plan to go hard after our guy. Of course, St John will "disavow" every single smear and the press will give him credit for being a stand up guy. That's how it works for him.
D-day thinks the MSM isn't particularly relevant and that since the public loathes McCain on the issues instead of personality, that's a point in our favor. I wish I were as sanguine. I think we discount the MSM at our peril, even now:
And sadly, in every election for decades voters says they agree with the Democrats on the issues and vote for Republican presidents. They use heuristic devices they don't even understand to make their voting decisions and the big money GOP marketers put to work all kinds of subliminal clues to help them do it. With the press on board, in decent times, it's a slam dunk. Now, with the country going down in flames, it's harder. But it's not impossible, or even improbable. McCain is the best they've got for this time and place --- a "maverick" (the maverick) Republican who supposedly isn't beholden to big money, tells it like it is and knows how to be a real commander in chief, which after that little codpiece twirler Junior Bush, may be just what the doctor ordered for a lot of people.
I'm not saying the Democrats can't win. It shouldn't even be a question with bush at 25% and the wrong track number at 81. But I assumed after all we know about how the Republicans operate, they'd pull out all the stops to take McCain down hard, taking nothing for granted. It looks as though I'm wrong about that --- at best they are dithering --- and it has me really, really worried for the first time.