The problems of the Democratic party are often self inflicted: too many cooks in the kitchen, strategy blurred by competing agenda, a fractiousness that will not go away.
This campaign was going to be different. Bush-hatred had mobilized the faithful. The party had a heaven-sent opportunity for clarity and coherence. And it appeared to be working. Everyone at the Boston convention actually sang from the same page. Finally, an election in which the Democrats could actually act like Republicans! More exactly: an election in which the Democrats could act like a party!
Enter Stanley Greenberg, a new hire for the Kerry camp. Greenberg has been working for an independent Democratic group running attack ads. His hiring may mean that Kerry is now preparing to bring these ads in house, and to break from the “non-antagonistic policy of his Chicago convention.
Campaigns come to this. Attack ads bring the parties toe to toe in a slug fest. The result is inevitable. Both end up looking pugnacious, mean spirited and a little unprincipled. Its “smash mouth politics.
This puts the Democrats in a jam. They like to see themselves, for social purposes, as the party of higher principle and the nobler view. Virtue is their self proclaimed difference. “We stand for something. We care about things. If and when they engage in smash mouth politics, they cut themselves away from the foundation of their position. Worse than that, they threaten their new found unity.
An attack campaign will make for lots of “noise in the party. There is, first of all, the contradiction between their “higher calling and new policy. Then there is the rhetorical to-ing and fro-ing with which they will try to finesse the contradiction. Then there is the breaking of ranks as some party members object that their party is now indistinguishable from the enemy. Then there is the issue hopping with which the party will try to find the attack formula that is most effective but least offensive.
Smash mouth politics will do more harm inside the party than outside. It will puncture the Democrats’ unity. They will return to form, and we will be treated to the usual display of internal dissension and contretemps.
Bring da noise. Bring da funk.
Nagourney, Adam and David M. Halbfinger. 2004. Kerry Enlisting Clinton Aides in Effort to Refocus Campaign. New York Times. September 6, 2004.