Why Bush will stay 11 points up

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. It’s “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.

5 thoughts on “Why Bush will stay 11 points up

  1. Scott McArthur

    Ok so the GOP can play dirty and remain noble but if the Dems talk tough they are doing “smash mouth” politics.
    How Orwellian.

    I am not sure about your Dems must be virtuous to be effective line of reasoning. It is a self defeating line of thought – for them. This election is not about virtue, it is about defeating a manifest failure – GWB –
    and moving America in the right direction.

    In fact I think the opposite is true. For the Democrats this election demands a fighter, someone who will shout from dawn to dusk that the Emperor (George) has no clothes.

    By the way, how did you like Zell’s speach? I don’t know how a mind as sophisticated as yours can stand behind a Party that embraces that kind of message. And to top it off you teach at my Alma Matter!!!

  2. Grant

    Scott, hey, I didnt say the republicans will appear more noble. No one looks good in this ring. And you may well be right, that the Democrats must fight to win, but I am saying amour propre will get in the way. If we’re both right: they fight, they lose, they don’t fight, the lose.

    I only saw clips of Zell’s speech but I don’t confuse his message with that of the Republicans even more than I do Michael Moore’s with the Democrats. Indeed, I think the Republicans have been quicker to distance themselves from Zell than the Democrats have from Moore. (And, let’s be honest, Moore makes Zell look like a paragon of self restraint.) Thanks for a lively post! Best, Grant

  3. Scott McArthur

    Ummmm. No.
    I think I need to read your book. I don’t see where you are coming from.

    Amour propre will get in the way …
    Self love? Self regard will get in the way? Hummm. But the Dems don’t love themselves. They hate themselves for losing in 2000. 2004 is all about the redemption of victory. This is why they chose an electible candidate rather than a representative one ie Dean. Doesn’t this make the Dems the new centrist party? Maybe centrism is bad? Do you really believe that GOP domestic policy is the path to dynamism and excellence?

    Zell -keynote speaker at GOP convention.
    Micheal Moore – eccentric filmaker from Michigan.

    Zell – you’re a traitor if you don’t support Bush
    Moore – Bush’s policies are bad for America.

    Which one is more significant?
    Which one needs to be distanced from more?

    Your Honour I rest my case

  4. Grant

    Wish to treat as argumentative, your honor.

    My general position is simple. We have an ideological stand off in North America.

    The Left believes in the liberties of the cultural domain, and is suspicious of the liberties of the economic domain.

    The Right believes in the liberties of the economic domain, and is suspicious of the liberties of the cultural domain.

    I believe in both liberties, but if you force me to choose, and the US party system does, then I will go with the Right.

    Three reasons:

    1) commerce is, variously, the source of most culture (or to put this more strongly, it is usually only culture that comes from commerce that is properly responsive to the real challenges that face us),

    2) so commerce must be robust and unconstrained (which in Canada is distinctly is not; no important innovations tend to come from a Margaret Atwood reading circle),

    3) the liberties of the cultural domain will, in the long term, take care of themselves, without the aid of government funding. (We can insist on funding the avant garde, but this is an enterprise now routinely outstripped by the arts and experiments of the private sector. The dynamism of commerce, again.)

    Thanks, Grant

    p.s., thanks to Chuck Freund for the Left/Right distinction above.

  5. Scott McArthur

    Hello Grant,

    What if I could convince you that the GOP platform was one that could put the economic liberties of America in peril. And that the Dems were in fact the current party of sound money and sound economics.


    That the situation that existed in the 1970s has completely reversed itself. The GOP is now the radical destabalising party in America and the Dems are the responsible sober party.

    But maybe this isn’t about empirical results. Maybe it’s a question of faith.

    God Bless

Comments are closed.