Saturday, February 01, 2020

Monster Jam

Remember when Samantha Power called Hillary Clinton a "monster"?

It was in the middle of the 2008 primary. Feelings ran hot. Emotions were intense. But it just wasn't the sort of thing you can do. So Power resigned from Barack Obama's campaign. Later, when Obama was elected, she returned and served in his administration (along with Secretary of State Clinton).

This past week, Rashida Tlaib led the crowd at a Bernie Sanders rally in a rousing round of boos for Hillary Clinton. She now sort-of regrets it (this thread would not score highly in my "rate that apology" series). Of course, many people are defending her and saying of course she should boo Clinton, she has all the reason in the world to boo Clinton, everyone should boo Clinton, look at all the terrible things Clinton has done to Bernie Sanders.

For me, though, this is just like the Power scenario. I backed Obama over Clinton in 2008, and I am a massive admirer of Samantha Power. But -- putting aside whether it was "appropriate" in some objective sense -- calling your main intraparty opponent who still carries significant support among the class of voters you need both the primary and the general a "monster" is just bad message discipline. The project of political campaigning means sometimes -- probably often -- biting your lip and not saying what you really feel, even -- especially -- when emotions are running hot. If you can't do that, you're a liability. I said then, and I meant it, and I believe it, that Power was correct to resign from the campaign (I also said, and I meant it and I believe it, that this was not a call for permanent exile -- and I was thrilled when she rejoined the Obama administration).

I was very unlikely to vote for Joe Biden in this primary field, but one of the things that has especially driven me away from him is the repeated clips of him snapping at prospective voters who've asked challenging questions to "vote for someone else." I'm sure Biden feels like he's being unfairly harangued. I'm sure the questions he's facing make him hot under the collar. Maybe I think some of the questions he's facing are unfair too. But you've got to keep it together. Joe Biden lacks discipline, and that makes him a weaker candidate in a grueling election season.

I saw one prominent leftist writer defend the Sanders campaign re: Tlaib by saying, in essence, that the reason Sanders was so great was that he doesn't try to regulate what his surrogates say. Everyone's allowed to speak from the heart! That is such a lovely, egalitarian, romantic idea for running a campaign that will barrel headfirst into electoral catastrophe. Campaigns need discipline. They need people to keep their heads on straight.

The fact of the matter is -- and too many Sanders supporters seem unwilling to accept this -- they need to appeal to Hillary Clinton voters. Lots of Democrats like Hillary Clinton! And Obama! And other members of the dreaded "establishment"! Obama and Clinton won their primaries! They've gotten the support of most Democrats! Telling a Democratic primary voter -- and I've gotten this exact phone call -- that they shouldn't vote for so-and-so in the primary because she's "an Obama Democrat" is such a colossal misreading of the political space, it's campaign malpractice. If I'm cutting ads against Sanders in primaries in South Carolina or Georgia, it's just going to be a string of clips of Sanders and his surrogates dismissively deriding popular Democratic figures.

Plenty of Sanders supporters are frustrated with Hillary Clinton (plenty of Biden supporters are frustrated with Bernie Sanders!). I get it. There's some bad blood, and the primary season is intense. Too bad. Suck it up. Politics ain't beanbag, but it isn't a therapy session for you to vent your honest emotional truth either. Campaigns need discipline. If you're on a campaign and you can't hold it inside when necessary, you need to step back.

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