Friday, December 15, 2006

Naughty or Nice

Buried at the end of an Obama-related post over at Captain's Quarters, I noted a very interesting observation:
The issue for Obama is the vulnerability he has to scandal. His trump card will be his outsider status and his candor. Obama represents the hope of a change from business as usual in Washington, a uniter instead of a divider -- the kind of meme that elected the last two Presidents, of course, and we have seen the resultant increase in partisan rancor over the last 14 years. If Obama's relationship with Rezko gains any traction, it threatens to hurt Obama's greatest strength.

Emphasis my own. I was six when Bill Clinton first ran for President, so I really don't know to what degree he ran on a platform of inspiration and unity and whatnot, but I certainly recall the "uniter, not a divider" rhetoric of George W. Bush in 2000. I always understood it as distancing from the vicious attack machine of the Republican Congress, whose constant scandal-mongering and ill-advised impeachment push had seriously turned off voters to the entire concept of Republican leadership.

Of course, "uniter, not a divider" rapidly became a sick joke with regards to the Bush administration, which without fail has set out to divide the country as deeply and as passionately as possible. That's how a guy like me went from supporting the Iraq war in 2002 to a bona fide anti-Bush firebreather in the Daily Kos vein.

Even still, however, I wonder whether there might be a grain of truth to the idea that "unity" pledges are ultimately self-defeating. This is not a happy thought for me, as I am a to-the-bone supporter of Obama's brand of politics.

But consider: Politics feeds off a division. Politicians need to formulate a reason to vote for you, which means voting against the other guy. Normally, that division comes down simply on a policy level--politician A argues that his opponent's plans are ill-advised, weak, or wrong, and the opponent responds in kind. However, if A attempts to take the high road and reach out to his opponent's base, that paradigm doesn't work as well. B's policies aren't under attack, they're being co-opted. That leaves B with two responses: Either a) press even harder to show policy distinctions, which means focusing on the most extreme elements (or perceived elements) of A's beliefs, or b) go straight mudslinging. Either way, it's a recipe for increased, rather than decreased, negativity. Since one can't counter nice with nice, one has to go naughty. And political discourse gets dragged down with it.

Agree? Or am I being too cynical?


Last Push! Let's finish the vote strong.

The 2006 Weblog Awards


Also, before I forget, I added Captain's Quarters to the blogroll. Welcome aboard! (I'm sure he's thrilled).


Pete Abel said...

I think you hit the nail on the head, David. The one hope I see is voters rejecting those who refuse to play nice. In Missouri, the Talent campaign was far meaner if not deceptive than McCaskill's, and yet, the latter won. Maybe just maybe some of the electorate is starting to wake up and say enough: Talk issues, not attacks.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I've always been confused by the Republican hatred of Clinton. Of course, they loathe Carter at least as much, so I guess you have to be a wartime president for the Republicans not to detest you: JFK-LBJ in Vietnam (and LBJ's still disliked for the Great Society), Truman in Korea, FDR in WWII (ditto for enlarging government), Wilson in WWI (ditto for interest in international cooperation). Clinton was pretty middle of the road in policy on everything except abortion. He didn't let gays serve openly in the military, he raised the top income rate but not nearly as high as it had been before Reagan (and it's Keynesianism to raise taxes in a time of prosperity to build a surplus for recession), he kicked people off welfare, the drug war went on, he bombed foreign countries... aside from his signature on a "partial birth" abortion ban, what did Republicans want from Clinton that they didn't get?