Barry Eisler

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Confused, Spineless Democrats

I read an op-ed in yesterday's Wall Street Journal called "Obama and the Values Question Mark" by a guy named Douglas E. Schoen. It's an advice piece, and Schoen advises Obama to do nothing but play defense. Attacked for not always wearing a lapel pin? Wear a lapel pin. Attacked about Reverend Wright? Continue to explain, explain, explain (Schoen actually suggests that "Obama does not have to apologize for his own faith and membership in Trinity Unity Church of Christ"... whew, that's a relief). Attacked for not being sufficiently "law and order"? "Obama must also demonstrate concretely that he is sympathetic to the victims of crime... that he understands American concerns about law and order." You get the idea. Schoen comes a step or two short of advising Obama to just fall to his knees and cry out, "We are not worthy!"

I read the article with equal parts disgust and admiration: disgust at the notion that Obama needs to explain his "values" when a divorced adulterer like John McCain apparently does not; admiration at the tactics of the writer, who in the guise of friendly advice to Obama is in fact reinforcing the insidious meme that there's some legitimacy behind the issues on which Schoen purports to want to advise. Boy, I thought, you have to give it to the right: they understand how communication works.

And then I came to a description of Schoen's background: in 1996, he was the campaign manager for Clinton/Gore in Tennessee and Kentucky. And I thought, "Holy shit, this guy is a *Democrat*!"

Look, if Schoen is working for McCain, his op-ed makes perfect sense. But if he actually thought his op-ed would help Obama... well, if this is the way Democrats with actual campaign experience are going to play it, the party is in serious trouble. Op-eds whose real impact is to legitimize right-wing talking points? Urging the candidate only to play "yes I am patriotic, no I'm not soft on crime, yes I do share your values, really, I do, please please please believe me" defense? By common sense alone you know that Schoen's purported course would be a disaster for Obama. But you don't need to rely on common sense: you can also see how well the Schoen model worked for Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.

If Obama were to glue a lapel pin to himself at this point, all it would do is prove that he'll buckle under a load of rightwing bullshit. And since the true purpose of all rightwing wedge attacks is to demonstrate that the Democratic candidate is spineless, weak, a sissy, a pansy, a loser, etc., more than anything else Schoen is advising Obama to show that he can be pushed around and prove the right's point thereby. At the risk of tremendous understatement: this is not good advice.

If he really wanted to help, Schoen should have advised Obama to counterattack. Values? Let's talk about how John McCain cheated on his wife, abandoned his family, and married a much younger heiress. Lapel pins? If John McCain were really patriotic, he would back Jim Webb's GI Bill and actually support our veterans. Jeremiah Wright? Why has McCain deliberately sought the support and endorsements of religious fanatics like John Hagee and Rod Parsley? Hamas supports Obama? You're swallowing enemy propaganda -- McCain wants another hundred years in Iraq, which the 2006 NIE called a bonanza of terrorist recruitment, so it's obvious who Hamas is really rooting for. Etc.

Ignoring rightwing freakshow attacks allows them to fester. Denying them legitimizes them and demonstrates weakness. Counterattacking turns the premises of the attacks around and puts the attackers on defense, while simultaneously demonstrating strength.

If Democrats haven't figured these fundamentals out by now, they're hopeless. Assuming Schoen isn't in fact working for McCain, his op-ed is not cause for encouragement.
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Anonymous Jeff said...

You are right Barry. So far though I think Obama has shown that he is smarter than many of his fellow democrats. Otherwise he would have caved on the pin, the gas tax and several other issues. Here's hoping he stays strong during the general election.

The bigger question to me is why doesn't Hillary just drop out? Her campaign has said that they lost this thing back in Feb. So, why not stop with some dignity and work to get Obama in the white house?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 7:12:00 PM  
Blogger Joshua James said...

Barry, you on FIRE these days, and I am loving every minute of it!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 7:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barry, I think Obama is ahead of the curve on all this, thats my sense of him. But the fact that there are dem's of an older generation giving this kind of advice tells me that they are more worried about Obama appearing "white enough" to bring my parents out to vote for him.My mother and father both supported Hillary, they are not RACIST in any discernible way. Its simply an old unconscious habit to think that blacks in america are too different then whites and cannot be elected to the presidency.This thing is generational, and will test all dem's. But be asured about my folks atleast, they will NOT vote for McCain and the continuation of this war

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 7:59:00 PM  
Blogger Randy Johnson said...

It appears that Obama has caved a bit. On the news today, they mentioned him wearing a flag pin in front of a group of veterans. And some members of older generation appear to be falling back on old stereotypes. My Mother has never displayed any sort of racist attitude. But she voted for Senator Clinton in the NC primary and told me yesterday that, "I reckon we'll vote for McCain in the fall." Frankly I was flabbergasted.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 8:29:00 PM  
Anonymous AnnA said...

Hey Barry, It's the same schmack that's been spouted for years, look like we do, dress like we do, speak like we do, if not, then you're not one of us (whoever us is, I've never figured out). I think the American people are clearly saying to anyone listening, we don't like the way that you look, dress or speak and so we're going in a different direction ;)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 9:04:00 PM  
Blogger robbin milne said...

yes, you are right on in this article once again, i'm discouraged today by two things: one, obama did seem to cave and wear the pin at a veteren's speech. He may be wearing it when he wants and not when he wants, but to me, it felt like kowtowing, and that was disappointing. Second, his apparent dismissal of compaigning in w. virginia said to me that he gave up a bit, saying oh well, it's Clinton's so I'll let her have this one, but what does that say to the people in W. VA? it felt arrogant to me, and that was discouraging! I am an Obama supporter, i don't deny it, and I feel he's the best candidate in this system we are working in, but i am a bit discouraged right now. When you say, "Ignoring rightwing freakshow attacks allows them to fester. Denying them legitimizes them and demonstrates weakness. Counterattacking turns the premises of the attacks around and puts the attackers on defense, while simultaneously demonstrating strength." YES!! this is what I want to see Obama do, let's put it right back on their table . . .thanks Barry

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 9:33:00 PM  
Blogger hikingboots4ever said...

Obama already wore a flagpin when handed to him by a veteran while he was speaking. I think it's ok/appropriate if he wants to wear it to honor that veteran and others while he is speaking to/and about taking care of our service men and women. (Though I still find the flap about flagpins, bowling, etc. and the like ridiculous) Notice his focus on Veteran's of late. It is because he is working hard to try to get the new, long overdue G.I. Bill passed that will give more benefits to Veterean's. A NOW VERY RICH VETERAN IS STRONGLY AGAINST IT....JOHN McCAIN! Apparently, he is not wearing the flag on his lapel or in his heart. If he was it would show in his actions. So who's caving and when, when it REALLY counts?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger flip said...

Maybe my memory is faulty, but didn't Gore lose Tennesse, his home state, in 2000? Apparently, some longtime career politicos are threaten by Obama's campaign. They have built careers on the theory that politics is all about pandering to the lowest common denominator. Apparently, a politician's position on the issues is not relevant; it is all about image. In the end, the electorate will decide if Schoen and his ilk are correct. Are we going to sit on our butts and expect to be educated on the issues by 30 second political ads?

Lastly, I don't think McCain's adultery is an issue. Frankly, if a great leader came forward with real solutions to the world's very real problems, I wouldn't care whether he was a multiple adulterer with a taste for cocktails. FDR didn't do such a bad job despite his marital problems.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Democurmudgeon said...

In a related story involving the marketing and positioning genius of the Republican Party, I just wrote this;

Wisconsin Democrats Advance “Edsel Agenda”

"A marketing disaster whose magnitude has made it a household word."-The Story of the Edsel by Thomas Bonsall

“Marketing disaster” is an appropriate description of the Democrats “Edsel agenda.” A lot of glitz and empty promises. Sen. Majority Leader Russ Decker is proudly driving this turkey down a road called “Missed Opportunity.”

First, what I’m not hearing in their interviews and reading in their press releases is the reason why the state legislature has to revisit the state budget: A federal economic mess created by a Republicans Congress and approved without veto threats by a Republican President. In the future, it might be wise to mention this first as a preface to any public response.

Or should we be inspired by Sen. Decker, who bravely proclaimed, "We got the votes. It's in the Assembly, so we're cool." Really? Sen. Decker’s short sighted plan was to temporarily protect SeniorCare, school aid, funding for road projects and child care subsidies. What protected programs will the Democrats throw off the cliff in the next biennium?

For some, like Sen. Judy Robson, the instinct doesn’t translate to commitment; “I firmly believe the Senate should have held out for a budget repair bill that leverages $408 million in federal Medicaid dollars. There is absolutely no reason…Wisconsin should pass up these federal dollars waiting for us. Instead of tapping into this legitimate source of funding, the budget repair bill digs deeper…Instead of putting ourselves on a sound fiscal track, we push off our budget problems for another day. I don’t believe we should have deferred to the Assembly Republicans on this point.” Well thought out and defensible, why couldn't Sen. Robson frame the debate with these same words before acquiescing to the bullies on the block?

For Republicans, the Party that can sell gay bashing, fear and health savings accounts, marketing and positioning is an art form. Republican Senator Alberta Darling has already written part of her Party’s fall campaign ad; “By not making tough spending decisions today, the state budget is set up for more shortfalls tomorrow.”

It’s time for the Democrats to drop the “Edsel agenda.” The public's not buying it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger KSR said...

One of the benefits of this protracted primary season on the Democratic side is that we really get to know these candidates. We see how they react in adverse situations. We see how they attack and respond to attacks. So what have we learned?

We learned that Hillary Clinton is not afraid to use Republican fear mongering to achieve her goals.

We learned that Barak Obama can take a punch.

We learned that Hillary Clinton. Simply. Will. Not. Quit.

We learned that Barak Obama is a deep and critical thinker.

We learned that Hillary Clinton is tough as nails, to a fault

We learned that Barak Obama doesn’t cave in to the “distractions” that plaque him.

We learned that Republicans are in trouble this fall (MS-01 is the most recent case-in-point).

We learned that American can vote for a black man.

[side note: Why is Obama a “black man with a white mother?” I prefer to label him a white man with a black father.]

And we have remembered what it is to be inspired. To be wowed. To be hopeful again.



Wednesday, May 14, 2008 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...


The "concern trolls" who offer advice to Democrats (including of all people, Karl Rove) are very often not, in fact, from the opposition, but from the wing of the Democratic Party that is in large part responsible for its decades-long banishment in the political wilderness. Schoen and people like him - Donna Brasile, for instance comes readily to mind - represent a moneyed class of campaign "professionals" who really only have a "1" in the win column, but who have managed to hang on and make themselves part of the establishment despite being thoroughly embarrassed in pretty much every other contest of which they've been part.

They were foundational to the stupid and ineffectual rebranding of Al Gore as some sort of populist in 2000, the short-circuiting of Howard Dean, and the ham-handedness of the Kerry run. They represent the kind of entrenched special interest that is desperately hard to get rid of because they generate nostalgia for the Clinton years among Democrats, and which has made party leadership a slave to the dogma of cowardly "bipartisanship" which has been nothing more than a series of cave-ins to the right wing. Fortunately, while not perfect, I think Obama has exhibited a pretty solid ability to avoid falling into this trap.

As for

Ignoring rightwing freakshow attacks allows them to fester. Denying them legitimizes them and demonstrates weakness. Counterattacking turns the premises of the attacks around and puts the attackers on defense, while simultaneously demonstrating strength.

I couldn't agree more. One of the cardinal rules of effective self defense is using an appropriate level of response. Playing nothing but defense doesn't work when protecting one's physical well-being, and it doesn't work when protectiing one's political self, either!

Sensen No Sen

Speaking of self defense, I'm off to England for 10 days to do some training with Simon Oliver and to play tourist. Having not been overseas since 1999, I'm very interested to see how we Americans are regarded interpersonally these days. (Even if it is the relative safe haven of the U.K.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 1:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Sara said...

I agree with some of the comments that it appears some of these "helpful advisors" have no clue what they are talking about! As to the flag pin, I think Barack wears it when he chooses which should be his right. I find it funny that I have never seen Hillary wear one & only seen McCain wear one twice but Barack is expected to wear one at all points in time!
Hillary needs to get out before she looks totally ridiculous but perhaps she is being threatened by sniper fire if she withdraws!!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 7:28:00 PM  

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