July 25, 2004

No Alarms and No Surprises 

posted by Paul Smith @ 6:59 PM
It was clear to me today watching Barack Obama on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, and Late Edition that the DNC has the up-and-comer on a very short leash. When asked by Tim Russert about his previous remarks criticizing the Iraq war, Obama played them down, especially the criticism of Bush. Today's Times (quit asking for my login to read the dern news!) lets us know that the Dems are going to tone down the anti-Bush sentiment this week and present their "positive" and "affirmative" positions.

This seems to me a strange choice. First, it blunts and homogenizes your best and brightest -- like Obama and Michigan Governor Jen Granholm, who also popped up on Face the Nation. Obama is by no means a fire-breathing partisan, and nor has he made Bush or the war central to his campaign, but Iraq is a huge and indictable issue for the President, and Obama has taken him to task for it on the campaign trail. Instead, you have the droning repetition of the talking points -- values, strength, safety, etc. -- that gives the inherent charisma of Obama and Granholm no where to go. Second, it gives your base no red meat. Dean proved that anger with Bush was not just an irrational or self-hating position amongst average Democrats, it was demonstrative of serious grievances that prospective candidates needed to acknowledge or risk irrelevance. The DNC should use the convention to fire up the core partisans, much like the Edwards selection did. There will still be plenty of time to strike up the moderate and compromising language that's required of a national general election in the early fall. Since the convention means nothing in terms of actually choosing a nominee, take it as your last opportunity until November to let Democrats be Democrats. Republicans are supposed to be the ones who have to hide their true voices from the mainstream (cf. Santorum, Delay not speaking at their convention).

I can practically hear the internal rationalizations of the Shrums, Cahills, and McAuliffes: we can't leave ourselves exposed to Republican attacks during the convention by taking any chances with our rhetoric; we must present only a positive, upbeat message or we'll risk being labeled as relentlessly angry and pessimistic by the other side; the race is so close and we've taken only careful, measured steps up till now, so we mustn't give the media or the RNC attack machine any off-message stories; etc. The problem with this is that no matter what Democrats do, the GOP is going to try to define them and Kerry the way they want, and they have been doing that for months now. Democrats might as well give the narrow slice of undecided voters a proud and honest glimpse of the party.

I was really looking forward to Barack's keynote, but now I fear it will be just his mouth moving someone else's focus-grouped, safe words.

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