We’re at that stage of the election cycle when the redundancy and cynicism of campaigns really begins to grate on those forced to pay a lot of attention to them–e.g., reporters. Clearly MSNBC’s excellent Irin Carmon reached the limit of her endurance during a rally for Mitch McConnell in Kentucky where it sure sounds like everybody was going through the motions and hoping for next Tuesday to arrive:
The event featuring Sen. Mitch McConnell was billed as a “Restore America Rally.” As rallies went, it had the rough feeling of a Quaker worship meeting. As campaign events went, the candidate’s name was hardly mentioned.
McConnell spoke halfway through the gathering and left without taking questions or staying to see co-headliner Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. His speech was not lofty. “There’s only one change that can happen this year and that’s to change the Senate,” he said.
“Where are our students?” asked one of the opening speakers, by way of rallying the young people. Two hands — one of which appeared to belong to an elementary school-age boy — went up.
Ambivalence about McConnell himself was the subtext — the main point at the rally was the need to beat the Democrats. Matt Bevin, who had challenged McConnell from the right in the primary, spoke about the importance of the race, mentioning McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes. He declined, however, to actually endorse McConnell, or even say his name….
Enthusiasm matters in an election, but it isn’t everything.
Indeed, if “enthusiasm” is the deciding factor in Kentucky, Mitch is in real trouble. But we’ve known that all along. He’s survived all this time by driving up the negatives of opponents and making himself acceptable–and inevitable. It would be nice to see that strategy fail for once.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, October 30, 2014
Back in February, I wrote a column arguing that the Democrats would need a strong, base-motivating message this year. By which I did not mean happy talk about jobs or the minimum wage. I meant the age-old motivator, fear—stoking fear in their base of what a Republican Senate would look like.
Well, here we are eight months later and less than a week out from the voting, and they haven’t done it. They’ve done a little of it. They push the “war on women” button, and a couple of others, like Social Security, which I discussed yesterday. But it just amazes me. They are running against a party that is as intellectually dishonest and bankrupt and just plain old willfully stupid as a political party can possibly be, and they have developed no language for communicating that to voters.
I mean it is truly admirable, in its perverse way, how anti-idea this party is. It has no economic plans. Did you see this Times article last week called “Economists See Limited Gains in G.O.P. Plan”? I trust that you understand the world of newspaper euphemism enough to know that “limited gains” basically means “jack shit.” It’s all tax cuts and fracking and the wildly overhyped (in jobs terms (PDF)) Keystone pipeline.
Republicans know the truth about these proposals deep down, or I think most do (I suppose some actually are that dumb). But they keep peddling them like a costermonger selling rotten fruit. Why? At least in part because they also know deep down that things like an infrastructure bank are what will really create jobs. I mean, it’s the very definition of creating jobs. But they can’t be for that, because it would be a vote for Obama, and Party Chairman Limbaugh would call them mean names.
Not a single constructive idea. Oh, they put out these things they call “ideas,” so they can sound like they have ideas, but they’re not meant for actual implementation. They’re just meant to exist so candidates can campaign saying, “See? I have ideas!”
And then, of course, there are a few actual ideas they do have, like the Ryan Budget, but those are deep-sixed at campaign time, because the Republicans know that it would indeed force seniors to pay more out-of-pocket for their Medicare—I mean, as far as Paul Ryan is concerned, that’s the point!—and they’d much sooner not have to answer such questions at election time.
So they’ve got nothing. Not on the economy. Not on immigration reform. Not on health care—ah, health care. Think back with me now. In the first half of this year, there were a lot of news stories that got pumped out through Speaker John Boehner’s office about the Republicans working on a plan to replace Obamacare. Oh, it’s coming along, he said in summer. And the media scribbled down stories: Lookout, Obama! Republicans coming with alternative proposal!
Well, try Googling it now. You won’t find a word. They have no intention of “replacing” Obamacare with anything, and they never did. It was just something they knew they had to say for a while to sound responsible in Beltway land. Oh and by the way, that celebrated House lawsuit against Obamacare—remember that one, announced back in June? It turns out they haven’t even filed it! How empty can you get? Even their smoke and mirrors is smoke and mirrors.
On foreign policy, which is to say on the question of a world that is clearly in a deep crisis that the United States must perforce play a central solve in trying to solve, Republicans again have nothing meaningful to say. And please, don’t tell me “but Rand Paul!” His speech laid out some decent notions as far as they went, but how can a person support the war against ISIS while opposing the arming of the Syrian rebels? That’s like supporting a crackdown on bank robbery while advocating that banks keep the safes unlocked. And Paul, probably, is the closest thing the party has to a responsible voice on foreign policy.
I could go on, but you follow me. The GOP has absolutely nothing of substance to say to the American people, on any topic. The Republicans’ great triumph of this election season is their gains among women, which have happened because (mirabile dictu!) they’ve managed to make it through the campaign (so far) without any of their candidates asserting that rape is the will of God. All these extremists who may be about to win Senate seats are winning them basically by saying opponent, opponent, opponent, Obama, Obama, Obama.
And the Democrats can’t beat these guys? This should not be hard. But it is hard. Why? There’s the “who votes” question. There’s money, especially the outside dark money I wrote about last week. And there’s the GOP skill at pushing the right fear buttons. And there’s the fact that the president happens to be, well, you know.
But the underlying reason is this: The Democrats don’t have the right words for attacking the Republicans’ core essence and putting Republican candidates on the defensive. When Republicans attack Democrats, the attacks quite often go right to the heart of Democratic essence, and philosophy. “My opponent is a big-government, big-spending, high-taxing” etc. That gets it all in there in a few short words. Every Republican says it, and the fact is that it’s typically at least sort of true, because Democrats do believe in government and spending and taxes.
As a result, in almost every American election, the Democrat is instantly put on the defensive, while the Republican is playing offense. Of course that’s going to be truer in a sixth-year election of an incumbent Democratic president. But it’s usually more true than not. The Democrat, who is for things, who wants to do things besides cut budgets and taxes, carries the burden of explaining why those things will be good.
In fairness to the Democrats, they’re a little boxed in, because they can’t respond to the above attack by saying, “Well, my opponent is a small-government, low-spending, low-taxing” etc., which wouldn’t sound like much of an attack to most people.
So what they have to do instead is find a way to talk about this policy bankruptcy and duplicity of the GOP that I describe above, the party’s essential anti-idea-ness, because it’s through that bankruptcy and duplicity that the Republican Party manages to conceal from voters its actual agenda, which is to slash regulations and taxes and let energy companies and megabanks and multinational corporations do whatever it is they wish to do. Most Americans may be for limited government and lower taxes, but they sure aren’t for that.
In my experience, Democrats seem kind of afraid to do this. Partly afraid of the Republicans, and partly afraid of the conglomerates (they seek campaign contributions from Citibank too). And maybe my suggested way isn’t the only way to do it.
But high-ranking Democrats collectively need to perform the following exercise. Sit down together in a room. Distribute index cards. Let each of them write down five adjectives they associate with the GOP, adjectives they not only believe themselves but hear from constituents. Because the crowd has wisdom that the individual does not, take those that get the most mentions and turn them into attack on the GOP’s essence that will put Republican candidates on the defensive. Maybe that’s when our campaigns will change.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 29, 2014
One of the most durable GOP talking points in support of its plea to gain control of the Senate is that mean old Harry Reid, doing the bidding of scary radical Barack Obama, runs the place like the House (well, the House as run by Democrats when they controlled it!), allowing no debate or amendments. That argument apparently got under the skin of Juan Williams of Fox News and The Hill, not exactly a big liberal, who called it out as the inverse of the truth, using the stalled confirmation of the president’s Surgeon General nominee as an example:
The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?
In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”
Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.
But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.
When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.
When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.
The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.
“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”
This is a pretty good example of the kind of blame-the-victim mentality whereby the party of obstruction is projecting its posture onto its opponents. And we can obviously expect a lot more of it if Republicans gain control of the Senate and with Harry Reid out of the way begin cooperating with House GOPers to send bill after bill to the White House.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2014
About 20 years ago, there was a great episode of “Cheers,” featuring a city councilman who goes to the bar to ask voters for support. “Kevin Fogarty, City Council. I hope I have your vote on election day,” he says. Frasier Crane asks, “And why exactly should I vote for you, Mr. Fogarty?”
The councilman replies, “Well, because I’m a hard worker, and I take a stand.” Crane adds, “On what, exactly?” “The issues of the day,” Fogarty replies. “Which are?” Crane asks. “The things that concern you and your family – the most,” the councilman concludes.
The folks in the bar thought this was a great answer, failing to notice that the candidate clearly had nothing of substance to say, and was simply faking his way past the questions, hoping no one would notice.
The “Cheers” episode came to mind last night watching Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) debate former Sen. Scott Brown (R) in New Hampshire. At one point, for example. moderator Chuck Todd asked about climate change – Brown believes some of the crisis is “natural” – and pressed the candidates on how best to reduce carbon emissions.
“I’m not going to talk about whether we’re going to do something in the future,” Brown replied, apparently confused about the purpose of a political campaign.
When Todd asked the Republican to explain the metrics he’d use to determine whether the U.S./Mexico border is secure, Brown replied, “You know it’s secure when people don’t come across it.”
Remember, border security is one of the issues Brown claims to care the most about.
All of which led the challenger to make a striking claim.
Scott Brown’s strategy in his New Hampshire Senate campaign has focused on claims that securing the border would prevent Islamic State militants from crossing into the United States. But when asked on Tuesday for evidence, Brown denied he ever made such statements.
“With respect, I did not say that – what I have said is ISIS is real,” Brown, a Republican, said during the first televised debate of the New Hampshire Senate race…. “Is there a possibility?” he added. “It’s been raised that there are opportunities for people to come through that border. What are their intentions, I’m not sure, but they have made it very clear that they want to plant a flag in the White House.”
He added, “I’m not fear mongering.”
In reality, Brown’s denials about his claims are plainly incorrect. It was literally just last week that the Massachusetts Republican told voters, “[W]e have a border that’s so porous that anyone can walk across it. I think it’s naive to think that people aren’t going to be walking through here who have those types of diseases and/or other types of intent, criminal or terrorist. And yet we do nothing to secure our border.”
His claims were wrong on the substance, and for him to deny making these comments only adds insult to injury.
Sabrina Siddiqui added, “Brown has suggested on multiple occasions that ISIS terrorists could cross the southern U.S. border. Just last month, Brown raised the theory during an interview with Fox News.”
As for the “Cheers” episode, it’s probably worth noting that Kevin Fogarty ended up losing his election.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 22, 2014