Gutter Politics

I agreed with the analyst who suggested that the presidential nominee’s vice presidential decisions were their first acts of governance. In the same spirit, I think the way each presidential nominee conducts his campaign over the next six weeks is their second act of governance.  

Because he’s a tad behind, because he runs hot, and because history proves it works, McCain is going to campaign even more negatively over the coming weeks. That presents a real dilemma for Obama. How can he lay claim to the change mantle if he gets down in the gutter with McCain? Conventional wisdom is that politics is blood sport, the best defense is a good offense, and the end justifies the means.  

To borrow from Malcolm X, get elected by any means necessary.  Or to put it differently, save your moralizing until after the inauguration.  

But I’m more of a process, patterns and themes guy, than a “throw the switch” guy; as a result, I’ll be disappointed if Obama campaigns according to conventional wisdom. 

Of course it’s a gamble.  He should quickly and vigorously defend himself against the scurrilous charges that will come with increasing frequency and intensity, but he should avoid retaliating in kind, and instead focus like a laser on why his ideas for avoiding further economic problems, improving strained foreign relations, and expanding health care are superior to the Republican’s.

People don’t vote based upon policy differences exclusively which is why he needs to rise above the fray and conduct himself in a way that inspires hope rather than cynicism.  

I still remember a jubilant and charismatic Obama aiming incredibly high in his Iowa victory speech.  In addition to winning the nomination, I thought he might inspire people throughout the country to reengage with the political process and participate with renewed purpose in civic affairs.  

If he still wants to be a transformational leader, he has to embody change, not just talk about it.

You and I are the determining factors.  I’m not sure why negative campaigning works (or why adolescents run towards fights when they break out or why people slowdown to stare at traffic accidents), maybe it’s something deep in our human nature, something biological.

I don’t want to think that it’s inevitable though because the longer candidates spend attacking one another, the greater the challenges associated with economic globalization, environmental degradation, and the rising income gap will become.

And the more campaigns become shoving matches, the more cynical people will become that government can help solve those challenges and make a positive difference in their lives.

McCain and Palin are going to repeatedly shove Obama in the chest over the next six weeks.

Despite the similar complexion and body type, I’m not expecting Obama to channel Ghandi. He should dig his heels in and defend himself, but if he shoves back, win or lose, most people will conclude he’s just another politician.

2 thoughts on “Gutter Politics

  1. The current economic crisis gives him the opportunity to craft a bold and courageous response — even cutting back on the programs he’s promised until the crisis is passed. If nothing shows the need for change, this does — 50% of the mortgages backed by two quasi-government entities with little regulation and overhead? Mortgages bundled into mortgage backed securities and sold as relatively low risk investments? It boggles the mind.

  2. Ron—
    I recall Paul Begala on CNN saying in the lull Obama experienced following McCain’s convention that what Barack really needed to be doing was going for the jugular. Time spent on the defensive was always time wasted, his reasoning went. Interestingly too: all of America was swept away by the spectacle of McCain’s negative and objectively untrue ads linking Obama to Paris Hilton. And during this time Barack really was trying to be above the fray, staying on message, focusing on the ailing economy etc…Yet all everyone could talk about was Paris.

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