Rick Perlstein has a good piece in The Rolling Stone. It comes in the form of a Wisconsin post-mortem, but the lessons are about us and our situation. The night Scott Walker survived his recall,
…Democratic candidate Tom Barrett gave a concession speech even though there were still votes to be counted. His supporters in the room were livid, according to reports: they had devoted their blood, sweat, and tears to what they saw as a fight for all they held dear, and believed the man to whom they had pledged themselves was quitting before the fight was even over. One of them approached him and said she’d like to slap him. Mayor Barrett said he’d rather be hugged. He leaned down for said hug. And got slapped instead.
You gotta love it. President Clinton had gone to Wisconsin to support the guy, and
He would follow the Bill Clinton strategy, triangulate against his own side. If swing voters hate union cronyism, he would prove he wasn’t a union crony. “I’m not the union guy,” he would say on the campaign trail – he was the guy the unions didn’t want; they even tried to talk him out of running.
In an election about unions, he tri(strang)ulates them. Talk about a buzzkill. This is a guy who tries to prove himself on his honeymoon by bragging to his new wife about his old girlfriends.
And that’s half the problem according to Perlstein: Democrats, not respecting their base. In his campaign, Obama gave his base the props, even if there were signs that he wasn’t what he appeared to be. Since then, he’s treated us like we’re lucky to have him.
Our second problem is the Republicans.
Republicans win because Republcians cheat. They cheat in each and every election, systematically and predictably. They crap out last-minute turnout-killing lies: in this last, for instance, that people who signed recall petitions automatically had their vote recorded against Walker and so didn’t have to go to the polls; and in 2006, in at least fifty different congressional races, an overwhelming volume of calls that appeared to be from the Democratic candidate, dozens in a row, designed to so anger potential Democratic voters that they’d stay home from the polls.
They render Democratic phone lines useless: In 2006, pundette Laura Ingraham did it by telling her radio listeners to deluge a voter protection hotline with calls; this last week by blasting out text messages inviting the same for Tom Barrett’s campaign headquarters. They intimidate voters on Election Day in minority precincts, wearing scary uniforms and warning those with outstanding warrants to stay away if they don’t want to be arrested. They push out horror-show media – like the Scott Walker TV commercial with the baby who was beaten to death, a crime somehow laid at Tom Barrett’s feet; or the mailers the Republican National Committee sent out in 2004 to Arkansans and West Virignias that the Bible would be “banned” if “you don’t vote.” More prosaically, they retail statistical lies: in 2000, that Bush’s proposed tax cuts would not predominantly benefit the rich; last Tuesday, that the federal government said Wisconsin added 30,000 jobs.
This kind of stuff doesn’t really get reported, or noticed: it happens too late to get into the news before the polls open (that’s the point of the tactics), and then, once the polls close, all the media oxygen is taken up with horse-race stuff (the bad guys know that too). Bringing this stuff up also violates a sort of unspoken faux-macho journalist code: “That’s politics,” they say; “both sides do it” (they don’t); and if the victimized campaign brings it up, they’re just whining. The bad guys work with this bias very effectively, for instance keeping a handy mental file of isolated, occasional Democratic abuses – the one incident you hear about over and over was the tire-slashing of Republican get-out-the-vote vehicles in Milwaukee eight years ago, for which four Democratic campaign workers including the son of a congresswoman went to jail – to feed journalists’ both-sides-do-it brain-deadedness.
Someday, some clever political scientist might figure out a way to quantify just how many points on election day Democrats have to make up to bring things to square. Until that point – or probably even after that point – we can expect the usual Wednesday morning diet of earnest reflections on what the polling just past “says” about the electorate. Republicans will keep pushing, pushing, pushing their vision for what kind of world they want to live in – union and public-employee free. Democrats, free of any particular vision for society at all, will go into “battle” retailing themselves as the nicer fellows in the contest, and earnestly hope the electorate goes along.
The answer is not for Democrats to cheat. But it begins with the Democratic establishment doing business in a way that doesn’t make their most devoted partisans feel like slapping them upside the head.
Most of this comes as no surprise. We have a senate campaign to win. We face a well-run “Republican” campaign.The question is, what do we do about it? We have a good candidate. How do we prevent a Wisconsin?