Another superb diavlog between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter. I’ve also posted the diavlog to my vodpod account as WordPress isn’t letting us embed Bloggingheads just yet (note to the crack staff at WordPress)–you’ll find it at the bottom of the right hand column.
They discuss as they often do, Obama. Loury makes some interesting points relative to Obama’s possible race card deployment. The overall tenor involves the recent inability of the Obama Camp to respond to McCain attacks (which is hurting him in the polls).
But I think there is another possible rationale for Camp Obama’s discussion of race (for the moment I want to leave it open whether they are playing the so-called card, hence the more neutral language).
Much much more after the jump….
The common Atwater-Rovian scheme of Republican attacks has been since at least Dukakis has been: they (fill in the blank Democrat/s) are not one of you (America).
With Dukakis it was because he wouldn’t–like any regular American (supposedly)–immediately want revenge against the hypothetical raper of his wife.
With Kerry of course it was that wind surfed, spoke French, his wife was not American born, thought al-Qaeda should be treated as “criminals” instead of Manichean embodiments of pure evil, and testified before the Winter Soldiers hearings and therefore betrayed his country (and then conspiratorially) lied about his military service to begin with.
With Obama it is that he is like Spears, cares more about winning an election than his country, and therefore secretly or not so secretly wants/cheers American deaths in fact any kind of deaths in Iraq as that bolsters his case, isn’t a patriot (because he is more important in his own eyes than service to his country remember), etc. etc.
The problem for Democrats is that they can’t do this kind of thing in reverse–however much the netroots call for it. 1)They would be horrible at it and therefore shown up as frauds 2)The US media would always take the side of the Republicans. The Republicans can attack in that manner–and minus a Keith Olbermann tirade on Countdown–will get away with it. Fair or not (and it’s not), that’s the reality. Learn to deal with it or die (electorally).
And by problem I mean only from a tactical pov. I think it is beyond disgusting that Republicans do this year in and year out. But to be fair, they do it because it works and America gets what it deserves–Bush’s stupidity is the perfect embodiment of that principle.
Though I’m amenable to many a conservative idea, the above is only one of a number of reasons I can’t support the putrid Republican party. I mean I don’t want to see Democrats try and/or be able to launch similar character assassination attacks on Republicans. Which of course they can’t because they believe (to their repeated peril) that people are rational.
So a Dem can’t return fire in that manner. The Dem is then left with a difficulty of either letting these attacks go (Dukakis/Kerry) and suffering the consequences or responding to them but then lending them credence by giving a response.
LBJ (just so its clear this hasn’t always been a Republican only technique) infamously told an aide to start a rumor about one of his opponents that he committed bestiality. The aide aghast says “But he doesn’t do that.” LBJ responded that that was precisely the point, it didn’t matter. I mean he couldn’t disprove that was into goats right?
In other words, if, like Obama, you have to come out and defend your patriotism–flag pin or no, referencing how much you love America because of it making your life possible, telling us about how grandfather who fought in Patton’s Army, saying that you grant to your opponent his patriotism and a grown up would return the favor–then you are already losing that battle.
Except McCain isn’t the grown up here. That’s the point. Though not dignified he is not stupid either. McCain’s not going to give up his only chance of winning (i.e. “the kitchen sink”) just because Obama says he has to. Obama won’t get any help from the media–McCain is a war hero after all so he couldn’t possibly be involved in sleazy politics (as if there were any logical connection between those two facts).
So in learning the so-called Kerry lesson he is still falling into the same basic mistake–just the other side of the polarity. He has to defend himself by referencing the smears which only plays into the fears. Any pop-(piss poor) faux Freudian rationale can be cooked up to say that any defense is defensiveness and therefore hiding a deeper truth. This is precisely the point of Rove’s theory of attacking the opponent’s strength.
Now the fact is like it or not, the charge that a person isn’t American is going to be only that much more explosive when the guy in question is black. Intended or otherwise. Such a charge given the context is going to inevitably lead to the legitimate question of whether McCain was then saying blacks are not really Americans. Now the hyper-sensitivity around this legitimate core has ballooned to ludicrous extremes (see: skinny=racial code????).
Camp Obama I think in an attempt to try to get out of this bind that Democrats find themselves in with the playing field stacked against them tried (and here I think Loury has a point) played what I might call a defensive race card. Kinda smoke and mirrors move. Obama states that part of the narrative about his otherness that they will use against him (correct in that assessment) is “oh yeah and did I mention he’s black?”
The theory behind this I think was that they thought they could head off all otherness/he’s not American attacks by cloaking them in a blanket of possible racism. If that was their plan then I think it was not a particularly intelligent one. It played into the trap of reverse-racism laid by the Republicans. And obviously didn’t prevent attacks on Obama’s patriotism or his “real” American-ness. Or to be totally disrespected and emasculated by his opponent like Kerry and Dukakis before him.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it’s also fair to say the race thing would not have happened minus the Obama is not American right-wing meme. So it’s the use of a sorta underhanded defensive move to combat a completely underhanded offensive maneuver. That’s why right-wing critiques that liberals are always the ones getting away with calling conservatives racists when they are the real racists doesn’t hold a lotta water given their white PC blue collar romanticization/culture war-ism.
So what to do?
Chuck Schumer offered this advice:
“I would answer back hard. What do you mean he’s not one of us? It’s John McCain who wears $500 shoes, has six houses, and comes from one of the richest families in his state,” Schumer said. “It’s Barack Obama who climbed up the hard way, and that’s why he wants middle-class tax cuts and better schools for our kids.”
This is getting warmer but still misses the mark. The issue isn’t per se that McCain is uber-rich. And trying to make him un-American by being a rich guy is still to play the who’s American who’s not American game. The Democratic Party should stand for not playing that game (being a broader tent).
The issue is that his economic policies are only geared toward the uber-rich. Hitting McCain only this point feeds him a little bit of his own medicine on country first without having to explicitly say so (remember the rules: Obama cannot even appear to be attacking McCain in that manner).
If Obama (and Dems more generally) want to argue that America is about a certain set of ideals/practices then it follows that it is a certain set of actions that are outside of the mainstream, that are un-American. Not people. Not because of who they are, where they travel, who they hang with.
So if McCain can claim Obama is not American (because conservative patriotism is about how America is not simply ideals) and he can play cultural war with/on him, then Obama needs to dabble (though not full throated) with some good old fashioned class warfare. And the way to do this is of course is to say the other guy is doing it. [Again give them a taste of their own medicine].
Not Edwards style populism. And again not the rich as such (contra Schumer), but tax policies that continue to be written by rich people for rich people while the middle class suffers. Revive that McCain is selling voodoo economics. This way he still gets the Warren Buffett’s of the world to support him while still legitimately pushing for a tax increase on the rich. That McCain is running a plutocratic uber-rich style of class warfare that does not trickle down, exacerbates inequality, leaves the infrastructure debased, corrupts the government, continues deficit inflation, furthers the indebting of the US to foreign creditor nations, and de-greases (and scleroticizes) the highways towards prosperity particularly between classes.
The idea of an aristocracy–a split classes within their own orbits, unresponsive to and outside the bounds of a united America, this is un-American. He then paints McCain as a defender of essentially a robber-baron 19th century order (particularly with his new love feast with big oil) and Obama as reviving the tradition of early progressives. Which originally had both Republican and Democratic proponents–reinforcing his not red America, not blue America, but United States of America theme.
Now it might not matter. Obama might not need a unified attack on McCain of that magnitude. He might be able to win simply on an anti-Republican wave. But at the least he needs to get as clear in a domestic agenda–something more than vague transcending of partisanship–as he has with foreign policy. Weird for a Democrat as they usually suffer more on the latter and not the former. But having some kind of frame for McCain in this sense, puts Obama on the attack, McCain on the defense on territory where McCain is clearly weak and uninterested (whereas the American people are….very interested).
He doesn’t need to be more intense and enjoy attacking McCain. Or looking like he got his big ego bruised by having his patriotism questioned. He needs to get intense about the stark reality that the country can not afford more of this kind of rule. More war, more debt, more lack of concern for domestic policy. And to the degree there is any, it’s tired supply side ideology.
A country where opportunity exists for those who strive or South American-ization.