Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Selling the President

More from Nathan Newman (I've haven't been reading his stuff lately for which I am sorry):

As I've said, I believe in organization, and many progressives are operating on the basis of the past when there was no serious organization out in the grassroots to defend their candidate from the Mighty Wurlitzer of rightwing propaganda. Not that the Bush attacks won't be real and sustained, but give me a fanatic organization going door-to-door and community-group-to-community-group to respond over a pleasant personality any day.

Clinton needed triangulation because he was playing to the media. With organization, you actually can make the nuanced arguments to appeal to the "unaffiliated" (Karl Rove's term by the way) who are not in the middle, but just conflicted by mixed political commitments.

Who knows if Dean as a personality is "electable"? We'll never know, since we have Dean, the Campaign Organization, which is a far different beast than Democrats are used to dealing with.

But I will take Dean the Campaign over any Candidate, however pleasant or media focus-grouped their positions.

Nathan hits on something important here that few have noted: the Democrats for several years now have not had a "safety-net" to fall back on when it comes to dealing with the inevitable attacks from their political opponents. He is right that Clinton had to rely on a triangulation strategy because he really couldn't hope for sufficient support from the party and its base in order to overcome the Republican organization. It wasn't until the impeachment that we began to see the needed organizational structures form and then they were self-organizing structures (MoveOn, etc.) that were forced to do it themselves because people were simply tired of waiting for someone to do it for them.

The genius of the Dean campaign is that it figured this out and has taken advantage of it. What the Democrats have been missing for a long time is a strong organization and Dean has that organization in spades. It pisses me off to no end to hear otherwise astute political observers dismiss the importance of this organization. Some of them actually seem to sneer at the idea that it could make any difference. Perhaps it's because they haven't seen one in such a long time that they don't know how to react to it nor do they appreciate its significance.

Nathan is also correct in pointing out that the swing voters are not "moderate" so much as they are "unaffiliated" (I'll give props to Karl Rove if that really is his coinage). I have argued for some time that the "undecided" voters, the ones who swing the election in the final days, are not "undecided" because the candidate hasn't yet found the right message to appeal to what those voters want. They are "undecided" because they don't know what they want!

Politicians win over the undecided voters not by appealing to their interests but by convincing them that the interests of the politician are their interests. The Republicans have gotten very good at this selling process their pre-formulated issues while the Democrats continue to hunt around for just the right combination of issues to win them over. The Democrats sneer at gimmicks like "The Contract With America". But those gimmicks work!

This is why I have always been skeptical of the Clark formulation: get a candidate with a nice shiny resume and that will win over the undecideds. Sorry. No amount of nice words on paper will win these people over without a candidate who can convince them that voting for that candidate is in their best interest. NONE of the other candidates have even come close to making this case.

Dean still may not be able to close the deal. But he is the only one who has a foot in the door.


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