Monday, September 10, 2012

When the Bully Squeals

Has anyone else noticed a major reversal of roles in this year's Presidential campaign?

I mean, normally by this point, we'd have seen at least one prominent Democrat going on 'Meet the Press' (or equivalent program) to decry the Republican's unethical "dirty tricks", and their talking-head counterpart from across the aisle delivering a message of "hey, everybody does it, it's just part of campaigning, and if you can't take the heat stay out of the kitchen." It's been a ritual from 1980 ("welfare queens") to 1988 ("Willie Horton") to 2000 ("invented the Internet"...or, if you're paying attention as early as the primaries, "illegitimate black baby") to 2004 ("Swift Boat") to 2008 ("secret Muslim"). But this time, it's the Republicans who are shocked--shocked, I say!--that the other side isn't conducting themselves with proper decorum. They're upset that their candidate's finances, previous political decisions, and career are campaign issues, when everyone knows that the focus should be on the other guy. Unsurprisingly, that's not been much of a persuasive argument, but why is it happening?

I think that for one thing, this is the first time in a long while that the Republicans have put forward a really bad candidate. This isn't to say that they haven't put forward poor Presidents of the ugly things about democracy is that it takes different skillsets to run for office than to actually govern, and not everyone has both...but Reagan and the Bushes were savvy campaigners. They knew how to turn on the charisma in front of the cameras, they knew how to set and frame a narrative, and they knew how to deflect attention from their shortcomings. Romney...doesn't have that. His attempts to be charming come off as awkward and stilted, his efforts at framing a narrative (Obama's not the person to help America out of the hole created by the Mystery Person Between Clinton and Obama Who Was Probably A Democrat Or Something) sound like shrill appeals to racism and stupidity, and his response to questions like, "Why didn't you thank the troops at your convention?" was, "I wanted to talk about important things instead." This man is fundamentally inept at the basic business of getting into office.

And that's a real problem, because the other thing is that for all his "nice guy" image, Barack Obama is a very ruthless campaigner. He's excellent at framing a narrative (his treatment of McCain in 2008 is the kind of thing they should write textbooks about. Not only did his criticisms of McCain as "erratic" ring true, they also prevented McCain from making any kind of game-changing decision in the later stages of the campaign.) He's very personable. And yes, he's very good at getting the media trained on Romney's tax returns instead of the unemployment rate (assuming, of course, that you blame Obama for that and not the Mystery Person That Republicans Pretend Never Existed.)

And that, I think, is why you're seeing such howls of protest from the Republicans. Because after years of socking the other guy in the balls whenever the ref isn't looking, their candidate just walked into the ring and said, "By the way, I'd just like to announce that I'm not wearing a cup!" They're vulnerable and someone's actually taking advantage of it, and they're finding out pretty quick that they can dish it out, but they can't take it. And speaking as a lifelong's just part of campaigning, and if you can't take the heat stay out of the kitchen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If anything, you're being too charitable. Republicans have squealed like this throughout the century: Any criticism of Bush's conduct in running the Iraq War (or pretty much anything, really) was "treasonous."-Fraser