Somehow, the deep stupidity of our political discourse actually manages to escalate during presidential campaigns, becoming even more vapid and idiotic than normal. But, as I argued continuously when I did my book tour in April and May for Great American Hypocrites, this is the kind of campaign the GOP runs every election and in which they specialize, and there are only two options for Democrats in response: (1) purport to "rise above it" and thus ensure that they get slaughtered in a one-sided, one-way War of Personality Demonization which renders issues irrelevant (hence: the all-American Everyman War Hero versus the rich, out-of-touch, effete elitist), or (2) attack the GOP candidate using the same lowly character themes in order to neutralize the attacks and prevent the election from being decided on these grounds. It's good to see the Obama campaign, finally, engaging these issues aggressively.I know. We're all dogfucking sick of the character assassinations, ridiculous shit like beverage preferences and fucking flag pins being treated as matters of Utmost Vital Importance, and the tantrums. I know we'd like it if our candidates could actually win by being decent, upstanding, grown-ups who obsess over the important issues rather than the number of houses their opponent owns. We'd like to forcibly remove braindead media gasbags from studios and replace them with people who will actually report actual news. We'd like the American electorate to discover what enlightened self interest is all about and decide the election based on what's best for the country and for them rather than the beer-buddy qualities of the man they're pulling the lever for.
You know what, I'd like all of those things. Fuck, I'd love all of those things. I'd also like a ranch with horsies, and a little house on the Mediterranean.
The sad fact is, I'm much more likely to end up with the latter than the former. I'm probably more likely to end up winning a trillion dollar jackpot than living to see the day when our national discourse rises above playground popularity contests. Maybe Efrique could work out the statistical probabilities for us. The graph is sure to be sob-inducing.
Obama's going to have to attack, and attack hard, to win. He's going to have to get vicious. He can't give any quarter. We know what the GOP's like - give them a micrometer, they'll take a megaparsec, and still complain they're the persecuted victims.
He promised to run a different kind of campaign. And you know what? He is. I've never gotten this sense of amusement from a candidate before. Most Dems under fire by the right wing noise machine seem either angry, desperate, or just as muddy as their opposition. Obama just seems entertained. I keep feeling his elbow in my ribs: "Get a load of them. Aren't they precious?" And that's a difference, too - I can feel him. When he talks about Republicon antics, he's subtly putting himself beside us. We're all feeling the same bemusement, watching the Republicons manufacture their little controversies with the same horrified fascination.
That could be a major reason why he chose Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden is a past master at the cutting remark, and he's sure as shit not afraid to say what's on his mind. He balances Obama quite well. Obama's masterful at the razor-sharp little cuts that lop off an arm before the opponent realizes he's been hit. Biden's brilliant at the bludgeon. It's a combo that's guaranteed to blitz opponents on all fronts - if they're not afraid to use it.
At this point, I think it's safe for them to go on the counterattack. Not only safe, but essential. They can hold the high ground while turning their opponents' own attacks against them. Sometimes, the most effective weapons are the ones you take from your attacker.
Obama and Biden won't have to put all that much effort into it. The Republicons are past masters at making themselves look ridiculous. Where the Democrats have failed is exploiting the idiocy. They don't need to take a page out of the Republicon play book - there are older, better traditions to draw from. Such as the Irish bards, who could take down a king with a well-placed bit of satire.
Republicons sneer, but that's for immature little bullies. Let us try disdain.
Republicons like to sissify their opponents. While it might be emotionally satisfying to do the same, I think Obama has an excellent chance of going one better and infantalizing them. Do you think the American electorate really wants a bunch of babies at the helm? It could seem that way sometimes, but I think after nearly a decade of Bush's playground politics, people are ready for grownups. They just need to be shown who the real grownups are.
Republicons like to make shit up and repeat until people are confused into believing it's true. I think Obama needs to be just as relentless with the truth. Big truths, yes, but mostly small, simple truths: McCain is such a hothead even his colleagues and fellow POWs think he'd be a disasterous president. McCain doesn't know his geography. McCain thinks rich people are poor. McCain needs a motorcade to go get a mocha. McCain can't tell the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'a. McCain likes to tell lies. McCain takes credit for things he didn't do. McCain thinks that the answer to every problem is to a) drill or b) bomb. And, yes, McCain is so rich he doesn't even know how many houses he owns.
Simple points, simply told. And they can be told from the side of the people. Obama's been doing something that I think is brilliant: he hasn't been talking down. He's been treating ordinary folks as if they're smart enough to understand. They're smart enough to agree with him. They're fucking well smart enough to see through the Republicon charade and realize Emperor St. John, he is nekkid.
If Obama goes on treating the American people as intelligent, sentient beings who can understand that four more years of Republicon rule are not in their self interest, they may defy all expectation and prove him right. They'll want to live up to that image of themselves. It's what the Republicons have been manipulating all along: the need to be liked, listened to, part of the "in" crowd.
We can reach all of those needs while fulfilling another: people like to feel admired. They like to feel smart. I don't think most Americans are stupid so much as they've had such low expectations to live up to for so long. And a lot of them are starting to realize they've been played for fools.
I don't think they like it much. Not judging from the people I've talked to who were too smart to appreciate being treated as dumbshits by the Republicons for so long, and have now become left-leaning Independents, if not outright Democrats.
There are a lot more we can reach. Unfortunately, they get their news from the teevee. So we're going to have to play the media game. Our MSM isn't interested in substantive policy differences right now: they're interested in shiny things. Fine. Give them shiny. Give them silly shite like, "McCain can't remember how many houses he's got." That's shiny enough to get their attention without allowing them to realize there's a substantive policy issue in there.
Hit back with those silly talking points that conceal a lead pipe of policy often enough, and it's just possible that by the end of this cycle, it'll be the Dems who are considered the party of tough, rugged leaders while the Republicons are the babies crying in the corner.
And once we're done turning the tables with talking points, we can see about kicking the magpies out of the media and replacing them with eagles.
(Written before the Sarah Palin train wreck struck, in case you're wondering why I didn't bring her up.)