The San Francisco Chronicle's Don Asmussen gives us a great take on the Republicans' "culture war" today:
The idea is to gather cultural, racial, nativist prejudices together as much as possible and lump them all into one big bundle of fear.
But the Democrats make a mistake in trying to "move to the right" to pander to the market niche of voters to whom such pitches have particular appeal. Whether it's Clinton borrowing a culture-war twist over Obama's "elitism" or Obama lecturing other Democrats on how they need to be more attentive to "people of faith". (Emphasizing that religion thing really hasn't worked out well for Obama so far, and the "elitist" pitch didn't save Clinton on Tuesday.)
Paul Krugman wrote in No SurrenderNew York Times 11/05/04, just after John Kerry's 2004 Presidential defeat:
This election did not prove the Republicans unbeatable. Mr. Bush did not win in a landslide. Without the fading but still potent aura of 9/11, when the nation was ready to rally around any leader, he wouldn't have won at all. And future events will almost surely offer opportunities for a Democratic comeback.
And he cautioned the Democrats about getting goofy over the "culture war" issues:
One faction of the party is already calling for the Democrats to blur the differences between themselves and the Republicans. Or at least that's what I think Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council means when he says, "We've got to close the cultural gap." But that's a losing proposition.
Yes, Democrats need to make it clear that they support personal virtue, that they value fidelity, responsibility, honesty and faith. This shouldn't be a hard case to make: Democrats are as likely as Republicans to be faithful spouses and good parents, and Republicans are as likely as Democrats to be adulterers, gamblers or drug abusers. Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country; blue states, on average, have lower rates of out-of-wedlock births than red states.
But Democrats are not going to get the support of people whose votes are motivated, above all, by their opposition to abortion and gay rights (and, in the background, opposition to minority rights). All they will do if they try to cater to intolerance is alienate their own base. (my emphasis)
Where the "culture war" issues are most damaging among swing voters who could be persuaded to vote Democratic is that the media and the Republicans can use those issues to keep up a constant drumbeat of attacks on the "character" of the Democratic candidate. The Swift Boat Liars for Bush in 2004 probably didn't convince many voters that Kerry faked the events that got him a Purple Heart or that Kerry was a collaborator with North Vietnam or whatever. But the Swift Boat Liars' attacks did help the Establishment press and the Republicans create the notion that there was something "not quite right" about Kerry, that he was a liar, a flip-flopper, maybe not totally patriotic, a dissembler.
How the "Democrat Party" looks to the "culture warriors" (and to people who have pickled their brains with OxyContin)
The Dems have to make a real distinction between the two issues. Pandering to "culture war" voters is foolish and counterproductive. But they have to counterattack hard against "culture war" attacks on their candidates that give the media a hook to wring their hands endlessly about the deeply troubling "character" of the Democratic candidates, especially at the top of the ticket.
David Brooks, who has mastered the art of saying the smarmiest things in a tone of voice suggesting that what he's saying is so obvious you might as well go to sleep rather than think anything else, is hard at it with Obama. In his Newshour appearance on 05/02/08 (Shields, Brooks Debate New Polls, Rev. Wright and Gas Tax), Brooks said in refernce to the latest brouhaha over Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright:
He's been hurt. And this is the first time we've really seen some movement in a week.
And what strikes me about this is he was with hurt the second time the Wright story came about because of Wright's appearances in the National Press Club and elsewhere. He was not hurt the first time.
When all the Wright videos appeared on YouTube, there was no evidence that Obama was hurt by that alliance then. So why was he hurt now and not then?
And I think it's because the underlying structure of the Obama support is a little weaker, that he seems a little - he lost in Pennsylvania, he's really not explained how he's going to change Washington. And so the underlying momentum isn't there.
Now that Vile Hillary is almost out, the Big Pundits who had praised Obama for weeks and months are suddenly becoming quite disturbed about what they are learning about him, you see. Observing Big Pundit protocol, Brooks in that section just quoted didn't bother to mention that the Establishment media's superficial and sensationalized coverage of the Jeremiah Wright issue may have had anything to do with the phenomenon he puzzles about there.
But check out how Brooks "praises" Obama later:
This is stuff Reverend Wright's been saying for 20 years. I mean, the stuff he said was not new. I mean, I presume, when you go to a liberation theology church, you're going to get some liberation theology.
You're going to get what Wright offered, which is sort of an extreme version of separatism, whites and blacks clap differently to music, whites and blacks think differently, have different learning styles, a very separatist ideology.
And that was part of the church he went to. And that's part of the things we have to understand about Obama, that he sat in that church and he wasn't offended by all that.
Now, you take that as an element of Obama's character and the reasons he went to that church are something we can all speculate without really knowing.
But, nonetheless, if you look forward, and you look at Obama's whole character, who do you think is going to help reconcile the races more in this country than Barack Obama? Very few people.
So I think, as someone, you can say, "Obama went to this church." You wonder why he went to this church. What kind of statement was he making?
Nonetheless, if you take the totality of his life, this is a guy who's built it around reconciliation. ...
The crucial issue for whites and the crucial issue in the fall is not going to be about race. The crucial issue, is Obama clearly - is he a post-partisan figure? Is he something new? Or is he simply a traditional liberal of the sort we have known before who wouldn't be offended by some of the stuff he may have heard at that church?
Is he McGovern? Is he Dukakis? Is he someone who's not going to appeal to a broad sector of the electorate?
So it's not about race. It's not even about anti-Americanism or patriotism. It's about people trying to get a sense of who this guy is. Is he something new? Or is he a more conventional liberal?(my emphasis)
Got that? The problem from the view of David Brooks, who normally channels the official Republican position of the day pretty faithfully is this:
Conventional liberals promote extreme versions of racial separatism.
The flap over Obama and his very scary black pastor with his very scary racial separatism is not about race, oh no, not at all about race, no sir.
And a respectable Big Pundit wouldn't suggest that Obama was "anti-American" or "unpatriotic", certainly not! It's just what questions all this anti-Americanism and unpatriotic talk from his very scary black pastor raise about "Obama's whole character".
The Wright issue hurt Obama politically, even though the polls weren't showing any such obvious damage, nor did Clinton jump far ahead in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday. But Big Pundits get to just make it up as they go.
Obama went to the church where that very scary black preacher with his extreme racial separatism and he wasn't offended by any of that, just like "conventional liberals" wouldn't be offended by it.
What's very, very, very troubling is that Obama sat listening to that very, very, very scary black preacher with his very, very, very extreme racial ideology for 20 years. Twenty years hearing that very scary black preacher! But this is not about race, oh no, it's about Obama's "character" and how he needs to more adequately explain what it all means about his "character".
Of course, you say, Mark Shields as Brooks' liberal counterpart immediately took issue with the idiocy that "traditional liberals" support some version of "extreme" racial separatism and scolded Brooks for his transparently hypocritical promotion of Republican slogans and sleazy insinuations, right? Yes, I'm sure he did. But, unfortunately, the Internet links to that alternative universe where that occurred just don't seem to be working right now.
Where white racism can come into play most crucially here among swing voters is that suspicions or just lack of familiarity with African-Americans can make white voters more receptive to the notion that there's something scary and troubling about Obama's "character" as a result of his association with that scary black preacher.
Do the Democrats need to appeal directly to those good Christian white folks who are still convinced that at any moment the Black Panthers in leather jackets and long-haired hippies in John Lennon glasses are going to rise up, confiscate all the white people's houses, burn down their churches and force them to watch porno movies? Forget about it.
Do the Democrats need to fight back against sleaze-slinging attacks that provide a hook for endless attacks on the "character" of their Presidential candidate? You betcha.