osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Who should really withdraw . . . .

Although Clinton is almost certainly past the point where she can hope to win, there is very little cost in staying in at this point. We only have a week and a half to go, for goodness sake. Stay in and get what you can at the convention is good politics and makes sense. Heck, played right, it can transform the convention from a divisive event or (worse in politics but better for political theater) a genuinely unscripted event into an event that helps solidify the Democrats and leaves the Democratic rank and file with positive associations for Clinton as a woman who ran an uncompromising campaign on her own terms, refused to bow to political pressure, but yielded ultimately for the good of the party. Etc.

No, the ones who need to bow out -- and make the transformation from active politicos to elder statesman who can no longer do any harm -- are Terry McCauliff and the rest of the senior campaign advisers who have not recognized for 8 years their day is over.

McCauliff, Carville and the rest of the team around Clinton should be recognized for what they did. They reinvented the Democratic party and how it campaigned in the early 1990s. But they proved unable to adapt. It was McCauliff and crew, after all, who identified the "Soccer Moms" of the early 1990s and focused the Democrats on merely maintaining their traditional allegiances with organized labor and African Americans (whom, they perceived, had nowhere else to go) and pushed for issues relevant to the tail-end of the baby boomers who were seen as an engable demographic that -- on income alone -- could swing either D or R. So while on economic issues, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) worked to close the gap with Republicans and adopt more corporate friendly policies, the issues they emphasized were those designed to win the support of harried middle class and upper middle class professionals seen as the target demographic. These included gun control (especially in school zones), education (but not vouchers -- which were heavily opposed by the unions representing K-12 teachers), the environment, and perhaps a handful of other early "wedge issues" designed to keep a demographic whose economic interests lay with ether party firmly democratic.

But McCauliff and others repeated failed to adjust. First, they failed to adjust to KArl Rove and the new Republicans, who proved to be geniuses at mobilizing their own base and neutralizing or even capturing the Democratic base and swing voters. With little difference on economic policies, the Rs could focus even more heavily on wedge issues. Where McCauliff and the DLC focused on creating positive feelings over key issues to motivate their base (propserity flavored with prtecting the future), Rove harnessed the growing anger of the economically dislocated and the anxieties of the middle class in the early part of the decade -- all without focusing on critical economic issues except in the most general way as an emphasis on "free market" Regan-esque policies and an anti-tax platform. But with a few notable exceptions, Republicans were generally even less anxious to focus on economic issues than Democratic candidates.

Neither side, of course, particularly cared that the actual registered base of either party was rapidly declining, as long as the right people turned out to vote on election day. The genius of the Rovian strategy was in its emphasis on election turn out secured by a combination of a dedicated base and a persuading enough of everyone else on election day with a critical attack and build up in the days leading to election day. The assumption was (and it held for about 6-12 years depending on how one measures) that whatever happened in between didn't matter because most people (a) did not have the capacity to follow what happened in between, since major news outlets did not provide significant coverage and most people are too busy with their lives to focus on politics; and, (b) there was relatively little difference on core programs between the two parties.

To underscore this last point, in 2004 Kucinich, Edwards and Dean ran as outsider candidates on platforms of economic change. Kucinich was marginalized from the beginning. Dean faced unremitting hostility from the party leadership once his campaign began to show real momentum.
The more photogenic and politically savvy Edwards was able to force himself onto the VP slot where his issues were marginalized. But no one in the Democratic leadership particularly wanted a campaign organized around the "two Americas" theme because it would have required substantive economic policy changes. As a consequence, 2004 marked the high point for the success of the Rovian agenda -- yet in the key "battleground" states this success was rooted in the ability to mobilize a razor thin margin at the right time.

What has emerged since then is a fundamental change in the way in which politics is conducted. It derives from many factors: the changing demographic situation, the use of the internet to circumvent critical gatekeeper functions and organizational difficulties that previously gave party elites such control, the deterioration of the economic situation to a point where it cannot be ignored, and the collapse of the GOP governing coalition from a combination of scandal, failure to deliver, and loses that demonstrate that the party unity is now a lodestone rather than a life-preserver.

But McCauliff and Co have till not adapted. The campaign they ran until Super Tuesday was similar in all dimensions to the campaigns they have run since 1992-- with its emphasis on party faithful, focus on swing demographics, and avoidance of substantive issues. Only after it became clear that Obama's new campaign initiative (modeled heavily on Dean's successful 2006 campaign as chair of the Democratic Party) was altering the fundamental structure of the electorate did the campaign attempt to shift gears. But even now, the shift has essentially been a retrenchment. The Clinton campaign by and large targets those whom it has targeted in the past, but with a new found inclusion of working class Democrats disillusioned with Republicans and unwilling to support Obama.

And, as usual, they will end up losing by a hair. They will do just well enough to convince themselves that they should have one if [fill in favorite excuse here].

For better or worse, the gap between where McCauliff and Co are and where the U.S. electorate is going will only increase over time. The universe has changed enormously since "triangulation" was first introduced as an effective strategy, and where the information reaching a distracted and largely indifferent public could be closely controlled and spun to suit the needs of the moment without worrying about tomorrows contradictions. Hopefully, these guys will have the wisdom to see it and will make this their last hurrah before going off where elder party leaders go.

But I doubt it.

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded