Monday, November 5, 2012

Scorched Earth Campaign

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson writes a fine essay in which he deftly adumbrates the campaign strategies of both candidates, a strategy that was predicted a year ago by Democrat pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen. Read Gerson's column and ask yourself which strategy, of the two, you'd prefer to have your president to have waged.

Here are his opening paragraphs:

In November 2011, former Democratic pollsters — and current gadflies — Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell made a much-discussed argument in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The miserable state of the economy, they claimed, restricted the options for President Obama’s reelection strategy. He could still win. “But the kind of campaign required for the president’s political survival,” they said, “would make it almost impossible for him to govern — not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term. Put simply, it seems that the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance.”

Schoen and Caddell added a bit of street theater to their political analysis: Obama should step aside to allow Hillary Clinton to run. The left heaped scorn. The argument was “bilge” and “fantasy.” Schoen and Caddell were “con artists” and “losers.”

Except that the 2012 presidential campaign has proceeded much as they predicted. Both parties’ campaigns have been largely conducted according to their theory.

The shape of the race was set in early summer. In April, May and June, job creation dipped well below 100,000 — some of the worst economic news since the worst days of the Great Recession. Public approval for Obama’s handling of the economy dropped. Political scientists often argue that public impressions about the state of the economy get locked in during the summer before a presidential election. In the doldrums of 2012, Americans determined they wanted economic change — though they were not yet convinced that Mitt Romney could deliver it.

The Obama campaign fully internalized this political reality. It could not talk of “morning in America” during a continuing economic twilight. In a remarkable New York magazine article by John Heilemann this May, senior Obama aides frankly described the task ahead — delegitimizing Romney. He would be attacked as a vulture capitalist, a cultural revanchist, a social Darwinist. “For anyone still starry-eyed about Obama,” said Heilemann, “the months ahead will provide a bracing revelation about what he truly is: not a savior, not a saint, not a man above the fray, but a brass-knuckled, pipe-hitting, red-in-tooth-and-claw brawler.”

“Bracing” does not fully capture it. Throughout the summer, the Obama campaign and its allies accused Romney of not paying taxes, of possibly committing a felony, of personally outsourcing jobs to China and India, of stashing money in the Cayman Islands, of bearing responsibility for a woman’s death from cancer. The attempt to discredit Romney had an added political benefit. A presidential campaign consumed by the jabs and parries of the 24-hour news cycle was less focused on larger matters such as the economy.
The Obama folks, with the president's obvious approval, have waged the most negative campaign in modern history. I believe Caddell and Schoen are correct. If Mr. Obama wins it'll be a Pyrrhic victory. He won't be able to govern except by extra-constitutional executive fiat. The campaign has been poisoned by the politics of personal destruction that resulted from the Democrats' decision to not even try to defend their record but rather to attack Romney in any way they thought would gain them purchase with the electorate.

Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reinforces the Schoen/Caddell thesis by threatening to block Romney, should he win on Tuesday, from doing whatever he tries to do to rescue the nation from the disastrous economic trajectory Reid's party has put us on.

It's sad, but we have become so ideologically polarized in this country that it seems the only way to get anything done in Washington, whether it be good or bad, is for one party to control both the executive and both houses of the legislative branch of government. There's so much ill-will between Republicans and Democrats, such a vast philosophical divide on how best to solve the country's problems, or even on what the problems are, that I sometimes think there may be a greater likelihood that the Israelis and the Palestinians will reconcile than that the Republicans and Democrats will be able to work together for the common good.