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Which Road Will the Democrats Now Take?

September 4, 2012

Thank goodness this election is almost over.  The toxicity of the campaign has turned off voters and undermined our future in ways that could be profound and possibly permanent. Let’s hope that the Democrats do not follow suit at their convention and use the same tactics employed by the GOP in Tampa.

Paul Ryan, the Vice Presidential nominee, introduced himself to the electorate last week with a fiery speech. Afterwards editorial pages, columnists, fact checkers, and even Fox News, accused him of distorting Obama’s record by taking “liberties” with the facts and in some cases advancing “down right lies.”

Individual testimonials to Romney’s character and a memorable film on the candidate’s life gave us a brief glimpse of a kinder and gentler ticket. Then without warning, cold water landed on the heads of the very people the campaign wanted to woo. The Republican effort to recalibrate their appeal to women and minorities—and introduce candidate Romney in a sympathetic light—was torpedoed on hello when Clint Eastwood strode out to the lectern to conduct an imaginary “interview “ with President Barack Obama.  By evening’s end, the response to Eastwood’s presentation was so bad that spokespeople for the GOP said that Eastwood had ad-libbed.

Don’t believe it.  The convention was tightly scripted, and people in decision-making positions had a pretty good idea of what they were going to get from the iconic actor.  Even if occasionally freelancing, Eastwood’s performance was crude, distasteful and in many ways reprehensible. No one, for instance, has ever suggested, until Eastwood, that the President is profane. Despite this, the audience loved it– just as the RNC organizers knew they would. It turned the Tampa convention into a political coliseum. The cat calls, the wolf whistles, the laughter were like those of satiated spectators after a three-day diet of “red meat.”

It was not just Eastwood’s performance, but his very selection that proved to be a strategic disaster. His appearance worked at cross-purposes with the GOP’s aim.  A man’s man, Eastwood is famous for his roles as a mucho macho guy with little sensitivity or emotional connection to women.  In a stroke, the efforts of Ann Romney, and others, to soften the face of the party vanished in a puff of (gun) smoke.

The GOP convention principals—including the candidates—cannot distance themselves from Eastwood’s performance. They selected him, he delivered. Now responsibility for it must be acknowledged where it lies.

From a post-election perspective, let’s hope the campaign strategists of both parties have learned something from the affair. Nothing but short-term edge can be gained by misleading assertions and personal attacks. They undermine the most important tools our political leaders need for governing the country.

On March 9, 1954, in the midst of his first term as president, Dwight Eisenhower wrote businessman Paul Helms with his philosophy on the importance of avoiding personal attacks in the public arena.

“This is not namby-pamby,” Ike wrote. “It is certainly not Pollyannish-ish. It is just sheer common sense. A leader’s job is to get others to go along with him in the promotion of something. To do this he needs their goodwill. To destroy goodwill, it is only necessary to criticize publically. This creates in the criticized one a subconscious desire to ‘get even.’ Such effects can last a very long period.”

All candidates for presidential office know what they’re in for.  But when standard bearers are gratuitously and viciously attacked it is often felt most strongly by their supporters. (And, many “undecideds” rightly feel disgusted and manipulated.) This poses a serious risk of broadening the impact of any negative and potentially enduring cycle.

This country can ill afford another near-catastrophe like that of the 2011 debt crisis, when our economy teetered on the abyss– thanks to partisan intransigence. Again, we are nearing another “budget cliff,” just after the presidential election. To avert another recession will require goodwill and cooperation from both sides of the aisle.  It is time that the candidates put aside their cynical refusal to educate the public. In this precarious economic and security environment the near-term future of our country could well depend on our capacity to elevate our debate.

The sarcasm, the distortion of facts and the cynical personal attacks may well be among the things we remember about the Tampa gathering. Until now, the Democrats have also been far from blameless. That’s why Independents like me will be watching the Charlotte convention to see which road the Democrats’ decide to take—the high one or the low one. And they, too, will tell us who they are by the choices they make.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter permalink
    September 4, 2012 11:23 am

    This is a very insightful and aspiring article. Sadly I see a greater proportion of this election guided not by reason or the common good for this country but rather by dark passions fed by contaminated information. I believe when we say “God Bless America” we should add “with Wisdom” . Thank you for this blog.

  2. PAUL J. HANSEN permalink
    September 4, 2012 11:27 am

    Well said Susan!!!!!!!!!!! Amazingly the very women and independents the republicans need to win this election are the ones who will be most alienated by these choices and actions. Perhaps charlotte will show a different style, and certainly, whatever the outcome of the election partisan stonewalling that has continued to damage this great country and it’s people must not continue.
    Paul J. Hansen
    Park Ridge, Illinois

  3. c clarkson permalink
    September 4, 2012 12:20 pm

    Thank you very much for this excellent essay. “Hit the nail on the head”!

  4. Tony DuPuis permalink
    September 4, 2012 12:22 pm

    Truth well spoken!!!
    Thanks again Susan for being who YOU ARE !!!🙂

  5. Ann Turpin permalink
    September 4, 2012 12:45 pm

    Excellent. I hope you’ll do a post convention essay, as well.

  6. Alexandrine permalink
    September 4, 2012 1:06 pm

    It is difficult to listen to this childish name calling that is passing for wooing the voters. I miss wisdom, compassion and the understanding of what Americans really want from their leaders. Thank you for your observations.

  7. Laura Nass Rosen permalink
    September 4, 2012 1:44 pm

    Bravo! I’ve worked long and hard for the last 45 years to protect a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. The Republicans spoke to us in supercilious tones and Mr. Romney sounded war mongering threats. Where is the progressive Republicanism of DDE?

  8. Susanne E. Vandenbosch permalink
    September 4, 2012 1:46 pm

    When I taught American Government I would urge my students to watch the party conventions as I felt they had some educational value. I would no longer even consider doing that.

  9. Todd Blakesley permalink
    September 4, 2012 1:57 pm

    Thank you for your stunningly accurate, yet sad review of last week’s convention. What first excited me about the convention process was in 1964, watching party factions battle over issues of substance. Over the years that dynamic devolved into a coronation as the primary process sucked out dissent from the party’s annual gathering. Now, as last week’s convention clearly showed, the process has further devolved into a marketing laboratory testing hyperbolic sound bites as if they were issues. As a member of America’s largest voting block, the non-party aligned independent voter, I look for clear, specific plans for solving problems… not to fulfill some ideological fantasy. (Let’s recall, once again, George Washington’s farewell address admonishing the potential stranglehold of political parties.)

  10. Marilyn Glosserman permalink
    September 4, 2012 2:25 pm

    Excellent piece, Susan! I totally agree with you. Best wishes, MG

  11. Ken Mott permalink
    September 4, 2012 4:27 pm

    Nicely done, Susan. Your grandfather’s observation that in politics, to get things done, good will must be nurtured, seems so elementary and so profound. Nevertheless, almost no one embraces it today. Well, perhaps we can all hold hands when we go over the cliff at the end of the year. All best, Ken

  12. Jean McMahon permalink
    September 4, 2012 4:31 pm

    Brilliant! Thank you. As mentioned by Ann Turpin above, I, too, hope you will write a post-convention essay.

  13. Karen Kellogg Fain permalink
    September 4, 2012 5:18 pm

    So well said. I was horrified for all the children in the audience, the really religious Evangelicals and Mormons, whom I am sure really had no idea what Eastwood was referring to, but had a sense that it wasn’t “Kosher”. Your grandfather was the first President I was aware of as I was born in 1940. He was our ideal and my parents were devoted Eisenhower Repbulicans. Mr. Nixon began my change in political identity and I feel it has been downhill for the Republicans ever since. My parents would be so sad and confused to see what has become of their political party. Ann Romney’s comment this week that it is time her husband is elected so the grownups can take over, certainly sounds like a “get rid of the “Boy” in the Oval Office. She should stay out of the political fray.

  14. Linda Parry permalink
    September 4, 2012 9:46 pm

    Thank you for your on-target essay, Susan. We will never forget that Dwight Eisenhower was a man of honor and integrity. I worry that no one remembers what honor and integrity mean these days. I also think it’s time to abandon the conventions – they have become the theatre of the absurd and are an obscene waste of money that could be used for better purpose. They are archaic and redundant in this day and age.

  15. Dave Turson permalink
    October 22, 2012 8:48 am

    “Even if occasionally freelancing, Eastwood’s performance was crude, distasteful and in many ways reprehensible. No one, for instance, has ever suggested, until Eastwood, that the President is profane. Despite this, the audience loved it– just as the RNC organizers knew they would.”

    There are many things to take Romney to task for — but allowing Clint Eastwood to point out Obama’s enjoyment of the profane should not be one of them. Advocating for gay marriage as a civil right (thereby trying to force it on an unwilling society) naturally makes Obama profane. Also, in my book, by showing a love for the use of profanities Obama is made profane. How could Obama not be enjoying the use of profanities/swearwords behind the scenes when he selects Rahm Emmanuel as his chief of staff? Obama even tells jokes “publicly” about Rahm’s masterful use of profanities, and in so doing he reveals that he accepts this activity with gleeful rancor:
    http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2011/03/rahm_emanuel_ribbed_by_obama_s.html
    http://fatbillandme.blogspot.com/2009/01/rahm-emanuels-middle-finger-i.html

    And how about “big f-ing deal” Biden? Biden also has a major swearword problem behind the scenes. Have you seen the campaign’s BFD t-shirts created in honor of Biden’s foul mouth? :
    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/29/gop-no-lol-over-ofas-bfd-t-shirt/

    I first read about Obama’s foul mouth in a 2007 news account about the speech he gave at the 2004 DNC. He cursed out John Kerry when accusing him of stealing a line from his speech, saying, “That f-er is trying to steal a line from my speech.” This is not the act of a humble man who is grateful for the chance to work at building the party’s agenda :
    http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/June-2007/The-Speech/index.php?cp=3&si=2&cparticle=3&siarticle=2#artanc

    Obama has admitted in 2007 that he enjoys using “juicy swearwords”:
    http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/30/obama-on-language/#more-3552

    Obama’s demeanor when interacting with his opponents in the past four years has often revealed that he is not interested in searching for the middle ground. Eastwood has had a lifetime of dealings with various types of men, as have I, and some men, when out of the presence of women, let the swearwords fly — Eastwood knows exactly the type of man Obama is behind the scenes – which is why many men (and some women) approved of his RNC banter.

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