Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The one thing driving Republicans crazy

You can kinda see it in the blogs, and on the FOX Not-News, and in the pro-Republican papers (the ones still alive that is). This desperation to attack President Obama for every little thing he does. This need by the Far Right Noise Machine to shred and humiliate a President (and political party) they despise to the nth degree.

And you can kinda see how crazy they're all getting when the polls and general public reaction to it all - even two months into Obama's first year in the White House - is a "We Hugz Barack!"

The polls keep showing Obama's approval above 60 percent, even as the economy remains mired and job losses keep increasing. Polls show that a majority of voters are willing to blame a lot of people - Corrupt CEOs, the Bushies, GOP Congress - for the major recession but not Obama. CNN just ran a video on how the public still loves Obama (even comparing him to another Teflon Prez, Reagan) even as the media and political elite with Washington DC continues to act hostile toward him. And while those inside that insular Beltway echo chamber are starting to wake up to the fact that the public aren't buying their anti-Barack angst, the GOP leadership is still convinced they've got a winning strategy of waging a war of personal attacks on a President who's about 50 points more popular than they are.

And why not? That platform - Making the Political Personal - worked before so many wonderful times. Especially on the last Democrat to hold the high office.

With the Clintons, the war of personal destruction - of slander and damaged reputations - could work. For all of Bill Clinton's political skill and savvy, he could never sell sincerity and was too slick even for his own good. Hillary was so clearly ambitious it rubbed people the wrong way. The Republicans could attack them, attack them personally, attack them mercilessly, and simply wait for the right time (Lewinsky) to try and topple them. The only thing that really saved Slick Willie's presidency was a majority of Americans could recognize a screwed-up partisan witch-hunt when they see one: for all the hype about the Clintons' criminal misdeeds the best the GOP could do was blowjobs? It also turned out to be something the Republican leadership could also get caught being hypocritical about: sexual misconduct by GOP leaders quickly popped up and caused a few of Clinton's harshest attackers out of office (Will Ferrell as almost-Speaker Livingston screaming "What the hell happened?" remains the satirical high point of those scandal-ridden days). Even years later, Republican hypocrisy related to that scandal keeps popping up.

And so with that campaign strategy, they kept working that policy of Personal Destruction. They criticized Gore for being stiff, boring, a fibber about "inventing the Internet", a half-crazed hypocrite about environmental issues. They went after Kerry (swift-boating was the term, yet another fancy synonym for mudslinging) for being a soft-on-war paper soldier who didn't deserve his Purple Hearts. Those times, it worked.

But nothing can work on Obama. Labeling him 'liberal' doesn't work as an insult in an era where 'conservative' is the new 4-letter word. Calling him 'Socialist' or even 'Communist' isn't going to work either, and I've got a separate blog thought coming up about that. Going after him for his tax-and-spend policies doesn't work when your own party can't provide any viable alternative (What part of Tax Cuts Don't Work are the Republicans ignoring?). I'm serious, the Republicans' budget proposal from last week was so weak - IT HAD NO NUMBERS outside of a blatant tax-cut-for-the-rich scheme! All it had were fancy flowchart circles promoting vague "underwear gnome" catchphrases - that even their far-right cheerleader blogs couldn't defend it. The GOP leadership's follow-up proposal - the aptly named "April Fools Budget", I swear doesn't the GOP P.R. guys read the calendar and plan for a better release date? - has more numbers but is more laughable. Sullivan, who's looking harder than I am, can't find anyone on the rightie blogs speaking up for it. Like I said earlier, the Republicans can't attack Obama on policy when their own party has trouble defining their own policy. In some respects, it's not that Obama is Teflon: it's that his attackers are toothless.

The problem for the Republican Party is that they've relied on the Politics of Personal Destruction for so long that they can't think of more pragmatic means of promoting policy and organizing followers around coherent theories. All it is for them is ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK, even with growing evidence that a majority of Americans (and a growing majority of their own own GOP base) has grown weary of that crap. It's getting to the point where the GOP leadership - Cantor, Limbaugh and Coulter and their noise-machine wannabes - are gonna confirm my Obama Shoelace Hypothesis: that at some point, the Republican Party and their media allies are gonna wage a full-scale propaganda war against the way Obama ties his shoelaces (even if Barack starts wearing loafers). And Obama's popularity will probably bounce up to 70 percent when they do.

ADDED: One other point to make about Obama's "Teflon" image. One reason why he compares a lot to Ronald Reagan's popularity is due in part to how Washington DC really is disconnected from the rest of the nation. The Beltway mentality truly is about 15-20 years behind the rest of America. The political party leaders are guys and gals who have been long-time incumbents in safe secure districts meaning the ideological beliefs they came into office (say, 1988) are the same ones they have now. The same thing goes for the media elites and political commentators who come into the spotlight at a particular ideological era: for example Ben Bradlee, powerful news editor for the Washington Post in the 60s through the 80s, came into the media upper echelon at the time a close personal friend (John Kennedy) was heading into the White House, and had a career throughout the post-FDR era where even Republicans accepted the New Deal (Hi, Ike!) in some way. For Rush Limbaugh, he came into talk radio at the height of the Reagan Era. Which is why for him every aspect of his worldview is based on that Era... even when it's been 20 years since then and everything else in America has changed.

The thing is, in the 1980s the Washington establishment - both political (and in both parties) and media - were still thinking in terms of FDR/JFK/LBJ where government was the solution and business needed oversight. Meanwhile, a majority of voters - even the now-legendary 'Reagan Democrats' - fell in love with Reagan's cheery pro-business anti-government platforms (even as Reagan turned out to be pragmatic enough to not fully embrace such platforms), because by then all voters could see were the negative consequences of calcified Keynesianism (stagflation, steady job loss, psychological ennui). Reagan caught a lot of flack by the Beltway types, but his popularity never waned (not until the Iran-Contra scandal, but even he bounced back from that).

And now here we are in the 2000s. The Washington establishment is now made up of players (both Republicans and Democrats) and talking head media darlings who came of age during Reagan and still think those heady days of tax-cut mass-deregulation could still sell well to voters. But voters - including enough so-called RINOs - are turned off by the end results of Randian laizze-faire (massive corruption and incompetence in both finance and federal gov't, massive job loss and failing wages). Obama is catching a lot of flack now by the Beltway types, but again don't be surprised that popularity won't wane (well, not until his own Iran-Contra scandal... so whatever happens, Barack, don't make any deals between Iran and Central America, GOT IT???).

And I mentioned before I have some additional thoughts on how the GOP and the Far Right media are trying to attack Obama's ideological core beliefs... but not as well as they hoped. That's for another time.

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