Democrats cannot afford to be complacent about Sarah Palin, nor can they afford to be shrill. I mentioned on Twitter over the weekend that I thought it was a horrible idea to even repeat the rumors that were flying around in high number and force. Nor could they be judgmental about her parenting skills, her daughter’s pregnancy, or any other personal issues that might arise.
This, despite the fact that Republicans have traditionally used those issues to undermine Democrats’ candidacies, and especially Barack Obama’s.
Here’s why. Framing this election one around personalities and personal attacks will benefit the Republicans. They know this. From Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager:
“This election is not about issues,” said Davis. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”
Davis added that issues will no doubt play a major role in the decisions undecided voters will make but that they won’t ultimately be conclusive. He added that the campaign has “ultimate faith” in the idea that the more voters get to know McCain and Barack Obama, the better the Republican nominee will do.
Davis understands that if Democrats make this a contest of personalities, they’ll lose. Barack Obama gets that, too, which is why he so masterfully shouted out yesterday for the press and his supporters to step back from attacks on Palin and her children, while tying it all into his own past as the child of a single parent who got pregnant at age 18.
George Lakoff understands this, too:
But the Palin nomination changes the game. The initial response has been to try to keep the focus on external realities, the “issues,” and differences on the issues. But the Palin nomination is not basically about external realities and what Democrats call “issues,” but about the symbolic mechanisms of the political mind — the worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. The Republicans can’t win on realities. Her job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse.
If bloggers and twitterers and the media focus on the personal side of Palin, they miss the larger picture, and in so doing, allow the McCain campaign to frame the election in terms of personality — in the ‘gut factor’. The gut factor involves all of those things which the right trumpets as “their” issues: family values (with a twist of authoritarian bent but still, family values).
What Palin represents is the symbol of the Republican base: solid, conservative, religious, towing the line for those “traditional family values”. Even her daughter’s pregnancy will be viewed in that light, make no mistake about it.
So we have a choice. We can speak to the family values that we hold dear or allow them to be hijacked in a petty debate that misses the larger picture in favor of nonsensical pissing matches over whether Palin should have stayed at home, whether she should have kept better track of her daughter, whether she parented right. Those are non-issues. NONE of us ‘parent right’. Or correctly. We all just do our best in the circumstances we have.
What Palin does is validate McCain’s rapid turn to the base. No longer the darling of independents, he has taken one large step to the right and turned in that direction as he moves ahead. But without Palin, who is standing there already, that turn doesn’t have much credibility. WITH her, it’s a much more powerful case for McCain’s candidacy with the base.
Democrats didn’t stand much chance of winning that base anyway. But they do have the opportunity to frame the debate around what matters to independents and the majority of Democratic voters, and that frame has to be in the context of family and family values.
- It is a family value to want your loved ones to be healthy and have access to health care when they need it.
- It is a family value to aspire to home ownership and expect to be able to not only achieve that goal, but not lose it after the fact because of greedy mortgage companies.
- It is a family value to want your children to be educated and have access to higher education.
- It is a family value to have the opportunity to work at a decent job with a decent wage.
- It is a family value to enable parents to adequately care for their children in situations where both parents must work, and for laws to protect working women and give them equal pay for equal work.
- It is a family value to expect your country to send our sons and daughters into wars worth fighting, wars over principle or security, rather than wars for oil and greed.
- It is a family value to expect our returning soldiers to be cared for and given respect not only in tribute, but in investment in their futures and their health
These are all planks on the Democrats’ platform. If we want Palin to be neutralized and for Obama to win the election, the dialogue should be all about family values, but family values as seen through the eyes of real people suffering all around this country as the result of the last 8 years of failed “family value” policies.
With that in mind, I would challenge you to go to the Momocrats’ site and read their post series entitled “Palin in Comparison“, where they look at what she represents to the Republican base and then answer with the Democrats’ position on those same issues. Then talk to family, friends. Remind them that the Republicans have had eight years to demonstrate even a small regard for the family, but have only shown an amazing tendency toward greed, avarice, and the destruction of just about every value we hold dear in this country.
The election is certainly not about personality. It is about values. It is about who voters feel will stand up for them as we face some of the hardest issues we’ve had as a nation, while cleaning up the Constitutional and economic mess left behind by the Bush Administration. When it’s seen through that frame, it’s no longer McCain’s election to win.
In a nutshell, it is all about the fierce urgency of NOW.
This was the topic of our discussion today on NewsGang Live. I recommend downloading today’s episode. Well worth the listen.