Wednesday, February 01, 2006

MyDD and Alito

Matt Stoller over at MyDD reveals how miserable a Democratic failure the Alito confirmation was, the basic contradiction between Americans' views on abortion and the views of the nominee, and the way it could have been done right.

At its core?

As soon as Bush nominated Alito, new ad hoc unbranded groups would have broadcast ads around the country with pictures of a coathanger hanging on a rusty nail, saying that Bush wants to make abortion illegal and take us back to the time when women died in back alleys and doctors were sent to jail for providing medical care. There would have been a media firestorm over liberal extremists, which would generate free media. The next ad would have been harder hitting, showing sleazy used car salesman offering abortion services. TV networks would have refused to run these ads, generating more free media. These groups would then leak direct mail pieces that are even harder hitting, with pictures of women barefoot and pregnant. The advertising would have included the recent mining accident, and blamed Bush for it. All of these tactics would have been used to generate a climate of fear around crossing the pro-choice movement. Protests, live-site events, and cultural products would be sold around this campaign.
There's lots more, particularly about how the Dems would use surrogates but keep their distance, and a very nice point that "with the political space thus created, Senators would be free to preen and lecture us about maintaining a civil bipartisan tone around not killing women in back alleys."

This is something the Republicans have always understood, and the Dems always shie away from: if you can't say something for fear of re-election, get somebody else to say it for you. This is the very reason Rush Limbaugh and the AEI "scholars" exist. They "speak it as they see it", take some heat, but change the bounds of the debate in the process.

Of course, Stoller does miss one thing: the Dems have to have the desire to do anything. As long as they're focused on the kind of transparent triangulation featuered in, say, Carville and Begala's book, it's not going to happen. Democrats react to polling numbers- Republicans know how to create them.

Edit: fixed some messed up brackets, and a clarification: Carville and Begala do believe that the Democrats need to demonstrate a spine, but miss the point that there is no way that they can win everybody over on every issue. They want Dems to take stands on poll-tested issues, but that's precisely the problem, because everybody KNOWS that they're going to take stands on those issues. "I'm against those things that everybody hates" is stereotypical politics, not good politics. You need to be willing to buck the trend on at least a few issues, so that you're seen as driven by something that goes beyond the desire to get elected. Yes, you'll probably tick some people off, but that's the fun thing: if they agree with you on other issues, they'll back you anyway.

The Dems know enough to do this to their base (and, yes, this has to happen with the base to a certain extent), but don't know enough to do it to self-proclaimed "centrists". Sooner or later, you have to move away from the center, because your very existence as a candidate will define the center as somewhere between where you and your opponent stand. No matter how careful the positioning, you can't dodge that simple fact. If you can use it, though, to define yourself as someone that the voters can trust to lead and represent them, then you're already halfway there.

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