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April 5, 2004

negative campaigning is a mistake in '04

Several factors have conspired to make many Democrats believe that the key to the '04 election is attacking the president:

  • Progressives sincerely believe that the mainstream press favors Bush, so denouncing him would improve the "balance."
  • Howard Dean generated enthusiasm in the primary by aggressively criticizing Republicans.
  • Bush is genuinely vulnerable on several important issues.
  • Above all, progressives loathe the president and want their fellow Americans to share their view.

    This approach dismays me because it cannot create a mandate for positive change. I also think it's bad partisan politics. Liberal northeasterners use a set of heuristics ("prejudices" would be another word) that move them from disagreeing with the president to despising him. Since he's a born-again Christian, he must be intolerant. Since he hangs around with oilmen, he must be a predatory polluter. And since he speaks with a Texas drawl, he must be a redneck. Like all arguments from stereotypes, these are fallacies. One has to prove that the administration is intolerant, predatory, and stupid; and it isn't always so. Furthermore, many Americans draw the opposite conclusions from the very same "heuristics" that drive leftists to loathing. Since GWB is devout, his motives must be OK. Since he comes out of a corporate background, he must know how to get business done. And since he's from Texas, he must be unpretentious. In ABC News/Washington Post polls, between 52 percent and 71 percent of those surveyed have always said that Bush is "honest and trustworthy."

    The lowest rating (52 percent) is also the most recent. So perhaps one can chip away at Bush's reputation by showing that he wasn't much of an entrepreneur--he was bailed out by his political friends and relatives. If the administration is ever caught in some literal corruption, this might shake people's faith in the president's good character. Yet liberals consistently overestimate how bad they can make Bush look, because they have detested him from the first time they heard him speak.

    But I'm really worried about something else. Maybe liberals lack a positive message because they don't have anything compelling and positive to say. For anyone who is deeply dissatisfied with the status quo, the lack of alternatives would be the worst news of all. Then it would hardly matter who won in November. So instead of trying the "get the message out" that George W. Bush is a horrible man, why don't we put some energy into developing new solutions for America? John Kerry could sure use our help.

    (See Brad Rourke's latest piece for a similar argument, referring to the new liberal broadcast shows and think tanks.)

    April 5, 2004 11:07 AM | category: revitalizing the left | Comments


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