Friday, March 23, 2007

Democrats eating their own

Hey, politics is a rough and tumble field. I understand that. I also understand the cynicism associated with politics. For the record, I'm one of the more cynical people that I know (no, it's not a pissing match). The staff and friends of Clinton and Obama have been having at each other for just a few weeks and I'm already tired of their antics.

Democrats and Republicans eating their own before the main election is nothing new. Ask Howard Dean about how he was treated after his pep rally speech. Or ask John McCain about the North Carolina primary after Bush's people stoked the racist card by suggesting McCain fathered a "colored" girl (Strom Thurmond even turned over in his grave!).

But when does this level of rough politics cross the line? I'd argue that in Dean's case it doesn't, but in McCain's case it does. Obviously, in both cases it worked for the candidate that stoked the fires. However, Dan Savage's treatment yesterday of John Edwards did cross the line and I seriously doubt that it did anything for Dan's favored candidate.

Savage, for the record, is a huge cheerleader for Al Gore. That's just fine. Gore's a likable candidate and there are a number of reasons to think that he's a great candidate and would trounce any challenger. I understand why Savage is so enthusiastic about the man. Still, is that any reason to suggest the following about John Edwards' wife's announcement yesterday that she still has cancer? And that it's uncurable? Here's Dan's admittedly cynical statement from The Slog:
If Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer returned, and John Edwards was going to press on with his campaign, all stoical and stuff, why clear his schedule and call a press conference? Why not just, you know, keep on keeping on? The drama of the last 24 hours—the rushing home, the announcement of a press conference, the clearing of Edwards’ schedule, and, hey, was that a leak about dropping out of the race?—strikes me as a bit manipulative. Even exploitative. If the Edwards’ campaign intended to take the return of his wife’s cancer in stride, well, then why didn’t the Edwards’ campaign do just that?
Yea, Dan. Unlike Al Gore, who never, ever mentioned his dead son during his campaign. I'm not slamming Gore here, but pointing out Savage's ability to overlook the acts of the person he triumphs while slamming a possible challenger. It's called hypocrisy. Well, in politics it's called "over sight".

In any case, it apparently never occurred to cheerleader Savage that Edward's wife, as with most spouses, is a huge part of the candidate's campaign. She makes appearances with and without her husband at all sorts of locations to get the word out. This is crucial to a campaign these days. Especially a campaign that has such a compacted primary schedule (25 states will be decided by next February). Candidates cannot be everywhere at once and video links are not as good as in person contact. So, emissaries must be used and there is no better than a candidate's family. Elizabeth Edwards is not only the candidate's closest adviser, she is also his leading proponent. To top it off, she's smart and one helluva speaker.

So, can you imagine what would happen in the media if Elizabeth Edwards began canceling appearances without good excuses? No matter how the Edwards campaign tried to keep it in house, the truth would leak. They would appear to have covered this up and, while many people might understand that, it would appear as if John Edwards were so power hungry that he shushed his wife's illness in order to deceive voters. Then the real cynical knives would be drawn. It's better to control the media spin early and manage it appropriately than to let them steal the headline, tabloid style, and tear away at the family and campaign.

Dan Savage, however, jumped in early with his cynical take. He took the media spin and tried to spin a web of his own complete with National Enquirer intrigue and News of the World hypocrisy. Commenters to Savage's post generally ripped at his take on this. To Savage's credit, he offered this mea culpa:
Okay, I am a shit. As more news comes out, it’s clear that Elizabeth Edwards medical news appeared to be worse yesterday, when schedules were cleared and press conferences called. Further tests indicated that things, while terribly serious, weren’t as dire as first thought. EE’s cancer is treatable, and so the campaign continues. Is anyone working on gene therapy to treat congenital cynicism?
Fair enough, Dan. Except Elizabeth Edwards' condition being better than originally thought doesn't exonerate the initial spin you ran with. You're so blinded by your partisanship for Gore that you don't even acknowledge how crucial Elizabeth is to the campaign and how this would have been a bad mark had it not been dealt with forthrightly. You're still spinning cynicism as if to say, "Well, OK, they thought she was dying so that makes all the theatrics alright." That's not very savvy politics.

Worse than this, though, is the fact that Democrats are so ready to apply such cynicism at their own. Save the snarky remarks for your enemies. Let Republicans eat their own with their vicious remarks about Guilianni's marriages and Romney's religion. Present ideas and a positive vision for the country. Be, dare I say it, Clinton-esque (or, hell, Reagan-esque, if you prefer - both men shared this trait).

If I may let my own cynicism shine through for the moment: this won't happen. It's a pipe dream. Partisans like Savage will continue to pile on a fever pitch that will grow ever more shrill as next February comes around. Of course, most of America won't tune in as they never do until the September before the election. No, this shrill whine is strictly for those who watch and care about national politics. Who amongst us is going to say enough is enough? Well, I am, obviously, but my voice is not loud enough to be heard by the leaders of Democratic party. People who lean towards that party need to be united and clear that we expect to hear more ideas and positive visions and less backstabbing, tabloid cynicism.

For the record, I'm not backing any candidate at this point. I admit that I like a lot of what Edwards says and that I think he has the charisma to do well, but he's vulnerable to attacks about his lack of service. As noted many times before, I don't think Senators make good candidates because the public doesn't see their leadership style in action. Governors make better candidates for precisely that reason. Clinton and Obama suffer from the same issues Edwards does and they benefit from the charisma factor. Richardson, being a governor, a former UN ambassador, and a cabinet secretary has the qualifications, but may not be charismatic enough and Democrats may not be ready for a Hispanic candidate (yea, they are ready for the black man, but not the Hispanic - it's an old "All In The Family" episode). The Republican field is even in worse shape with the only likable candidate as far as his views goes is the Libertarian, Ron Paul, whose views would appall many a Democrat as well, but he'd be a welcome relief to the double edged sword of expanded government that we've seen twisted by Republicans.

My mind remains open, but my ears are tired.


Scott said...

Savage often comes across as a liberal-lite version of Limbaugh. It was patently obvious to me that Edwards was being very forthright and candid when he spoke. The comments about fighting instead of cowering in a corner is guaranteed to put off huge numbers of people who have watched loved ones ultimately run out of motivation and die. I've seen it in my own family several times, and while I understand and applaud him, many others may not be able to see beyond the unintentional insult or accusation. If Savage had an ounce of real journalist in him he would have seen that. But having an agenda instead of an inquistive mind is a bit limiting. (And yes I caught the double entendre about him having an ounce of real journalist in him, but left it.)

B.D. said...

Edwards said in an interview on Saturday that he realizes that people may not agree with his family's decision, but that it is OK by him and people are entitled to their own opinions. He welcomed the discussion.

Also, oddly enough, Savage's cynical observations were also made by Rush Limbaugh on his radio show that afternoon. Rush, of course, was speaking for himself and not using Savage's words. The 2 men, ostensibly from opposite ends of the spectrum, came to the same, wrong conclusions. Interesting how pablum cycles.