Confused, Spineless Democrats

I read an op-ed in yesterday’s Wall
Street Journal called “Obama
and the Values Question Mark
” by a guy named Douglas E.
Schoen. It’s an advice piece, and Schoen advises Obama to do nothing but
play defense. Attacked for not always wearing a lapel pin? Wear a
lapel pin. Attacked about Reverend Wright? Continue to explain,
explain, explain (Schoen actually suggests that “Obama does not have to
apologize for his own faith and membership in Trinity Unity Church of
Christ”… whew, that’s a relief). Attacked for not being
sufficiently “law and order”? “Obama must also demonstrate
concretely that he is sympathetic to the victims of crime… that he
understands American concerns about law and order.” You get the
idea. Schoen comes a step or two short of advising Obama to just fall to
his knees and cry out, “We are not worthy!”

I read the article with equal parts
disgust and admiration: disgust at the notion that Obama needs to explain
his “values” when a
divorced adulterer like John McCain
apparently does not; admiration
at the tactics of the writer, who in the guise of friendly advice to Obama is
in fact reinforcing the insidious meme that there’s some legitimacy behind the
issues on which Schoen purports to want to advise. Boy, I thought, you
have to give it to the right: they understand how communication works.

And then I came to a description of
Schoen’s background: in 1996, he was the campaign manager for
Clinton/Gore in Tennessee and Kentucky. And I thought, “Holy shit, this
guy is a *Democrat*!”

Look, if Schoen is working for
McCain, his op-ed makes perfect sense. But if he actually thought his
op-ed would help Obama… well, if this is the way Democrats with actual
campaign experience are going to play it, the party is in serious
trouble. Op-eds whose real impact is to legitimize right-wing talking
points? Urging the candidate only to play “yes I am patriotic, no
I’m not soft on crime, yes I do share your values, really, I do, please please
please believe me” defense? By common sense alone you know that
Schoen’s purported course would be a disaster for Obama. But you don’t
need to rely on common sense: you can also see how well the Schoen model
worked for Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.

If Obama were to glue a lapel pin to
himself at this point, all it would do is prove that he’ll buckle under a load
of rightwing bullshit. And since the true purpose of all rightwing wedge
attacks is to demonstrate that the Democratic candidate is spineless, weak, a
sissy, a pansy, a loser, etc., more than anything else Schoen is advising Obama
to show that he can be pushed around and prove the right’s point thereby.
At the risk of tremendous understatement: this is not good advice.

If he really wanted to help, Schoen
should have advised Obama to counterattack. Values? Let’s talk
about how John
McCain cheated on his wife, abandoned his family, and married a much younger
. Lapel pins? If John McCain were really
patriotic, he would back Jim
Webb’s GI Bill
and actually support our veterans. Jeremiah
Wright? Why has McCain deliberately sought the support and endorsements
of religious fanatics like John
and Rod
? Hamas supports Obama? You’re swallowing enemy
propaganda — McCain wants another hundred years in Iraq, which the 2006
NIE called a bonanza of terrorist recruitment
, so it’s obvious who
Hamas is really rooting for. Etc.

Ignoring rightwing freakshow attacks
allows them to fester. Denying them legitimizes them and demonstrates
weakness. Counterattacking turns the premises of the attacks around and
puts the attackers on defense, while simultaneously demonstrating strength.

If Democrats haven’t figured these
fundamentals out by now, they’re hopeless. Assuming Schoen isn’t in fact
working for McCain, his op-ed is not cause for encouragement.