If it's September in an election year, it's a Democratic media train wreck.
No matter how the Democrats are doing, it seems, their top strategists and party elders spend September publicly "worrying" that they look weak -- which is weak. Or they lament how their party lost its message -- and what could be more off message than advancing media coverage about how "the message has gotten away"? Just describing that is lame, let alone doing it.
Finally, some Democrats gesture towards a supposedly constructive iteration of the September blues, airing their advice in public. For prominent politicos, this is still an absurd tack. Why tell The Washington Post that Democrats "should" attack McCain harder when you could just go ahead and do it? Right there, in your interview with The Post! Parceling out tips through the paper, an indulgent exercise in metapolitics, is not only ineffective, it's redundant.
Take the "big three" tips from "concerned" Democratic strategists that Mark Halperin announced on ABC'S World News Sunday. I pick this example not for its brilliance, but because it is representative of the CW:
1. Stop Focusing on Palin.
2. Attack McCain Harder.
3. Prioritize the Economy.
Starting in reverse, the economy advice is redundant. Obama's current stump speech prioritizes the economy. His positive ads are all about economic populism -- and pocketbook arguments about energy. He's made economic policy the top priority for his surrogates, from Sen. Joe Biden in Michigan (today) to both Clintons in Florida. Do the Dems who are peddling this advice actually read the paper?
Moving on, yes, everyone wants to hit McCain harder. "Take him out!," roars the base, from union halls to blog meet-ups to Chelsea fund-raisers. "But don't go too far," caution the same political sages, mindful of Obama's promise of New Politics and the challenges facing non-traditional candidates, from black to brown to female.
Obama and his team have definitely heard it all. They turned up the heat last week, calling McCain a liar and launching more personal attack ads.
At some point, you'd think party strategists would start reinforcing this escalation -- even if they want more -- emphasizing the heavier fire to reinforce a Tough Obama narrative in the media, rather than undercutting his new attacks by telling Halperin that it's never enough. But if you thought that, you'd be wrong.
All Sarah, All The Time. Gov. Palin electrified the GOP's anti-abortion-crazed, media-bashing base and, apparently, boosted McCain's overall numbers. If a campaign adds one component and pulls ahead, it's logical that opponents would respond by attacking the source of the new mojo. So the Obama campaign's pushback on Palin makes sense. Also, are the same Democrats who clammer for more attacks on McCain really asking for less attacks on her?
"Despite speculation that Obama would frame the race as all about McCain," I reported last week, while traveling with Obama, "he has clearly decided Palin must be diminished before she can be ignored." That could turn out to be the wrong bet, but in this Palin-powered media environment, it is probably right. She is wowing her base, lying to the press, launching repeated false attacks on Obama -- that's not political behavior you can usually afford to ignore. Even if Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf tells Obama, through a newspaper, naturally, that he should not talk about Palin "at all."
The best proof for the Nervous Nellie set, however, is probably a peek at that predictably savage Republican playbook. Here was the G.O.P. response to the selection of John Edwards as soon as it was announced in 2004, per CNN:
EDWARDS DRAWS GOP FIRE
John Kerry's choice of Senate colleague John Edwards as his running mate drew swift criticism Tuesday from some Republicans.... the Republican National Committee characteriz[ed] Edwards as a "disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal".... [the] Bush campaign... accus[ed] him and Kerry of voting "against our troops on the front lines"... The GOP also released a torrent of e-mails highlighting issues in which it said the two men had been at odds during the Democratic primaries.
Finally, since public advice is all the rage, here's my advice for the Democratic strategic class:
1. Stop Focusing on Obama.
2. Attack McCain Harder.
3. Be The Change That You Want to See in the World.
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