As the Right Wing base sinks to new levels of insanity taking the Republican brand with it, “going stealth” has become the campaign strategy of choice in districts where an all-out, Teabagger Town Hall, Palin-Beck, froth-mouthed feeding frenzy would just turn stomachs. The Right’s agenda isn’t evolving, just its tactics. You have to give it to those frackers. They are smart.
They still want to drown government in a bathtub. Never mind that we need our safety net and education system more than ever. They still think that some hubba hubba god made women “separate but equal"—men with brains and biceps, women with vaginas. (It’s called complementarianism). They still think we can teach creationism in schools and expect to be competitive internationally. (Bing “Academic Freedom Bills”). They still value life until birth. They still think we can end drug use by jailing addicts. They still think that guns don’t kill people. They still think the problem with their marriage is my brother. And they still think that you can give the free market absolute power without it corrupting absolutely.
But in some of the best run Republican and Religious Right (Rebiblican) campaigns in the country, you’d never know it. Here in King County, Washington, the Right even funded a charter amendment making county races nonpartisan before running a “moderate, nonpartisan” Rebiblican named Susan Hutchison. In Virginia and New Jersey, to quote Frank Rich,
"The very conservative Republican contenders in the two big gubernatorial contests this week have frantically tried to disguise their own convictions. The candidate in Virginia, Bob McDonnell, is a graduate of Pat Robertson’s university whose career has been devoted to curbing abortion rights, gay civil rights and even birth control. But in this campaign he ditched those issues, disinvited Palin for a campaign appearance, praised Obama’s Nobel Prize, and ran a closing campaign ad trumpeting “Hope.” Chris Christie, McDonnell’s counterpart in New Jersey, posted a campaign video celebrating “Change” in which Obama’s face and most stirring campaign sound bites so dominate you’d think the president had endorsed the Republican over his Democratic opponent, Jon Corzine."
As several bloggers have warned (here, here, here), we should expect to see more of this over the next few years, especially since it worked beautifully for both McDonnell and Christie. The crowing about these two Rebiblican wins has spanned the country, in contrast to the dead silence about the Palin-Beck chow fest in upstate New York that the voters barfed up.
What’s interesting is that the same stealth strategy failed miserably in Washington State. Palin-wannabe Susan Hutchison was defeated by fourteen points after being ahead in the polls just weeks ago.
What happened? It’s very simple: Word got out about who she is, and it made King County’s voters a bit queasy. Reproductive rights activists took to the streets with homemade signs that made evening news. An anti-dominionist did research and then rallied colleagues at other blogs (e.g.God’s Own Party). A public access TV host recruited guests to talk about Hutchison’s brand of politicized creationism. A lefty blogger (Horsesass.org) defied copy-right claims to show footage Hutchison speaking to her base. So did her opponent’s campaign. So did local students. A Seattle comic made his own funny low budget cartoon ad exposing Hutchison’s puppet masters.
It is also true that the usual suspects—campaign professionals and volunteers, unions, advocacy groups and donors--played their roles and played them well. And Susan Hutchison's opponent Dow Constantine, now King County's executive, is solid and experienced. In the long run, that might have been enough. But it wasn't until Hutchison got exposed relentlessly and repeatedly from all sides that the tide of voter opinion turned. By November 3, the voting public knew who Susan Palin Hutchison is, and for a stealth campaign, that’s lethal. Several years ago, George Lakoff said that when the Right uses our language to cover their agenda they are showing us where they are weak, where the public actually disagrees with them. When Rebiblicans pose as moderates and change agents, they have just exposed soft tissue.
The right has the advantage in mainstream media, in hierarchy, authority, and message discipline. But the left has the advantage when it comes to distributed information networks, outspoken renegades, and innovation. If we want that East Coast crowing to stop, we need to start engaging these networks and cutting them loose (with funds as needed) to do what they do best.