Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obama, Hillary and Bitch-Slap theory of electoral politics

I've been thinking a lot lately about the recent upsurge in Clinton support combined with a palpable downturn in Obama excitment (recent results notwithstanding) and I think it might be because Obama is failing Joshua Micah Marshall's Bitch-Slap theory of electoral politics. To quote Josh, it goes like this:
Consider for a moment what the big game is here. This is a battle between two candidates to demonstrate toughness on national security. Toughness is a unitary quality, really -- a personal, characterological quality rather than one rooted in policy or divisible in any real way. So both sides are trying to prove to undecided voters either that they're tougher than the other guy or at least tough enough for the job.

In a post-9/11 environment, obviously, this question of strength, toughness or resolve is particularly salient...

One way -- perhaps the best way -- to demonstrate someone's lack of toughness or strength is to attack them and show they are either unwilling or unable to defend themselves -- thus the rough slang I used above. And that I think is a big part of what is happening here. Someone who can't or won't defend themselves certainly isn't someone you can depend upon to defend you...

Hitting someone and not having them hit back hurts the morale of that person's supporters, buoys the confidence of your own backers (particularly if many tend toward an authoritarian mindset) and tends to make the person who's receiving the hits into an object of contempt (even if also possibly also one of sympathy) in the eyes of the uncommitted.

Hillary has come out and made all kinds of allegations against Obama, including the most recent one by Ferraro, a member of Clinton's fundraising team, that hit him and hit him hard.

Yet, he hasn't returned fire. Instead, he has requested that Clinton fire Ferraro. Remember, when Samantha Powers said Hillary was a monster? She was fired at Clinton's teams request. Clinton, on the other hand, has kept on Ferraro as if sticking a middle finger out at the Obama camp and challenging them to "make her."

But Obama can't and he is partly to blame for this situation. Obama ran as a "different" type of politician, who won't get involved in the politics of usual. What he is now learning is that the politics as usual wins elections. The high road is great, but it doesn't get you there as quickly as the low road. If Obama fires back too hard, Clinton will be able to say, "See, he isn't any different than the rest of us." If he doesn't fire back, Clinton will continue to hit him again and again.

Either way, Obama's supporters will be deflated, Clinton's elated and undecideds looking upon Obama as the weaker of the two candidates. That isn't how one wins elections.

But Clinton isn't off the hook here, either. She's running a campaign that is daring to touch the 3rd rail of American politics and most likely she'll get burned. Running racist or shadow racist surrogates out in order to hit at Obama's base is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Clinton will need those same voters in the general election. African-Americans may not be so forgiving and if McCain is able to reshape the Republican Party into a more inclusive party, Democrats could lose socially conservative African-American voters for good.

I have no answers. Only concerns. And I'm preparing for the phrase "President McCain" more and more each day.