Monday, September 15, 2008


However GOP Could Win the Campaign but Lose the Election
With No “Ground Game.”

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—Why, oh why, asks Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, who supports John McCain, did McCain pick Sarah Palin and shatter his argument that Barack Obama is the inexperienced one…especially when, during the GOP convention, McCain was within only a few points of Obama in the polls and Mitt Romney would have solidified the seasoning argument plus add the likelihood of carrying Michigan? By picking Palin, Krauthammer wrote, McCain sacrifices the experience issue he has heretofore commanded and taken a chance on losing the key battleground state of Michigan which is essential to any Republican electoral college victory.

The Need for a Good Ground Game.

A good point, one which I shared at the time of the Palin picking…but when I held that view, my 40 years of strategizing as a Republican operative in two states failed me. Romney’s sagacity as a brilliant expositor of the economy and his almost sure-fire knack of carrying Michigan (a key battleground state) would have been indispensable in a normal year…but this one militated for something vastly different. The Republicans are almost bereft of expertise in what we political types call “the ground game” which the Democrats have over us superlatively. And what is the ground game?

In short, political organization—the volunteers essential for tasks that need to be performed by many thousands…even millions across the country…to see that those who want to elect the Republican ticket are (a) registered to vote, (b) continually motivated with literature, bumper stickers, yard signs etc., (c) reminded to get out to vote on election day with (d) those who are physically indisposed to vote absentee—is almost nonexistent in a GOP that cannot rely on armies of union workers hitting the streets. Republicans—even partisans—are famous for disdaining get-out-the-vote activities. That kind of work is only done in the Republican party by ideologically-committed followers aka evangelicals. John McCain has never been the choice of evangelicals. In 2004 a massive get-out-the-vote drive was run by Karl Rove. The White House can’t be involved so such an extent now with George W. Bush not running and the GOP brand tainted by heavy congressional-White House spending. So while McCain and Obama were knife-edge close in polling during the conventions, poll numbers do not by themselves supply the motivation for Republicans to show up at the polls.

Ergo, McCain saw he had to rev up the conservative base and tossed a long down-the-field pass to a youthful woman governor, baptized a Catholic but led by her parents to the Assembly of God church, she then abandoning it for generic evangelical churches. Because Sarah Palin is a perfect 10 on pro-life, maintained by her insistence on going ahead with the birth of her Down Syndrome child number 5, her support of home schooling, her fierce endorsement of the 2nd amendment, moreover a hunter who knows how to dress an antelope for her dinner table, a fisherman, Bible-reading near literalist, supporter of Intelligent Design being taught side-by-side with evolution in public schools, a fierce proponent of voluntary prayer being returned in public schools McCain, a kind of wishy-washy Episcopalian cum Baptist, decided that as good as Romney is on the economy he cannot stimulate the grassroots to such paroxysms of enthusiasm as does Palin. I think he’s right and the Palin pick was a stroke of genius…an insight that didn’t come to McCain from his staff but from his instinct as a poker player—a hunch which occurred to him alone.

Thrown for a loop by the Palin nod, Obama headquarters issued a statement that was folly—charging that their candidate has more managerial experience since his presidential campaign has more employees than Palin had as mayor of Wasilla: an odd comparison since Palin has moved on to become governor of Alaska with a stunning 82% favorability. Obama immediately disowned his staff’s statement. Then Obama followed up by disowning his earlier Saddleback interview with evangelical pastor Rick Warren where, when asked when life begins he responded that the answer was above his pay grade, saying rightly that his answer was flip. Meanwhile, his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) went on “Meet the Press” to aver that life indeed begins at conception and that as a Catholic he is morally bound to accept that fact (putting himself at sharp odds with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) but that he is loath to “impose my view on others,” a weak, shilly-shallying.

Dems’ Inability to Sell Themes.

Never before have I seen the Democratic party…which I alternately covered as a journalist or faced as a GOP strategist in two states since 1955…with greater natural advantages. Eighty percent of Americans feel the U.S. is on the wrong track. Yet it can’t satisfactorily close the argument—and it is not because it has a black candidate. Why this is I will answer shortly…but for now consider the Democratic campaign narrative and you will see why it is failing to evoke response in significant quarters of the public. Democratic Theme No. 1 is that McCain equals Bush. That is unconvincing when one considers the spectacular infighting both have waged with each other on many issues since 2000. Ergo: the theme doesn’t fly.

Democratic Theme No. 2 is that Sarah Palin has a thin resume which should shock people if she were put within a heartbeat away from the presidency. Thin resume for the presidency certainly next to Dwight Eisenhower a 5-star general of the army and Ronald Reagan, a 2-term governor of California but not when contrasted to most other presidential candidates. It’s instructive to note that possessor of one of the best resumes for president in the 20th century was Herbert Hoover, self-made multi-millionaire, food czar in World War I who saved millions from famine, innovative commerce secretary at time of great 1920s prosperity but who became, arguably, the worst president of our time by worsening the Depression’s effects.

Also, here the Democratic narrative contradicts the longstanding Democratic argument for women’s rights. There have been replete instances in modern history of stay-at-home moms joining the fray and exceeding their resumes—notably Nancy Pelosi, Madeleine Albright and Geraldine Ferraro…even Hillary Clinton… whom the Democrats have repeatedly celebrated. Compared to them, Palin has exceeded at her age spectacularly—having negotiated a natural gas pipeline with not just the oil companies but Canadian, federal, provincial and Inuit governments. This in fact is far more experience than Barack Obama has compiled. Ergo here again the theme doesn’t fly.

Democratic Theme No. 3 deals with the economy which truly seems fragile today…even though it grew by 3.3% during the last quarter (which mainstream media largely ignored). A legitimate issue but while Obama proscribes tax cuts for the middle class, he wants tax hikes for the wealthy, a throwback to his party’s William Jennings Bryan demagoguery of punishing the successful. Indeed tax hikes on the wealthy was Herbert Hoover’s solution which he made at the onset of the Great Depression—and the idea is slowing dawning on the blue-collar lunch-bucket crowd that raising taxes in a near-recession is no way to meet the economic emergency. He is pushing redistribution, telling Fox’s Bill O’Reilly that the very rich should find it “neighborly” to take a tax hit so that a low-paid waitress can benefit from a tax cut…to which opponents of redistribution say the low-paid waitress cannot hire anyone but the wealthy restaurant owner can.

Not surprisingly in this economic climate, Obama and the Democrats haven’t been able to sell the idea of refundable tax credits (payments to those who pay no income taxes) and a massive national health care program because of public—even Democratic in some quarters—skepticism. Ergo: incredibly the Democrats’ supposed biggest issue is sputtering despite the fact that the economy that is in Republican hands is sputtering as well.

GOP’s Themes Selling Surprisingly.

In contrast, Republican themes under McCain-Palin seem to be thriving incredibly by Republicans running against the Republican-led government and its excesses. Republican Theme No. 1 which should be the Dems’ major one, the Iraq War has been seemingly converted into a net plus because the surge is successful and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly got Obama to acknowledge that contrary to Obama’s original view the surge “is working beyond our wildest dreams”…although Obama still insists he was right to oppose the Iraq War. Yet when he opposed it, Obama was in the Illinois state legislature—and since he joined the Congress has supported its funding. Obama now argues it is safe to leave, which he has long supported but the issue of the war seems to have lost its original zip and has been converted by Republicans to a bare plus for McCain’s so-called prescience. McCain also has been seemingly spared from anti-Bush, anti-war assaults because he severely criticized both Bush and Donald Rumsfeld for their early mismanagement of the war.

Republican Theme No.2 is McCain’s harnessing of consumer anger at having to pay $4 a gallon for gasoline blaming Democrats for resisting more offshore drilling…with Palin likely to convince McCain to change his historic opposition to ANWR drilling. Nancy Pelosi is falling back from her party’s old quasi-religious opposition to drilling.

Republican Theme No. 3 is McCain’s success at capitalizing on conservatism’s old time religion, abandoned under George W. Bush, lower spending, no earmarks, tax cuts for all to stimulate investment and lessened regulations on business…these tied closely to opposition to inside the beltway mores which gravitate to the failure of the last Republican congress with its winking at episodes like Cong. Mark Foley’s attempted propositioning of young male House pages.

Worries about the Oldest President in Office.

A senior citizen myself, I am stunned to see the 72-year-old McCain so hale and hearty rocketing around the country…a man who has been badly abused physically in his 5-year POW confinement and who has had at least two cancer scares. He suffers from degenerative arthritis and limited arm movement, has had cancerous skin spots removed including an invasive melanoma from his left temple in 2000. He has suffered kidney stones and benign colon polyps and received treatment for an enlarged prostate in 2001. But the pace he is under is savage leading him to tell the Washington Post “if I put in three or four 18 hour days in a row, then I’m not sharp. It’s just a fact. I can be sharp if I can get a little more rest.” He has not had a mental acuity test in eight years.

That’s why what worries me about McCain is not physical. At his age..and for all of us in his bracket…dimming mental acuity carries risk. Twenty-two percent of Americans 72 years old are affected by mild cognitive impairment, a decline in brain function that causes memory loss and can lead to dementia. Ronald Reagan’s last years in office (he was just shy of his 78th birthday when he stepped down) did not match his early years, especially when it was shown that he was apparently (but maybe not) unaware of clandestine efforts within the White House that encouraged middlemen to arrange for sale of grossly overcharged arms to Iran, a fourth of the profits going to aid the Nicaraguan contras in violation of a congressional act that banned all U.S. help.

All presidential candidates young and old make verbal gaffes (Obama said he visited all 57 states in the Union, called Israel a great friend of Israel and confused which concentration camp his uncle helped liberate in World War II). But more attention is focused on McCain because of his age…on gaffes like ignoring the former Czechoslovakia’s current status as the Czech Republic, his statement that Iraq borders Pakistan (it’s Afghanistan) and that Gen. David Petraeus regularly drives in an unarmored Humvee around Baghdad (he most certainly does not). The latter was probably pure rhetorical invention but all the same neuroscientists have identified a phenomenon in the elderly that they call confabulation, or the pleasure of false beliefs.

Ronald Reagan exercised this when he told a traveling press corps that two-thirds of pollution comes from trees giving off natural gases which led press secretary Jim Brady, a Reagan friend but comic, to warn the press about “killer trees.” Confabulation takes untrue “facts” and wrapping them around like a shroud, giving to himself what is called “the pleasantness of false beliefs.” The McCain report of Gen. Petraeus driving in an open car may have been one of these. In any event, it’s a worry for Republicans and all Americans but nothing can be done about it.

A Rorty Worry for the Democrats.

If we have to pray hard that a President McCain will stay healthy, physically and mentally at 72, there are many things that can and should be done by the Democrats to shore up their party. For if Republicans win this election (at this writing McCain is 10 points ahead of Obama) despite all the advantages Democrats have going for them, that party should take serious cognizance of how far their candidates have deviated philosophically from the essence of contemporary America.

Democrats appear not just to be too liberal but too imbued with the intellectual legacy of a prime University of Chicago philosopher who seems to have had subliminal influence on Barack Obama and many of his generation. Richard Rorty who died in 2007 was a major postmodernist philosopher who taught that objective truth is unknowable…and so all wise men must pursue purely pragmatic goals. His teaching may be dense to read but its flavor predominates the faculty lounges of Chicago, Harvard, Wellesley, Princeton and the University of Virginia. I encountered it at Harvard where I taught 31 years ago. It is brim-full in the liberal Democratic party and in the elite sectors of the media.

The Democrats should worry because it is cresting with Obama, manifesting itself in his conversations with Rick Warren at Saddleback. It is not acceptable to American voters at this point in time. Lest you think that Rorty was a passive thinker, focus now on a statement he made shortly before his death which is the epitome of liberal arrogance. “The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment is engaged in a conspiracy.’ The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots [sic] than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students. We are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.” [Italics mine].

Intentionally or not, the dominant liberal wing of the Democratic party has substituted the “we know better than you” for what was the so-called party of the workingman of my youth.

If McCain-Palin win, overcoming all that is against them, it is this Rorty thinking in the Democratic party stemming from its left wing intelligentsia that will be responsible. Thus the Democrats have a bigger worry than Republicans with McCain…if they will only recognize it.

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