Because It Has Worked So Well To This Point
James Carville, a Democratic consultant who is usually wrong about everything manages to be wrong again. However, I have to admit to hoping Democrats and President Obama take his advice:
Contrary to what you might think, I am a proud member of the pro finger-pointing caucus. It wasn’t too long ago that my longtime colleague Paul Begala and I urged our friends on the other side of the aisle to engage early and often in the blame game.
Now it is the Democrats’ turn. Point fingers is exactly what Democrats have done following Republican Scott Brown’s surprise victory in Massachusetts, and the subsequent setback for healthcare reform .
The White House, Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney-general, Celinda Lake, her pollster, congressional Democrats, the Democratic National Committee, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, are just a few of the circular firing squad that has sucked up every last breath in Washington this past week.
Democrats would not be playing the blame game with one another for the loss or for the healthcare debacle if they had only pointed fingers at those (or in this case, the one) who put Americans (and most of the world) in the predicament we’re in: George W. Bush.
Really? Pointing the finger at Bush is panacea for all that ails the Democrats?
Pretty simplistic pap, wouldn’t you say? Martha Coakley could have stood at a podium 24/7 and talked about the demon George Bush and how he’s laid us low, but that wouldn’t change the fact that the Democrats owned the pork laden stimulus bill, the latest bacon bonanza of a spending bill, the economy killing (and thankfully languishing) cap-and-trade bill and the health care reform monstrosity, would it?
Blaming Bush seems so wussy. Like the playground habit of pointing your finger at a playmate and claiming the situation in which you’re caught to be of his making. “He did it”. There’s a natural aversion to condoning that sort of blame shifting. It just doesn’t sit will with most people.
But Democrats, at least until recently, have believed the Carville route to the be one which would insulate them from criticism. Lay it on the previous guy and you will be covered. MA, NJ and VA give some glimmer as to how well that’s worked so far, don’t they? Some Democratic advisers are seeing that as a loser now:
Howard Wolfson, a senior official on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and veteran Democratic communications guru, noted that his party was able to run against Republican Herbert Hoover’s Depression-era presidency for 30 years.
“That doesn’t seem to be the case here,” he said.
Indeed it doesn’t. In fact, my guess is it tends to alienate voters because it is such a cheesy, infantile excuse. Most people understand that some of the troubles the country face didn’t happen under this administration’s watch. And they also understand they were “inherited”. But for heaven sake, does that have to be said each an every time you address a problem? If that’s not bad enough, how about trying to blame current problems that are indeed a result of Democratic policies on the previous administration? It is preposterous, tiresome and unworthy of an administration which would like to be considered seriously. How can you take seriously people who continually blame others and won’t take responsibility and ownership now that they’re in charge?
“Voters are pretty tired of the blame game,” said longtime Democratic strategist Steve Hildebrand, a top aide on Obama’s presidential campaign. “What a stupid strategy that was.”
“Was?” According to Carville, it should be an “is” strategy. And to an extent he’s right, although he doesn’t make the clear in his advice. How can “blame Bush” card be effectively played? Very selectively in relevant elections – but certainly not as a wild card for everything.
“It’s got to be highly relevant,” said pollster Joel Benenson. “It has to be done in a way that’s not gratuitous and on issues that affect people’s lives. You can’t just brandish [Bush’s image] and wave it like a pennant.”
“Voters are smart about this,” added pollster Geoff Garin. “There’s got to be some credible relationship, either in terms of how they voted or [in terms of] specific policies that they’re supporting now.”
It’s not, Garin continued, one size fits all, but for some GOP candidates, the line of attack still carries some promise. He cited Rep. Roy Blunt, a House majority whip in the Bush years who is now running for a Missouri Senate seat, and former Rep. Rob Portman, who served as Bush’s budget director and is now running for the Senate in Ohio.
“Those people were really present at the creation, and making the case against them as helping to create the Bush economy is still very powerful,” Garin said.
Those two cases are two in which the “blame Bush” card might have some relevance. But my guess is it would have a very limited effect. Bush is gone, and frankly, Obama has some voters pining for him. In effect, depending on how the Obama presidency proceeds, it could end up backfiring on those who use it, even in relevant cases. It is the “now” that voters concern themselves with. That means they relate their condition to who is in charge now as well. Most are going to consider the blame game a pretty poor attempt to divert attention rather than facing the problems at hand. And voters rarely reward those they think are avoiding the issues via distraction.
So despite saying how lame I think Carville’s advice is, I have to hope the heck the Democrats heed it and double down on the blame Bush strategy. It will drive independents crazy and into the arms of the GOP faster than “Pants on the Ground” went viral.
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