Free Markets, Free People


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.

~McQ

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27 Responses to Because It Has Worked So Well To This Point

    • Carville was a “flake”  back in our LSU lawschool days and he still is.  He “touts” his book about 40 more years of Dem. rule but forgets to explain that nobody is buying the book or his opinion — amazing how one person can get sooooo much out of one situation as Carville has — everyone gives him the credit for Clinton’s victory, which in and of itself if ludicrous, and he has managed to make a very good living since then by playing the fool that he is.   Mary Madelin must be a saint — or could it be that even Carville doesnt believe his BS, but is smart enough to know it sells to libs?

  • Thinking about it some more, there’s another reason for why the Blame Bush strategy doesn’t work (aside from the fact that no one wants excuses from the people they elected to fix the countries’ problems): A lot of voter anger is due to policies like health care reform and Cap & Trade, neither of which can be blamed on Bush.  Telling an angry constituency that it’s angry for reasons that it isn’t amounts to insulting their intelligence.  This is just more of the same reaction to voter anger over health care reform and other controversial agenda items.  Voters have been told that they’re stupid, racist, insensitive, and deserving of whatever their congressional overlords decide to foist upon them.  It should be no surprise that they’re seething with anger, and not at George Bush.

    Voters do not want finger-pointing from the people in charge.  They become even angrier when that finger-pointing includes a blatant misrepresentation of their reasons for being upset in the first place.  But as I said before, if the election in MA doesn’t wake up the Democrats, nothing will.  They probably think that Carville is onto something.

  • The Dems controlled congress since 2006 (and a young Baracky was among them) and they’ve had SUPERMAJORITY control for a full year prior to Brown.

    But keep blaiming Bush. It’s all good. I can’t wait to see how St. Barack of the Pointing Finger steams in his ill-gotten Chicago Rezkoland when his successor does the exact same thing to him (and believe me, the public will be plenty receptive to that argument since they see what a mess he is.)

     

  • McQ - 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?

    Well, at least spending all her time blaming Bush MIGHT has stopped her making those asinine and really insulting statements that she DID make.

    McQ[Blaming Bush for everything] is preposterous, tiresome and unworthy of an administration which would like to be considered seriously.

    It also directly undercuts Imeme’s “Hope and Change” mantra and his stated, defiant assertion that he WANTS to be held accountable for how things go.  In short, it makes him look like a total loser.

    However, it seems to be a very adequate strategy for wooing the dems’ braindead base.  Indeed, blaming some other person / group as an excuse for one’s own failures is a time-honored strategy, used with good effect all through history.  Indeed, it’s a classic in the dems’ own playbook: they got and maintained power here in the South for decades by invoking the specter of the savage Negro as a tool of carpet-bagging Republicans.

    • wooing the dems’ braindead base
      The base is the base, the real struggle right now is for the independents.  If the dems’ can’t figure that out, they deserve extinction.

    • So Reagan was a “total loser” in 1982 when he used the same tactic?  And he betrayed his optimistic “Gipper” image by blaming all his problems on Carter, and not his own tax policies?  And Reagan undercut his leadership image by whining about how everything was those liberal Democrats’ fault? 

      • So, your claim is that Reagan built his record in office on playing the blame game?  That his basic message was, “It’s all Carter’s fault”?  That he crushed Mondale in ’84 on a campaign of, “I inherited this mess”?

        Riiiiiight….

        I admit that Reagan is quite a few years ago and that memory is a tricky thing, but I seem to recall that Reagan was noted for sunny optimism and actual accomplishments in office, not blaming everything bad on Jimmuh.  Perhaps you can provide examples of speeches where Reagan used phrases like, “I inherited…” or “This is the result of the previous administration’s policies…”

        Have fun.

      • Pure revisionism.

        Reagan attacked Carter’s record during the Campaign by asking “Are you better off now than four years ago?”.  And that passes for Blaming Carter?

        There was no need to assign blame.  Carter had been in office for 4 years, if the crappy economy was owned by anyone it was Carter.  And everyone knew it.  And the Economy was crap in 79 & 80 as well as 81 and 82 where the later years we slowed the fall and hit bottom and set the stage for the rebound.

        And FYI, Reagan’s tax cuts didn’t kicking in a big way until ’82.  ’81 was the first year of his cuts which was actually a cut in Carter’s planned increases so ’81 was a tax repeat of ’80.

  • Indeed! I suspect Dems are collectively grasping for anything that might — to borrow a phrase — hide the decline. Surely noted Harvard grad and deep thinker Andrew Sullivan’s quick taking-up of the administration’s new populist tack (encapsulated as “the financial sector is ruining this country!”) is related.

    We really, really, really need a better class of elected official.

  • If they continue to beat the “blame Bush” drum then the independents will leave them in droves. 

    Even if the independents saw Bush’s policies as problematic they would look for someone who can fix the problems they perceive with those policies and not someone who simply says “Hey these problems were here before I got here and I cant fix them”

    Obama and the dems are finding it  is easy to throw stones at people making decisions until you are the one who is making decisions.  Of course when they are out of power they will forget this adage once again.  It was fine for the dems to be the party of No when Bush was in office but republicans are held to a different standard.

      

     

  • Of course, this is exactly what the Republicans did before the mid-terms in 1982 (e.g., blame everything on the “Carter Recession”), and they did apparently manage to hold down the expected mid-term losses, given that both unemployment rates and interest rates were historically high — in fact, the highest unemployment rate before the current recession.  There’s nothing wrong with reminding the public that our fiscal situation and our foreign entanglements (which are very costly) are the result of the policies of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress from 2000-2006.  And of course Republicans wouldn’t be the hypocrites we’ve come to know and not love unless they complained about Democrats using the same political tactics the Republicans themselves perfected.

    • So that’s your answer? They did it too? See playground analogy. And again, how well has this worked for them? Apparently, as Wolfson points out, Hoover was worth 30 years. It would seem Carter was worth a few too. But it is hard to argue that Bush has worked for Obama, isn’t it? And if the point of all this is to persuade voters to vote for them, “they did it too” is rather irrelevant, wouldn’t you say?

      • Tut-tut!  Remember the liberal rules:

        1.  When Republicans do it, it’s mean, hateful, divisive, bitter, unconscionable, un-American, childish, churlish, and otherwise bad.

        2.  When democrats do it… well, EVERYBODY does it.  Only the Republicans do it worse!

    • In fact, my guess is it tends to alienate voters because it is such a cheesy, infantile excuse.

      Except polls indicate we’ve a large portion of the voting public that is rather infantile (parasitic, “Obama is going to pay my mortgage and car payment”) , and grossly ignorant (the banks caused the financial crisis).

    • Of course, this is exactly what the Republicans did before the mid-terms in 1982 (e.g., blame everything on the “Carter Recession”),

      Was that criticism/blame legitimate or not?

      There’s nothing wrong with reminding the public that our fiscal situation and our foreign entanglements (which are very costly) are the result of the policies of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress from 2000-2006.

      Our fiscal situation stems MUCH MORE from Democrat policies, particularly the pushing of mortgages to unqualified buyers that had the ancillary consequence of running up housing costs such that a bubble as inevitable, and fueling Fannie/Freddie’s creation of a lethal situation. More so, it was overwhelmingly the Dems that pushed to avoid stricter control of Fannie/Freddie.
      Try again and cut the rhetorical bullcrap.
       

    • The electorate understands the role that the Bush administration played in the current economic downturn– it’s one of the main reasons that Obama was voted into the White House with large majorities in both houses of Congress.  And many people nodded knowingly when he explained that he’d been left with one heck of a mess to clean up.

      But patience wears thin when, after a year of fumbling about like a bunch of children, the excuse for their own lack of performance is to continue to blame the previous administration.  Voters do not want excuses.  I doubt that they helped Reagan, and they certainly are not helping Obama.

  • Carville is a Hillary mole. Here, chew on a razor blade, Barry!

  • Bush is yesterday’s news.   The Democrats shouldn’t even mention him, but instead focus on the problems we’re facing.   Sure, the Bush Administration made some very bad choices that caused all this — the public acknowledged that in November 2008.  Now they’re looking for something different from the Democrats.   The 2008 campaign is over.  Blaming Bush worked then, but it will never “work” again.

    •  Sure, the Bush Administration made some very bad choices that caused all this — the public acknowledged that in November 2008.

      >>> He didn’t run in that campaign in case you didn’t notice.

      • You don’t honestly think that the 2006 and 2008 elections weren’t in large part a response to the Bush administration?   If not for the Iraq war, you wouldn’t have President Obama, or a Democratic majority Congress.  Bush left office with historically low approval ratings, and the Obama campaign pretty effectively tied Bush and the GOP with McCain.  But that won’t work for them any more.  Bush is history; a failed Presidency, but one that won’t gain the Democrats any political traction for the future.

        • Failed Presidency?  Yeah, you’ll be having to teach something different in a few years Scott – go ahead, start getting your brain wrapped around it now so it doesn’t explode when the time comes.

  • If anything, repubs are blaming Obama for Bush policies.  Repubs are always, “on a diet between meals.”  So, they start calling themselves independents, and start railing against the 700 billion bailout and the 10 trillion in debt Bush passed on to Obama. When a republican is in office, it’s, “deficits don’t matter.” Cheney, 2008.  When it’s a democrat who won by 9 million votes, running on universal healthcare, is in office, it’s everything has got to have 75 votes in the Senate. While a repub who lost the popular vote does everything through reconciliation, including a medicare part D that’s going to add another 7 trillion to the debt. A pro-choice republican wins in Mass. because Obama adopts a large part of  the healthcare plan John McCain ran on in 2008, with its union attacking, “cadillac tax,” and he’s initiating a government takeover of healthcare.

     

    • Swell of you to pretend the unions weren’t exempted from the ‘cadillac tax’ in the actual Senate bill.

  • “policies of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress from 2000-2006. ”

    Hmm… if I remember correctly, things were fine in 2006. No?

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