Monday, September 01, 2008

Personality versus issues

I caught the roundtable part of This Week on ABC and the Meet the Press on NBC this Sunday. This Week had a Republican strategist Mathew Dowd on, who said something startling to me, until I realized he was not so much describing as trying to direct. He said the election would not be about issues, it would be about the experience and values of the candidates. Well, sure, McCain wants the only issue to be that he will maintain the status quo, and Obama will raise taxes and change things. Whenever you can make it seem like a black man is saying “things gonna change ’round here”, you can make some large segment of the population nervous. McCain is going after the Republican base, the evangelicals (those presumably not already part of the Republican base) and independent and conservative white Democratic voters with no more than a high school degree. Obama presumably is going after educated white Democratic, independent and even Republican voters, as well as the Democratic base and a fair number of young voters. Mathew Dowd was at pains to say that many voters had no participated in the primaries (even though Democrats reported record turnouts) and that the young people who voted in the primaries would not turnout for the general.

There is a fair danger that Mathew Dowd is correct. It is pretty difficult to get and/or keep undereducated voters to focus on issues. They internalize character issues and scandal more easily (a lot of the time so too do educated voters). Obama is getting help from the NYTimes on this front, but even that is a double edged sword, reinforcing accusations that Obama is elitist. I suspect the unions will help. Despite the fact the Democrats felt somewhat betrayed by Clinton in 1992, I don’t think they want to risk losing Congress again.

If McCain is elected, he will likely face a Democratic Congress that still does not have a veto proof majority in the Senate. He will have to decide, if the Congress does decide to pass a universal health insurance bill (and in this situation they could pass Edwards’ plan as easily as Obama’s), would he veto it. If the Congress passed tax cuts for the middle class and poor, and let the Bush tax cuts expire, would McCain veto those. Honestly I have no idea, but certainly a return to government gridlock, for at least two years until the midterms, could be possible.

What’s interesting is that conservatives are partly right in talking about how liberal are talking about McCain. He used to be the Democrats best friend outside their own party. He attacked the Bush tax cuts, he supported Tom Daschle who wanted to investigate what the administration knew about 9/11 and he sponsored and passed the anti-torture bill. But McCain has backpedaled on quite a bit. He now wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent (Congress passed them as temporary) and he agrees with the administration’s definition of torture.

I think John McCain has the potential to be another Ronald Reagan, a plain spoken guy, this time a genuine hero (although a person being a hero for being a POW is a bit dubious), and someone liked even by some liberals like Jon Stewart. But I think if Obama sticks to talking about the issues, about how policy affects real people, he can keep the election focused where it needs to be - on us, not on the personalities or characteristics of the candidates.

One more brief note. Sarah Palin is described as an expert on energy policy. Maria Bartiromo said as much, based on Palin’s two years as governor, and unknown time on the State Oil and Gas board as the ethic commissioner. She resigned the board after sometime, complaining about the ethics of her fellow (Republican) commissioners. I note she raised the tax on oil and gas production at some point during the last two years. She placed the interests of 600,000 Alaskans over 299,400,000 lower 48 and 1 island Americans. This is an indication of her expertise?


Bram Reichbaum said...

It's easier to keep voters focused on issues if those issues have a theme.

Nobody's dumb enough to accept "Change" and "Hope" as issues, yet few will peer into and observe the jewels buried within Obama's speeches which reveal that he really does want to eat the rich -- or at least feed off of them to the extent that we can remain competitive -- and that that's okay.

EdHeath said...

I think the best way to look at Obama's policy towards the very rich versus the rest of us is to look at how income inequality has been growing over time. I don't think democracy is well served by the rich getting really, really rich.

BlenderHouse said...

The meyers and briggs people ( taught us that 70% of the people prefer to make decisions based on how they feel while only 30% prefer to make decisions based on logical examination of the facts. That is why we have personality politics.

EdHeath said...

Well, fair enough. My own Meyers-Briggs type on INTP sticks me in the thirty percent crowd.

Still, you think it should be possible to ask people to look at their situation and then ask them if they are better off now than they were when the Bush administration started.

I am thinking about and probably will post on issues again soon. I think the candidates have both gone into the silly season, where they promise far more than they can or even should deliver.

Bram Reichbaum said...

The thing is, issues can make you feel. Issues can resonate as feelings, if you strike the right cords and it's in the right meter. Voters need to be assured that they can "feel" good about liberalism, or at least Obama's neoliberalism. (POW!)

EdHeath said...

Yeah, Bram, I absolutely want to agree. The Earned Income Credit is a relatively dry part of the tax rules, but when I see someone who is getting more than four grand back, and will pay off bills from Christmas and/or maybe buy an appliance in the Februray sales, I can't help but feel good about that. I work in a place that doesn't charge for tax preperaton services, so people get to keep all their money.

Unfortunately some images seem to resonate even more with voters, such as the Willie Horton ad. Obama has a huge burden just in being black. McCain doesn't have to mention it, he just needs to give (some) voters the excuse they are craving not to vote for Obama. Still, McCain may do himself in. I can't imagine he can afford too many more mistakes like Palin.