Enough already. The Democratic primary is in danger of turning into a focus group for the GOP. Haven’t these guys heard of mutually assured destruction? It’s as if Senator Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have entered into a pact to make the Democratic nomination as worthless as possible.
Instead of focusing on public policy issues the campaigns now seem to be nothing more than a series of attacks while friends of the candidates lob rhetorical grenades onto the playing field every so often. The only winner in this kind of fights is Senator John McCain.
The Friends of Hillary and Friends of Barack problems are enough to disrupt any candidate’s momentum. If they can’t find a way to keep their supporters in check neither will have any campaign staff left. The seemingly weekly resignations and apologies are getting old.
Of course, each has a non-staffer to rein in as well. Senator Clinton has her husband and Senator Obama his minister. These are (relatively) free agents who, while lacking formal roles in the campaigns, are an integral part of each candidate’s persona. They can’t be disciplined in the normal fashion, pushed aside nor ignored. They exist and have to be dealt with, but doing so is a huge waste of valuable time, resources and credibility.
As if the contribution of Senators Clinton and Obama’s friends weren’t enough to gladden the heart of Republican operatives everywhere, there’s the focus of the current debate. Is Senator Obama ready to answer the phone at 3:00 am? Did Hillary really act co-president during the Bill Clinton Administration? Is Senator Obama no more than an outstanding speaker? Is Senator Clinton merely the last gasp of the old guard?
These are the kinds of questions the GOP will be raising. Thanks to the Clinton and Obama campaigns, they have the benefit of seeing the impact of the attacks without spending a dime on market research. It’s a gift that, unfortunately, keeps on giving.
Everyone says there’s not much difference in the policy positions of the Democratic candidates so all they can talk about is personality and experience. Nonsense. There’s a host of issues that have yet to be explored. Has either candidate given a speech on reforming the tax system? On what they’d do to promote business growth and jobs? On how they’d address the country’s fraying infrastructure? On their view of the separation of church and state?
There’s just less than a months worth of news cycles between now and the Pennsylvania primary on April 22nd. And then there will be another six weeks until the primaries are finally over. The Clinton and Obama campaigns seem committed to filling these news cycles with attacks on one another. That’s mutually assured destruction. And there’s a reason the acronym for that strategy is MAD.
So here’s an idea: the candidates should sit down and work out a policy discussion policy. Every three-or-four days they should commit to a speech on the same topic, taking turns on who goes first. They should commit to only talking about their own positions, not their opponents, in the speech. In the days following the day or two after the second speech they can compare and contrast their positions, but then it’s on to the next topic.
Under no circumstances should they use the speeches to denigrate their opponent. Instead they should be striving to use these presentations as a way to explain their world view and their policy perspectives.
These wouldn’t be debates. We’ve had 20 of those and they’ve lost their meaning. The candidates get a few minutes to answer questions from reporters who often seem more interested in showing how clever they are rather than enlightening the electorate. A series of policy statements side-steps the media’s self-aggrandizement and forces the press to report on the substance of the candidates’ positions.
If Senators Clinton and Obama need an honest broker to help them work out the details on this policy playoff system, they can call in Howard Dean. Maybe he’s busy working on the nominating convention and it’s just not visible to the general public. Or maybe he’s not doing much more than he appears to be doing — which is very little if anything. As Chair of the Democratic National Committee it’s his job to make sure the party wins in November. Floating above the fray while the candidates hack away at one another is a dereliction of duty. He needs to step in or step aside.
Could something like this ever happen? Probably not. The media would prefer to keep the focus on the horse race aspect of the campaigns. Reporting on policy positions is much tougher — you actually have to know something about the issue to ask intelligent questions or to analyze the candidate statements.
And campaign staff much more prefer lobbing grenades than thinking through policies. It’s much easier for them to come up with a nasty sound bite than a 45 minute dissertation on farm subsidies.
If something is going to happen to stop Senators Clinton and Obama from destroying one another, it’s going to be because they and/or Governor Dean decide that MAD is stupid. Except for the GOP. They’ve got to be loving the turn the Democratic primary has taken. And that alone should be enough for the Democrats to make a change.