Hectoring the Base: It’s Not About GOTV, It’s About Laying the Blame
Tuesday September 28, 2010
Obama is at it again, this time in Rolling Stone:
The president told Democrats that making change happen is hard and “if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”
Yes, for those wondering, this guy actually did win an election in 2008:
OBAMA: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we’ve got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.
The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.
I’d like to set the President’s mind at ease here. Even if the GOP wins both houses of Congress, he’ll still be President. And they’ll still need his signature on those bills.
But all of this “hippie punching” isn’t about turning out voters. To do that, as Obama well knows, you have to inspire them. Notice that nobody actually running for office is wagging their finger at voters and scolding them like a bunch of children.
No, this isn’t about GOTV. It’s about setting up a narrative for who will take the blame for a disastrous election. And once again, the White House doesn’t care if they make matters worse in order to deflect responsibility from Obama.
October 23, 2009, Creigh Deeds — Ten days before the general election, from the Washington Post:
Sensing that victory in the race for Virginia governor is slipping away, Democrats at the national level are laying the groundwork to blame a loss in a key swing state on a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign that failed to fully embrace President Obama until days before the election.
January 17, 2009: Martha Coakley — Two days before the Massachusetts election, from Ed Henry, CNN:
Sources: Obama advisers believe Coakley will lose
Multiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe Democrat Martha Coakley is going to lose Tuesday’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy for more than 40 years, several Democratic sources told CNN Sunday.
The sources added that the advisers are still hopeful that Obama’s visit to Massachusetts on Sunday – coupled with a late push by Democratic activists – could help Coakley pull out a narrow victory in an increasingly tight race against Republican state Sen. Scott Brown.
However, the presidential advisers have grown increasingly pessimistic in the last three days about Coakley’s chances after a series of missteps by the candidate, sources said.
May 18, 2010: Arlen Specter — ABC News:
White House distances Obama from Specter
The White House is seeking to distance President Barack Obama from longtime Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter as the Democrat faces shaky election prospects in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary.
On the eve of the election, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that while the president was following the Pennsylvania race – as well as primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky – he wasn’t watching that closely.
That’s a far cry from a year ago, when Obama said Specter would have his “full support” after the Republican lawmaker switched to the Democratic party. The president appeared with Specter at a rally in Pennsylvania in September, telling the crowd that Specter came to Washington “to fight for the working men and women of Pennsylvania.”
On the eve of the Pennsylvania primary a poll shows the race too close to call, with Sestak claiming 42 percent of support among Democrats likely to vote and Specter with 41 percent, according to the Quinnipiac University survey released Monday.
June 7, 2010 — 1 day before the Arkansas election, Sam Stein in the Huffington Post:
Obama Disengages From Race As Blanche Lincoln Slips In Polls
The White House is still formally supporting Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s re-election bid as the Arkansas Democratic primary approaches its runoff vote on Tuesday. But over the past few weeks, as the incumbent senator’s prospects for holding onto the seat have became more unsettled, the president and his team have been noticeably silent about the race.
Aides won’t go there on record, or even on background. But they don’t correct the assertion that they’ve stepped back from the race. The evidence is obvious. Save a perfunctory, donate-to-Blanche-email signed on June 2 by Vice President Joseph Biden, the type of formal campaigning that team Obama rolled out prior to the first vote (with radio ads and robocalls) has been completely non-existent.
I can tell you without fear of contradiction that in the last days of a tight race, or even a not-tight race, short of the FBI finding a stash of kiddie porn on your laptop there is nothing worse than the headline-grabbing news that the head of your party, the President of the United States, thinks you are a shitty candidate and his aides are privately saying you are going to lose.
It could easily shave 5 points off your total and mean the margin of defeat. It threatens to instantly suppress all those difficult-to-motivate 2008 “surge” voters the Democrats have been chasing, and which Obama’s support was supposed to deliver.
In the case of Specter and Lincoln, that support was promised in exchange for their votes on measures Obama is now crowing about. He tells Rolling Stone he has achieved “70%” of his campaign promises. That’s a bit far-fetched, but be that as it may, Lincoln’s vote for his health care bill cost her dearly, and without Specter’s vote for the stimulus, it never would have happened.
Now I don’t feel the least bit sorry for either of them, but it doesn’t say anything good about Obama that he would abandon them in the clinch like that either.
But this is a clear pattern with the Obama White House. Insulating the President from blame for electoral losses is paramount, even at the risk of triggering the loss. Setting up the narrative, pre-election, that the campaign was doomed anyway and there was nothing Obama could do to save it was considered more important.
So when people scratch their heads and wonder how a campaign based on hectoring the “professional left” expects to turn out voters, the answer is, it doesn’t. And you don’t see anyone who’s actually running for office this November engaging in it. They well know that your job is to inspire and energize voters in advance of the election. Obama did too — when he was running for office himself.
But now that he’s not running, and it’s someone else’s butt on the line, he’s turning the Democratic base into Martha Coakley and setting them up for the blame for any electoral failure in fall. The people who showed up to vote for him in 2008 “just weren’t serious” if they “now want to take their ball and go home.”
There is no internal consistency to the narrative that the “professional left” is suppressing turnout by criticizing Obama, but Obama is not suppressing turnout when he scolds the voters who aren’t clapping loudly enough for his achievements. But few in the professional punditocracy find their way to that obvious conclusion.
This isn’t about GOTV. It’s about setting up a fall guy for November. The headline should really read:
Obama Distances Himself From Democratic Voters
Democratic voters are all Martha Coakley now. And if shielding Obama from blame makes matters worse for those who are actually running in November? Well, that’s the price of protecting the President.