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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Fear and loathing: 2008 edition

Watching the Flip Flop Express head for a snow bank reminds me once again about how the Republicans plan to run 2008 general election.

The model was perfected in 1988 when Lee Atwater, recognizing the ennui that greeted GOP nominee George H.W. Bush, promised to "strip the bark off the little bastard." By driving up the negatives of the then-unknown Michael Dukakis, the elder Bush prevailed.

The model worked well in 2000 and 2004, when Junior -- with an assist from Al Gore's breathing patterns and the Swift Boat Veterans for 'The Truth' -- won himself eight years in the White House.

Today, we're seeing the same dynamic at work as Myth Romney fights for his survival. Romney, whose campaign hallmark is saying anything and everything, is now trying to claim he's the victim of attacks even as he launches broadsides at John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

This is simply following the the footsteps of Rudy "subject-verb 9-11" Giuliani and Junior himself, who used every opportunity to sow fear and uncertainty in his bid for re-election.

And it explains why the Democratic race has come down to the question of who is in the best position to take the barrage when the Republican Fear and Smear Machine heats up for the November tussle.

When Hillary Clinton says she has "the experience," many pundits have translated that to her time in the Senate -- coupled with her time in the White House as First Lady -- gives her the policy expertise.

In a sense, that is what she has been selling. But in a broader sense, Clinton is claiming she's had the bark stripped off and lived to tell about it. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is too "unknown" and too "nice" to survive the onslaught.

The GOP general election strategy is clear: immigration, terrorism and and an effort to paint the Democratic nominee as a threat to mom, baseball, and apple pie. What else is there for a Republican to run on? The Bush record?

Clinton believes her ability to withstand the fear and loathing directed at her and her husband makes her uniquely qualified.

And that's what is so appropriate about the title of Obama's book -- The Audacity of Hope. It is indeed an audacious thought in 21st Century America, riven by the culture wars and the Ayatollahs of the Right, that there might be hope, that in the words of Rodney King "can't we all just get along."

I've bloviated many times, starting with my very first post, about how the Right uses fear as an (effective) weapon in winning and holding power. Obama is the first politician of the Left in a very long time to try and offer a counterpoint.

"Experience" is a mixed model. Look at Bush's history, whether as Texas governor or all the jobs daddy helped him get. Or Romney's decidedly unimpressive term in Massachusetts. Experience was certainly shown the door in Iowa when Chris Dodd and Joe Biden trailed the field.

What's wrong with a little hope?

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