So I was on the listening end of two phone calls yesterday that summed up this November's election. In a nutshell: Democrats are reaching out to new voters with a message of optimism and hope. Republicans are reaching out to their traditional base with a message of fear and anger.
Guess which side is expected to rack up big wins this fall?
The first call took place yesterday afternoon. It was a conference call with reporters convened by state Democratic Party Chair Jim Burn, Congressional candidate John Callahan, and Kerri Axelrod of Organizing for America, the outgrowth of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign.
The talk was upbeat. This weekend, we were told, Democratic volunteers will be knocking on some 400,000 doors -- part of "the unprecedented grassroots activity happening around this state." The goal, Burn told reporters, was to reach out to independent and newer voters, "some of whom only went to the polls for the first time in 2008."
"I'm very excited about this," Burn said. "We're reaching out to our core voters, in addition to those who voted for the first time, to engage them about our ... mid-term candidates."
It's admirable that Democrats are trying to reach out to voters caught up in the revolutionary spirit of 2008. The problem is that they are trying to harness that boundless, optimistic energy in support of candidates like ... Dan Onorato.
I'm not here to slag on Onorato. I think he's a skilled politician, and when I pick up the paper in the morning, I'm not expecting to read some wince-inducing disclosure about him. There are plenty of officials you can't say that of. But it's hard to imagine Onorato lighting the fire of political newcomers. The only time I've ever seen young people excited about Onorato, in fact, was at his campaign kickoff -- and they were on hand to protest.
And it seemed ominous that during the conference call, we were supposed to hear from campaign organizer Greg Myers -- but apparently he couldn't be brought to a working phone. Hard not to see a metaphor in that.
Burn rolled along with such setbacks as best he could. When a reporter asked about whether get-out-the-vote efforts were especially important "given what every poll shows ... is an enthusiasm gap," Burn answered that while he was cognizant of the polls, Democrats took all elections seriously. That struck me as a sobering thought. (You mean the party was giving its all in 1994 too? Uh-oh.) But Burn, of course, has the unenviable job of trying to solve problems like the "enthusiasm gap" without really conceding that they exist.
The Republican strategy, meanwhile, runs the opposite direction: scare voters shitless about problems that don't exist.
That the calls are chock full of unmitigated horseshit goes without saying. Gingrich, for example, called to let me know that it will be "up to good solid conservatives like you and I" to overturn Obama's "plans to overturn the United States into a socialist country." He also had a book he very much wanted me to read.
Last night, meanwhile, Morris too told me that if we elect a GOP majority this November, we can reverse "the socialist agenda that Barack Obama has put into effect."
For starters, he said, a GOP majority could roll back healthcare reform. And you know what that means, right? "Public funding for abortion, gone," Morris said. "Death panels -- gone."
Well, I'll say this much: If Republicans take back both houses of Congress, it's true you won't have to worry about death panels. Then again, you don't have to worry about death panels even if they don't regain control of Congress -- because there aren't any death panels, for fuck's sake.
It's actually embarrassing to have to write that last line. I mean, you and I not only know this -- we knew it a year ago. And whatever we may think of healthcare reform, we were probably relieved that the "death panel" argument, at least, was over. But for a lot of Republicans out there, it isn't over.
Republicans aren't offering a political vision. They're offering a delusion instead, and hoping no one will notice the difference. But as of yet, I haven't heard anything from Democrats to compete with it.
I mean, I assume Democrats will soon be launching the scary Pat-Toomey-wants-to-privatize-Social-Security-and-throw-Nanna-out-into-the-street ads. Such ads are scary, appeal to a Democratic base of supervoters -- old folks who would prefer not to be thrown out into the street -- and have at least a passing acquaintance with the truth. (Republicans aren't dumb enough to screw this generation of retirees out of their benefits, but over the long term, Pat Toomey is a greater threat to Social Security than Barack Obama is to capitalism.)
Then again, maybe Democrats won't use the issue: They seem to have a hard timing punishing Republicans who make reckless, offensive, and demonstrably false statements about Social Security's viability. The message we're getting is ... you can't trust Republicans with elected office, but they'll do nicely for a Presidential commission charged with ensuring the long-term viability of a beloved government institution.
But I guess that we're all supposed to gamely ignore that stuff. I got an e-mail from Barack Obama's spam robot the other day -- look at all the name dropping I'm doing in this post! -- asking if I would "commit to voting in the 2010 elections." Campaign veteran David Plouffe followed up with a blast e-mail of his own, reminding me that "Studies have shown that when people pledge to do something they're much more likely to follow through" -- a fact that "helped us make history in 2008."
"Yeah, sure, I'll make that pledge," I wrote back. "Just like the president pledged to repeal Don't Ask/Don't Tell. That's good enough for you, right? I mean, you feel comfortable taking my word on that, don't you? After all, as you say, 'when people pledge to do something, they're much more likely to follow through.'"
That e-mail went right into somebody's "junk items/lefty whining" folder. And rightfully so, I guess. In the end, you have to hope that whatever the Democrats' shortcomings, these e-mail campaigns and door-knocking efforts are enough to stem the tidal wave of bullshit emanating from jokers like Newt Gingrich.
I just wish, though, that Republicans had a little less imagination -- and Democrats had a little more.