Remember the Dole-Gingrich Congress?
When the Democratic National Committee was trying to soften up Bob Dole in advance of the 1996 presidential race, they ran a bunch of Ã¢â‚¬Å“issue adsÃ¢â‚¬? attacking the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Dole-Gingrich Congress.Ã¢â‚¬? The premise was that since Dole was the Senate majority leader and Gingrich was speaker of the House, anything unpopular the Congress had done could be tied around their joint necks.
But the transparent reason for the Dole-Gingrichizing of the Congress was to tie the persona of Dole, who was going to be the Republican nominee for president, to that of Gingrich, whom Democrats believed was the face of right-wing extremism. It probably worked, too, although in retrospect, no one was going to beat Bill Clinton in 1996.
I bring it up now as an example of a tactic that has become common. You run against your opponent by linking him/her to someone unpopular and encouraging voters to transfer their dislike.
Mark Kennedy and his allies did it to Patty Wetterling when they decided to link her to Moveon.org, a liberal organization that supported her. They ran ads attacking her by citing positions taken by Moveon but not by Wetterling. And, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, Democrats seem inclined to run against every Republican this year by running against Pres. Bush.
But at the 6th District DFL convention that endorsed Wetterling for Congress, I noticed that the new Gingrich may be White House political strategist Karl Rove. As mentioned in my story in the Sunday paper, Wetterling and Elwyn Tinklenberg both brought up Rove as part of their attack on state Sen. Michele Bachmann, the Republican endorsee in the race.
Tinklenberg said it was clear that Bachmann would be running an Ã¢â‚¬Å“ugly Rove-ian character assault from the beginning.Ã¢â‚¬?
Wetterling said she would spend her campaign treasury exposing BachmannÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“extreme anti-family record and making sure that no Republican attack goes unanswered…I will refuse to let Karl Rove or anyone else define me or what I believe in.Ã¢â‚¬?
The Democrats hit Bachmann hard all day Saturday. State Rep. Matt Entenza, a candidate for attorney general, called her Ã¢â‚¬Å“the kind of person who makes extremists look like moderates.Ã¢â‚¬?
State Sen. Tarryl Clark, who spoke on behalf of WetterlingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s endorsement, called Bachmann Ã¢â‚¬Å“the devil in the blue dress.Ã¢â‚¬?
But they may have been engaging in a bit of pre-emptive Rove-ing themselves. First of all, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not aware of any attacks by Bachmann on either Wetterling or Tinklenberg. She didn’t attack her Republican opponents much in the endorsement fight just concluded. So I’m not sure how Tinklenberg knows that she will be running a campaign of character assassination.
And WetterlingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s use of the term of Ã¢â‚¬Å“anti-familyÃ¢â‚¬? also has a whiff of the tactics that Democrats attribute to Rove, namely to directly attack an opponent on what is supposed to be their main strength.
Bachmann is the heroine of social conservatives. Her signature issues — opposition to all abortion, banning gay marriage, bashing secular humanism in the schools, represent a basket that, over recent years have been described as the “pro-family” agenda.
Democrats have every right to contest that terminology. They appear determined to argue that their policy preferences Ã¢â‚¬â€œ on taxes, education, Social Security, etc. Ã¢â‚¬â€œ does lot more for average families that does banning gay marriage or abortion. Good for them. Make the case that they are the pro-family party.
But by labeling Bachmann as Ã¢â‚¬Å“anti-familyÃ¢â‚¬? they arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just saying that BachmannÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s policies are bad for families. It crosses the fairly absurd line of claiming that she has something against families and seeks to do them harm.
I recognize that both parties do this to each other a lot. I have received more than a dozen RNC emails just in the past two months in which they claim to have discovered the DemocratsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬Å“real agenda.Ã¢â‚¬? The Ã¢â‚¬Å“real agenda” varies, but in two of the most outrageous versions the Dems Ã¢â‚¬Å“real agendaÃ¢â‚¬? is:
From the RNC Research Dept:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“DEMS’ REAL AGENDA: WEAKENING THE TOOLS TO FIGHT TERROR.Ã¢â‚¬?
And one personallyfrom
RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, titled: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Their real agendaÃ¢â‚¬? which includes the flat statement that Ã¢â‚¬Å“Weakening our national security is their agenda.Ã¢â‚¬?
Why, Mr. Chairman, would the Democrats want to weaken our national security? Can he not see the difference between saying Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m concerned that their ideas on defense would weaken our national securityÃ¢â‚¬? versus accusing them of the treason actually wanting to weaken our national security?
Children, children, please. Must we tell voters that they have a choice between a party that wants to weaken America and one that dislikes families?
So I called the Bachmann campaign from the convention floor, to make sure they had an opportunity to resond to the things that were being said about her. In return, I received a press release by email, the full text of which was:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“As a State Senator who has represented a large portion of the 6th Congressional District over the past six years, I am proud of my representation. I look forward to a campaign focused on the issues of importance to my constituents ,and the rest of the citizens of this district.Ã¢â‚¬?
On the other hand, within minutes of WetterlingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s endorsement, the Minnesota GOP emailed to reporters that:
“There will be a clear choice in this race between Michele Bachmann’s common sense conservatism and Patty Wetterling’s far-left record.Ã¢â‚¬?
Another common part of modern political communications theory is to let the candidates take the high road and the leave the attacking to surrogates.