Impressive So Far

08.10.12

Where Have These Political Minds Been for the Last Two Years?

I can't help observing that the Obama campaign so far is pretty damn good. I know our wingers can't be persuaded of what I'm about to say here, but I'm not the cheerleader type when it comes to questions like this. In fact, I've savaged the White House political operation on numerous occasions, especially last summer during the debt business; I was about to throw in the towel on these people.

So I count myself as sort of hard to impress on this front, but three things seem pretty obvious to me:

1. The Obama campaign has driven the conversation over the summer far more than Romney campaign. The Bain question, the tax returns, the out of touch aristocrat business--it's sticking more than anything the Romney camp is saying, at least for the moment. We're seeing this in this new batch of polls, especially the particularly striking CNN poll (52-45 Obama) and even the Fox poll (49-40 Obama). The decent July jobs number helped, too, since the conversation wasn't dominated for a week by "uh-oh, just 80,000 jobs, Obama's doomed."

2. They're answering back fast when hit. They have a new ad up in response to the welfare charge, and it's genuinely good. It invokes Clinton's statement, that Romney's charge is "not true," and it's just...credible, as a piece of agitprop, tonally and substantively.

3. Mike Allen's Playbook this morning unveiled some convention plans, and they seem to me pretty impressive. For starters: Remember the idiotic rule the Democrats imposed on themselves in 2004 that they wouldn't attack Bush at their convention? Even in 2008, I don't recall much negativity about John McCain. Joe Biden's acceptance speech was pretty tough, but that was about it. But this sounds pretty promising:

The most innovative – and harshest – element of the preliminary program is a nightly “social contrast” in which two people describe their personal experience with a hot-button issue – one lauding the president’s actions, the other taking Romney to task. “Each paired-testimonial should have an ‘unexpected’ participant,” the documents say. For the gay marriage social contrast, for instance, the documents state the participants should be “not a gay couple” — but a “Parent and gay son or daughter.” Other examples: “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Gay soldier and fellow (straight) soldier who served together in Iraq or Afghanistan (ideally the straight soldier was helped by the gay soldier, i.e., medic, in fire fight) … Planned Parenthood: Husband who talks about how a PAP smear saved his wife’s life and his spouse … Immigration: Two young people from the same family, one who was born here, the other a few years older who was not … Choice: A couple who has children, but wants to make their own decisions, not have the government do it for them (or who has confronted a difficult medical situation).”

I like the instincts I see at work here. A gay and a straight soldier. And a parent with a gay son or daughter is, let's face it, much better politically than a gay couple. We ain't quite there yet. And the immigration set piece seems potentially quite staggering. It sounds as if these vignettes will say to viewers: The world is more complicated than right-wing sound bites acknowledge, and there are real human beings behind these problems. When you show people real human beings, most people don't want to be dismissive and bilious.

It's funny. The people running the campaign are, by and large, the same people who ran the White House political operation. They made a lot of mistakes there. It just goes to show that campaigns are the natural milieus for these people. And that governing is much, much harder than campaigning.