Former Governor, former Presidential candidate and former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean unveiled the Democratic Party’s trial balloon for the election of 2012. Normally, I bold all the text in an excerpt but I will do so from this POLITICO post only selectively:
….Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Dean, who’s also a former Democratic national chairman and hero of liberals, asserted Fox News failed to vet video footage of a speech misleadingly excerpted to make it appear that Sherrod was boasting of using her post as an Agriculture Department official to discriminate against a white farmer.
“I don’t think Newt Gingrich is a racist, and I don’t think you’re a racist,” Dean told Fox News host Chris Wallace, “but Fox News did something that was absolutely racist. They took a – they had an obligation to find out what was really in the clip. They had been pushing a theme of black racism with this phony Black Panther crap and this business and this Sotomayor and all this other stuff.”
When Wallace interrupted Dean to point out that Fox did not air the excerpted Sherrod footage until after the Obama administration had fired her based on it , Dean shot back “It was about to go on Glenn Beck, which is what the administration was afraid of.”
And Dean mildly rebuked the Obama administration, as well, saying, “We’ve got to stop being afraid of Glenn Beck (a Fox News host) and the racist fringe of the Republican Party. But Fox News was not blameless during this. You played it up.”
Dean dismissed Wallace’s point about timing, asserting “you didn’t do your job,” and charging that Fox News has helped the Republican Party foster racism by focusing on allegations of reverse racism.
“The tea party called out their racist fringe and I think the Republican Party’s got to stop appealing to its racist fringe. And Fox News is what did that. You put that on,” Dean said. “Continuing to cater to this theme of minority racism and stressing comments like this – some of which are taken out of context – does not help the country knit itself
In just this brief section where Dean is quoted, he used the word “racism” or a variant seven times and is paraphrased saying it twice more. Most likely, the transcript of the show will tally more uses of “racist” than just seven to nine in a few minutes of air time. Now either Howard Dean, a wealthy man born into a elite family, a graduate of St. Georges prep and Yale University, a physician and very successful governor, has only a rudimentary vocabulary or Dean was doing a crude imitation of George Lakoff’s verbal “framing” and testing the Democratic Party’s none-too-subtle campaign theme:”All Republicans are racists”.
The underlying issue here is not about Shirley Sherrod or even racism, but of political power.
It seems likely at this point in time that the Democratic Party is headed for a reprise of their 1994 electoral disaster, despite the Republican Party being incompetent and bankrupt of both leadership and ideas ( in fact, given the demonstrated ineptitude of Micheal Steele as the GOP spokesman, the bast tactical stance for Republicans might be to just shut-up and only speak from unimpeachable ground that 60 % + of the public agrees with). The war is not going well and the economy is worse, while taxes and spending are going up. That all of this is not the fault of Democrats is irrelevant because enough of it is and having all the power, the voters see them as accountable.. Having decided to govern from the left of center – maybe not Netroots Left, but left of moderate Democrats and Independents, under the aegis of Pelosi and Reid – the Democrats have irrevocably branded themselves for this election cycle and probably the next.
Not having any appealing points for undecided voters and independents leaves the Democrats the option of the hardball attack with the objective of mitigating the damage. How does trying to build an association between the word “racism” and “Republican” do that as it obviously fires up the Republicans to come out and vote by angering them?
Partisan liberals (note: I am not saying all liberals or all Democrats, just the zealous partisans) tend to believe that the only viable explanation for people not accepting their political agenda and exercise of power is a) Stupidity, or b) Evil motivations – among which, racism is the most evil of all. In other words, there is no “legitimate” basis of democratic disagreement with them, only error and malice. Which is why many partisan liberals today, like the ranters exposed on Journolist, often come across to non-liberals as humorless authoritarians in a way that past liberals like Hubert Humphrey, William Brennan or Barbara Jordan never did. This campaign theme, while partisan liberals enjoy attacking Republicans immensely, isn’t for them either. They already are sure votes and maxed out political donors.
No, the target audience for Dean’s framing are the younger, basically apolitical, white voters who came out and voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and whom polls suggest won’t do so again. A second group are socially liberal, Democratic-leaning, independent swing voters. A coordinated drumbeat of prominent Democrats relentlessly attacking opponents as “racists” is designed to keep the first group at home on election day so that they do not vote Republican and to motivate the second group to come out and vote against them. In swing districts and states this might keep a few seats in Democratic hands that might otherwise go to the GOP and it could permanently tarnish or destroy some Republican politicians and turn them into damaged goods.
This is not a stupid tactic. It might not matter, if public sentiment is as angrily anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat as some polls suggest but such a framing campaign is based upon reasonable evidence that negative memes work, that charges of racism are an effective form of slander in American society, that Republicans are highly unlikely to mount an effective counterattack and that a majority of voters are only dimly aware of the factual details of political life. The prospect of losing power makes it a worthwhile gamble for Democrats – especially if figures whom voters cannot punish, like Howard Dean, lead the charge ( it also helps that a certain percentage of members of Congress of both parties harbor some degree of racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, religious bigotry, misogyny or other unseemly prejudices more obscure and tend to do and say things that give evidence of such beliefs. Public life is a target rich environment for take-down efforts).
Could Republicans respond effectively? Of course. There’s all sorts of ways to go for the jugular here, but they probably will not. Newt Gingrich, for example, could have demolished Dean on live television but he chose not to do so because Newt himself plays the “framing” game far better than does Dean and explaining to the uninformed what Dean was doing diminishes Gingrich’s own future rhetorical effectiveness with said uninformed public. Most other Republican leaders lack Gingrich’s intellectual firepower and debating skills and would either try to ignore the charge of racism (a loser move) or fall into protesting their lack of racism so as to better make themselves the object of ridicule as well as abuse.
The poor Republican Party, so close to power and so far from strategy.