A little less than a year ago, one of our long-time commenters (thanks for your patronage, all!) chastised Democrats for what he saw as a tactless farewell to President Bush, and hoped that Republicans would set the standard for a loyal, respectful, but vigorous opposition. That hope, surely honestly felt, has come to naught. In 2009, conservatives set a new high-water mark for the use of mendacity as a political tool — from the sheer shock of Sarah Palin’s “death panel” lie, to the schlocky, misdirected patriotic pathos of Glenn Beck and his “tea parties,” and, perhaps most egregiously, the willful attempt to brush everything about George W. Bush under the rug. Hey, if Obama’s such a great president, how come he started his term with a deficit? These are important questions.
We as Democrats should, in the new year, choose together a way to meet and conquer this rising tide of hatred. That process begins by conceding that we’ve failed to build a unified strategy, and admitting that we need to find one. But how? The way I see it, we have two options. We can come out with guns blazing. Some have already chosen this option, and hey, maybe it’ll work this time. Or we can take the path of greatest resistance and try to lead with a compassionate, scrupulously honest, but forceful voice. We can avoid negative campaigning, spurn attempts to divide, and run a positive, issue-based election, characterized by optimistic messaging about successes and new ideas (health care will cut the deficit, will provide greater coverage, etc.), and trust the media to draw comparisons favorable to us for our efforts.
Positive campaigning and cooperation, per some models, produces fewer payoffs in the short term. But it has the benefit of being the right thing to do. It’s what most Americans want, and a quick way to the moral high ground to boot. I don’t intend to offer an answer yet; I merely intend to pose the question, and hope we settle on a solution sooner rather than later.