Some good points made upthread by Tom Hilton (and by Steve himself) regarding the sense that the big-name Republican candidates could trounce the big-name Democrats now. Personally, I think that it's way too early to be taking this kind of talk very seriously. Just to put it into some kind of perspective, we're now about nine months away from the point in the 2004 race where all the pundits were confidentally predicting that Howard Dean had the Democratic nomination sewn up. Still, it's a good idea to be prepared and ready to come out swinging.
But Tom refers to the media going after the Democrats with more zeal than they're going after Republicans. I'm sure there are specific instances that one could cite, and it's happened in the past--to Clinton, to Gore for damn sure. Right now, though, as a general phenomena, I don't see it happening that much; I think that the public image of Romney that's come through the mainstream media is that he's a sell-out, and McCain and Guiliani have both taken a few lumps recently, and I think that the press coverage of Obama that's concentrated on the warm glow he installs in people has mostly outweighed the coverage that deals with the sense some people have that he's an empty suit. I'm sure that there will be a lot to be outraged about when things pick up. Right now, the press actually seems to be on the verge of acknowledging, if not addressing, the real pressing question of the moment, which is: given what we now know, in the wake of this business with the Attorney General, and the sense that there's a lot more to come, how harshly will history judge us if we don't impeach the son of a bitch?
Which is why what I'm really concerned about now isn't so much press atacks on Democrats or Democrats doing enough to tar Republicans as Republicans (though I think that, in any open debate forum, Republican candidates should be asked whether they "support" the Bush presidency, and, when they inevitably say that they do, that they ought to be asked to justify that support on specific terms) so much as I am concerned about Democrats being attacked by Democrats--or by progressives, leftists, liberals, anyone who claims to care enough about what happens in this world to vote and who would seem to be better aligned with the Democrats than with the Republicans. One of the venerable lines you hear on this topic has always been that, well, it's a sign of better character and more open mindedness to vote for "the person" and not be partisan and identify with a party. Theoretically, that's a fine idea. Theoretically, voting for Ralph Nader in 2000 was going to help bring about a strong new "genuinely" progressive and viable third party and in the meantime, George Bush and Dick Cheney wouldn't screw up the planet because, well, they just wouldn't. As my grandpa used to say, why don't you crap in one hand and theorize in the other, and then see which one fills up first? Only a committed twit could still be making noises about how the two parties aren't "different." Even if you wish the prominent Democrats would do more to stand for something, where does that place them in relation to McCain, Guiliani, and Romney, all of whom have to some extent jumped into their campaigns by insisitng that they don't stand for certain things that they were recently on record as believing?
I actually rather liked that rogue anti-Hillary ad that made all that noise last week. I liked it even though, if I had to vote today, I'd vote for Hillary. (Who will I vote for in twenty months? How could I possibly know that?) I understand Steve's point in saying that it puts a fascist frame on a candidate who doesn't deserve that, but I don't think it was meant to be taken seriously in that way, any more than that Apple actually meant to suggest that its competitors were fascistic. It's a pop mash-up, a joke that taps into people's memories and that spins off an earlier joke that tapped into people's half-formed fantasies about the concept of being "Orwellian." It also addresses something that Clinton is going to have to deal with, just as Kerry and Gore (and before them, Michael Dukakis, and Walter Mondale, and going all the way back to the original victim of the modern television campaign, Adlia Stevenson) had to deal with the media-generated public perception that they were stiffs. What's distinctive about Hillary's problem, and what I think connects it to Gore's, is that actual, potential voters on her side have had as much to do with building this perception that she's the "establishment" candidate (God, talk about your nostalgic concepts) who must be destroyed because she stands in the way of the pure, grass-roots everyman candidates. She's supposed to be this Goliath powered by money and connections who's going to steamroller everything in her path so that she can gain power and govern from the center, like the madwoman she is. And it wasn't that long ago that the knock on her was supposed to be that her name recognition obscured the fact that she was an unpopular barnicle on the ship of state who under no circumstances could actually win.
I think the most reassuring thing about the whole Apple-Obama ad business was that it actually seemed to inspire responses from the key players that were more or less in proportion to the event. Hillary herself even seemed not just well-controlled but good-spirited about it, as if she'd seen the thing and had been unable to suppress a chuckle. Whatever underhandedness went into its being created and injected into the cultural bloodstream, it's definitely on a different level of scurrilousness than the Swift Boay slimers or Michelle Malkin pointing out that we don't have actual footage that would confirm that John Kerry's war wounds weren't self-inflicted. (Or, for that matter, or Fox News running with the "story" that Obama grew up in a Muslim terrorist training camp, or whatever the hell it was supposed to be. To say nothing of the cesspool rumors about Vince Foster.) I'm not saying that progressives should take what they're offered and like it or lump it. After all, it was Bill Clinton who said that Democrats are fated to disagree on things because that's an inevitable by-product of their greater receptivity to actual thought. (Unfortunately, he said it in the course of stumping for Joe Lieberman, but there's still some truth to it.) The closest that George Bush has come to fulfilling his claim to be a "uniter" was when he persuaded a record number of liberal-minded voters to swallow their differences long enough to pull a lever for John Kerry, not a man of such charisma and broad-based appeal that such an outcome would to be obvious. We can't count on the Republican nominee in 2008 being such a three-ring circus of horrors with extra added attractions that everyone in the country with sense can see that they need to get behind whoever the hell is going to keep this ass from assuming power. It didn't happen in 2000, and maybe the best thing you can say about history is that it probably can't cough up someting like George W.Bush twice in one generation.