Countering Attacks Against Obama

When Democrats lost the Kentucky governorship last week, many commentators credited a Republican strategy of linking Democrat Jack Conway to President Obama, including a particularly devastating TV ad.

Losing the election was hard to take, but what was particularly galling was how it was lost—by the typical jelly-legged passivity of Democrats in the face of Republican attacks. One of the most effective lines in the Tea Party candidate’s attack ad in Kentucky, according to Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, was this:

“Our families can’t afford four more years of the liberal policies of President Obama and career politicians like Jack Conway,” the ad’s narrator says as ominous pictures of the two men are shown on the screen. “Can you really trust Obama and Conway to make things better?”

How on earth can a statement like that go unchallenged? Especially when Kentucky’s unemployment rate is now just 5%! That’s the fourth lowest rate in Kentucky in at least 40 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bested only during the boom years of the late 1990s. Beyond that, thanks to Democrats, more than half a million Kentuckians now have health insurance, the vast majority of whom couldn’t otherwise afford it.

Why do Democrats just lay down in the face of these attacks? Why do they allow Republicans to create these memes that the country is going to hell and liberal policies are bad for America? Why don’t they stand up for
their president, their party, and Democratic policies and values?

Conway should have learned his lesson from last year’s U.S. Senate race, when Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes was trounced after running away from the president. Apparently, he wasn’t paying attention.

The contrast between the campaign ads of Conway and Republican Matt Bevin is shocking. And informative. The Republican’s ads were either unapologetic hyperpartisan attacks or warm-and-fuzzies about conservative values. Conway’s were either clichéd pablum or cowardly retreats in which he tried to out-Republican Republicans. Outrageously, he bragged that he “sued Obama to protect Kentucky coal and farms” or “stood up against Obama to protect Kentucky jobs.” In one, he even quoted the “former chairman of the Republican Party” praising him. Nowhere did he talk about Democratic values or successes. Conway essentially ran as a Republican collaborateur. It was a foolish, pathetic, and thoroughly transparent strategy. If Kentuckians want a leader to stand up to Obama, they’ll vote for a Republican. And they did. The tragedy is not only that Conway lost himself the election with that weaselly passivity, he also diluted the Democratic brand for everyone else.

What would have happened, for example, if Conway had stood up to Bevin’s anti-Obama attacks with an ad like this?:

 

 Title:“Democrats Fight for Workers”
 Length: :60
 Client: Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway
 Campaign: Conway for Governor
Sc# Video Audio
1

MEDIUM SHOT: Atty. Gen. Conway leans against a desk in a well-appointed office, with the American flag and Kentucky state flag in the background. Lower-third captions appear as he speaks.

CAPTION: Jack Conway for Kentucky Governor

CONWAY: I’m Jack Conway. You may have seen the ads from my opponent, linking me to President Obama. Well, let’s just look at what President Obama and the Democrats have done in the last seven years:

CAPTION: Brought Kentucky unemployment down to 5%—far lower than under Ronald Reagan

Brought Kentucky’s unemployment rate down to 5%. During the last year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, unemployment in Kentucky was almost 7%.

CAPTION: Affordable health care for 500,000 Kentuckians

Brought affordable health care to more than half a million Kentuckians

CAPTION: Saved auto industry jobs

Saved Chrysler and thousands of auto workers’ jobs when Republicans wanted to throw them under the bus

CAPTION: Stopped credit card abuses

Passed a law that stopped the worst abuses of the credit card industry

And what were Republicans doing? Shutting down the government and trying to give more tax breaks to the rich. They attacked the president’s citizenship and even his patriotism. And through all that, the president has conducted himself with unfailing grace and dignity.

CAPTION: Vote Jack Conway for Governor on November 4.

As your governor, I will do what Democrats have been doing for a hundred years: Fighting for working people, not for the wealthy.

 

Or instead of running sleazy, ham-fisted negative ads about Bevn’s personal finances, why didn’t he attack his opponent’s core beliefs, like this?:

 Title:“Keep Kentucky Strong”
 Length: :30
 Client: Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway
 Campaign: Conway for Governor
Sc# Video Audio
1

Kentucky Capitol Building

ANNOUNCER: What would happen to the great state of Kentucky if Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin became governor?

Let’s look at other states where Tea Party conservatives run the government.

2

CUT TO:

HEADLINE: More than 100 Republicans endorse Democrat against Kansas Gov. Brownback (R)

Washington Post
July 15, 2014

ANNOUNCER: In Kansas, budget deficits are so bad Republicans staged a mutiny against their own governor.

3

CUT TO:

HEADLINE: State faces $2.2 billion deficit

Wisconsin State Journal
November 21, 2014

ANNOUNCER: Wisconsin’s budget deficit is more than 2 billion dollars.

4

CUT TO:

HEADLINE: Louisiana’s budget is a fiscal mess

New Orleans Times-Picayune
April 9, 2015

ANNOUNCER: In Louisiana, Republicans have created another massive budget disaster.

5

CUT TO:

CAPTION: Vote for Jack Conway on November 4th.

ANNOUNCER: Don’t let Matt Bevin and the Tea Party turn Kentucky into a second-rate state.

Would those have worked? Maybe. Maybe not. Admittedly, a coal state like Kentucky is a hard sell when the president and Democrats are trying to wean the country off of coal. And since polls in Kentucky showed Conway with a lead, he may not have thought it was necessary to counter his opponent’s messages.

But the point is, Democrats can’t just lie down in the face of these Republican memes. They have to learn to fight for their party and their beliefs. Rather than play defense, Democrats should be the first to go on offense, with ads touting Democratic values and successes and attacking conservatives as timid, backward thinkers whose tax-cutting agenda would turn America into a second-rate superpower.

Republicans are no doubt pissing themselves in anticipation of using this anti-Obama tactic wherever they can in 2016. Democratic candidates better be ready for them—and they better be ready to fight for the president and their party. They can’t let themselves be bullied. Kentucky shows what happens when you do.

One of the Democrats’ 7 Winning Messages is “conviction.” Voters don’t vote for wimps. And one of the 4 Unbreakable Rules of Democratic Campaigning is “Be a proud Democrat.” Democrats have a powerful message to tell: We are the party that fights for American workers.

It’s about time Democrats started telling it.

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