The Plank

For All You Dukakis Fans Out There . . .


The Duke holds forth on the current campaign in an interview with the New York Observer! It's actually a fairly interesting read--including his kind words for Dan Quayle (at least as compared to Sarah Palin) and his argument that his campaign's dirty trick against Joe Biden in 1988 actually wound up saving Biden's life.

On a related note, Ezra Klein the other day made an interesting argument about McCain's struggles:

One striking lesson of the campaign has been the reduced salience of
the culture war stuff. Rove and Bush could gesture towards identity
politics. They could hide behind issues like abortion and guns and the
role of the church. McCain has had to state it all explicitly. He's had
to talk to the media about media bias and have Palin inform small town
voters that they should feel insulted and run ads about drawing a cross
in the dirt. I don't know if McCain is jut bad at this stuff or the
electorate has undergone some sort of sea change, but a style of
politics that was one symbolic and subtle has become explicit and
blunt. And its not proving very effective.

Similarly, attacks that should have shuttered Obama's campaign did
not. In 1988, the Willie Horton ads managed to make Michael Dukakis
seem too black. In 2008, Reverend Wright couldn't derail Obama. Indeed,
to assert Obama's otherness, they've need to stack racial attacks atop
insinuations of Muslim heritage atop cries of political radicalism. In
1984, Ayers would have been enough. In 1988, Wright would have been
enough. In 2004, his Arab name would have been enough. In 2008, it
seems likely that all three combined won't keep Obama from the White
House. Which suggests that the traditional sore spots of American
politics are becoming quite a bit duller.

I think Ezra has a point. But I think these analogies tend to ignore one important factor: Obama is a much, much better candidate than Mondale or Dukakis or Kerry, and his campaign is much, much better as well. If a candidate of Mondale or Dukakis or Kerry's caliber was running this year--and if that candidate had Obama's name and associations--then I'm not so sure McCain's attacks wouldn't be working. As Dukakis himself says in the Observer interview:

“This is a much better campaign than I ran in 1988, and I’m impressed."

In other words, the fact that the culture war stuff isn't working has a lot to do with Obama's own ability to defuse it.

--Jason Zengerle

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