This is to be the first of an irregular series offering advice to conservatives, explaining to them why they lost and what they need to do to win in the future. They won’t take it, but there are things that need to be said, for the record.
Today’s advice: Pick Your Fights.
During the Clinton years I tried giving this same advice to righties when they wondered why most Americans still liked Clinton after all the mud that was slung at him. Righties I talked to wanted big, screaming banner headlines in the newspapers every single bleeping day about whatever allegation was being pushed by the Right at the moment. They wanted this whether there had been new developments or not.
As it was, every bleeping time one opened a newspaper or flipped on cable television, there was Trent Lott or Bob Barr or Tom DeLay or somebody accusing the Clintons of one thing or another. And I truly think after a while most Americans tuned it out. The constant stream of allegations became white noise. The economy was good, there were few apparent crises (and what crises did exist seemed far, far away), gas was cheap, life was good. Plus, the President was a likable guy whose public persona didn’t mesh with the way the Right portrayed him.
I honestly think the steady drumbeat of Whitewater Whitewater Whitewater to some extent inoculated President Clinton from fatal damage when the Monica, um, involvement was exposed. People were so used to the Right screaming about scandal that, when a real scandal came along, it didn’t seem that big a deal.
Also, the Right’s perpetual ire over everything Clinton was out of touch with the public mood. There is much to criticize about the Clinton Administration. Just one example — free trade policies. But the buzzword of the later Clinton years was complacency. Not hysteria.
I think a similar phenomenon took hold during the recent election campaign. Every bleeping day the Right was going on about Bill Ayers or the Rev. Wright, or twisting something Barack Obama said into a scandal. But when people saw Obama for themselves, they saw he was hardly the wild-eyed radical. And while the Right frantically looked for the magic bullet — some scandal that would soil Obama’s public image — Obama talked about real issues and what he thought ought to be done about them.
And they haven’t stopped. The minions are still in campaign smear mode, holding up every single thing Barack Obama does as evidence that he’s the bad guy. Now they’re complaining about Obama’s transition web site, for pity’s sake.
Personally, I hope they stay in perpetual campaign smear mode. It’s good for our side. There’s a rule in business management — when everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency. Emergency becomes the “normal.” Well, I’d say that when everything is a scandal, nothing is a scandal. If the Right would learn to STFU until something happened that actually mattered, they’d have more credibility, and their accusations would have some impact.
I think we can count on them not learning that, however.