April 24, 2008


The Incredibly Shrinking Democrats (Joe Klein, Apr. 24, 2008, TIME)

But that was nothing compared with the damage done to Obama, who entered the primary as a fresh breeze and left it stale, battered and embittered — still the mathematical favorite for the nomination but no longer the darling of his party. In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was "friendly" with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. [...]

In his 1991 book, The Reasoning Voter, political scientist Samuel Popkin argued that most people make their choice on the basis of "low-information signaling" — that is, stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin. In the era of Republican dominance, the low-information signals were really low — how Michael Dukakis looked in a tanker's helmet, whether John Kerry's favorite sports were too precious (like wind-surfing), whether Al Gore's debate sighs over his opponent's simple obfuscations were patronizing. Bill Clinton was the lone Democratic master of low-information signaling — a love of McDonald's and other assorted big-gulp appetites gave him credibility that even trumped his evasion of military service.

The audacity of the Obama campaign was the belief that in a time of trouble — as opposed to the peace and prosperity of the late 20th century — the low-information politics of the past could be tossed aside in favor of a high-minded, if deliberately vague, appeal to the nation's need to finally address some huge problems. But that assumption hit a wall in Pennsylvania.

No one makes less sense than Joe Klein when he's trying to be PC, but even by his standards the attempt to oppose "low-information" to "vague" is just hilarious. The fundamental flaw of the Obama candidacy was always that he was running, by necessity, a campaign based on not exposing voters to information about him. You can get away with that briefly, especially if your opponent is afraid of being mau-maued, but not for an entire election cycle. Now folks are getting access to information about him, his background and his politics and are rejecting him as the always do Northern liberals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2008 5:43 PM

a high-minded, if deliberately vague

translation: fluff

Problem is, after being fooled all these years by politicians, the bitter people don't believe in fluff any more.

Posted by: ic at April 24, 2008 7:42 PM

It's also ironic that Klein is dissing "low-information signaling" when huge numbers of registered Democrats are voting for candidates based on gender or skin color.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 24, 2008 9:36 PM

Had Obama run for office in the South, or in a suburban district, he would have learned quickly how to campaign, how to establish himself to the voters, and how to work across various political fissures. By going to a black district, a black church, and by working exclusively in an inner-city milieu, he learned entitlement/identity politics. It's all he knows, and it isn't helping him now, and it certainly won't in the general election.

And Klein is just as constricted - "the fervent consumption of greasy food". The worst diets in America are found in two locales: the inner-city and the semi-rural South (in both white and black communities). And I doubt if the Democrats want to be reminded of Bill Clinton's "big-gulp" appetites.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 25, 2008 7:28 AM

You've got a problem with fried chicken, with a side of fried snicker bars? Another patronizing damn Yankee.

Posted by: curt at April 25, 2008 8:00 AM

The other thing is, if you intend to run low-information campaigns you want them to be short. The race to make the primaries earlier and earlier ("I'm gonna be first!" "No, I am!") was always suicidal. We now get to figure out whether name recognition ("no such thing as bad publicity") trumps "God, I'm sick of those b--s."


Posted by: Ric Locke at April 25, 2008 8:27 AM