I was quite shocked at the difference between the conventions the past two weeks. The Democrats went on the ‘offensive,’ supposedly, ramping up criticism of McCain/Bush. This was in direct response to complaints that their last candidate refrained from taking the gloves off, which explains why he lost in the end.
The Democrats resolved to talk tough and bite hard, even while they repeatedly honored McCain’s service and sacrifice. We heard homage to McCain’s service and sacrifice in nearly every speech at the Democratic convention, and that homage routinely prefaced criticisms to follow.
The Republican convention, by contrast, was nakedly derisive. I don’t recall nearly as much—if any— grudging recognition of Obama. What everyone will forever remember is Rudy Giuliani mocking Obama’s experience in ‘community service,’ and Palin’s dig that Obama is out healing the sick, performing miracles. In my estimation, it was the Republican decision to roundly mock the opponent, and do away with empty politeness, that truly energized the party faithful. You could see the fire in the delegates’ eyes as the speakers chipped away at Obama—the crowd had been waiting for someone to tear him down unceremoniously.
The Republicans have opted for dirty tactics the past two elections. They have inflicted them even within ranks, such as Karl Rove’s circulated rumors about McCain’s illegitimate black child in South Carolina in 2000. Evidence suggests that the Republicans stole the 2000 election by purging African American voters from the polls, and then obstructed fair elections in Ohio in 2004 through a variety of dastardly measures documented by Robert Kennedy Jr. The Republicans smeared Kerry with lies in 2004, and mocked his Purple Heart heroism, even while campaigning as the party that staunchly supports the military. In this election, Sarah Palin has lied about accepting huge federal funding for the infamous ‘bridge to nowhere,' and yet still campaigns as the candidate against pork-barrel spending. This is only to mention the elections, not the numerous moral infractions of the Republican administration the past 8 years.
For all their lies, for all their rudeness, the Republicans have been rewarded over and over. For all the ungracious mockery delivered at their recent convention, the Republican candidate has received a notable boost in the polls.
I am often amused—and sometimes appalled—how the self-professed party of Jesus repeatedly employs rather un-Christian tactics in attaining its ends. Kerry and Obama repeatedly opt for fairness, politeness and respect; they have had to be pressured into negative rhetoric. The Republicans seem to have few reservations about distasteful political tactics. Why is this? How does this fit with their apparent religiosity? Very nicely, in fact.
The Republican base—and I am speaking largely of the Conservative Christians—sees its political goals as utterly uncompromising, and of transcendental, eternal import. God cannot stand for gay marriage; God cannot stand for abortion. No measure is impious, therefore, so long as it promotes or defends God’s will. Indeed, even devious tactics that promote God’s judgment on these social issues will be rewarded with eternal salvation.
The Republicans are Old Testament Christians, motivated by a consquentialist ethic—what Machiavelli described as ‘the ends justifying the means.’ What God wants, He gets, no matter who needs to be slaughtered en route.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are New Testament Christians (well, the Democrats that are Christian, including Obama and Biden). They disdain sacrificing the means for the ends. They are gentlemanly to a fault—Kerry and Obama will be nobler than their opponents, and win over their audience with this nobility. They will offer the other cheek, and wait for the audience to boo the attacker. Of course, I believe that a lot of Republican ire against Obama, which suddenly erupted at their convention in St. Paul, is a reaction against Obama’s ‘nobler-than-thou’ persona.
If Obama should suddenly fight dirty, he might be more recognizable—more human, more in touch with the average American. The average American, with whom Obama has sought to empathize passionately during this campaign, does not offer the other cheek. The Democrats should learn another lesson from Machiavelli: respect is largely earned through fear, not love. Or as Machiavelli put it, it is easier to cross someone you love than someone you fear. Notice how the fearsome Putin fares in Russian polls these days? Obama could earn at least grudging respect by throwing it back in the Republicans’ face—with a measure of vitriol, to boot.
Of course, fighting back is a peculiar challenge for Obama given the racial and sexual nuances of this campaign. His advisers, I am sure, are very worried about the image of an African American man verbally assailing a white middle-aged woman. McCain’s V.P. pick is so brilliant because he knows it defangs the Democrats’ attack: it will look very bad to the American public if Joe Biden, chomping on the bit, is let loose to savage Palin during their debate.
But Obama has no choice. Politeness did not win it for Kerry, and so far, it is sinking Obama in the polls. He must fight back—he must fight dirty, if need be. As the Republicans have proven the past two elections, fighting back, fighting dirty, wins respect. In this young millennium, it wins elections.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on September 10, 2008.