Progressive Revival

Eric Sapp is a Democratic faith outreach strategist and former partner at Common Good Strategies.  He is currently director of, and founding partner at the Eleison Group.


An election does not go by without someone paraphrasing Will Roger’s famous quotation about not being a part of an organized Party because we are Democrats.  Well, as Democrats, we may not be organized, but we sure are predictable…and we have walked–nay, sprinted–right into the trap Republicans laid for us with the Palin nomination. 


The glee with which liberal bloggers, Democratic pundits, and the media latched on to the fact that Palin’s inexperience makes her less qualified to be President than Obama–as if doing so would somehow undermine the GOP attack on Obama as inexperienced–is mind-boggling. 


A friend of mine summed up the problem with our side’s engaging in this debate over experience best: “Obama is our starting QB, but she’s their back-up.”  So even if we win the argument that Palin doesn’t have enough experience to be President, we lose.  Because, of all the reasons Obama is a better pick than McCain, experience is not one of them.


It’s not as if Obama is a walk-away winner in this comparison with Palin either.  A Rasmussen poll that came out yesterday found that only 42% of Americans think Obama’s experience better equips him to be President than Palin, while 37% think Palin’s experience is better, and 21% are undecided. 


Perhaps most importantly, every minute we spend attacking Palin’s experience is one less minute we’re spending talking about Democratic values, jobs, the healthcare crisis, President Bush, and other things we want voters focused on as they head to the ballot box…and by making the case to voters that McCain made a poor choice because of Palin’s inexperience, we just reinforce one of the central Republican arguments that experience is a key factor voters should be considering. 


Unfortunately, our attacks have not stopped there, though.  I’ve lost count of the number of times our side has said she isn’t qualified to be President or to know what’s in the best interest of Americans b/c she’s from a small town.  Here’s a newsflash: millions of American voters LIVE IN SMALL TOWNS.  They are the swing voters Obama must win over to become President. And our condescending comments about Palin’s small-town roots work only to further alienate this important portion of the electorate. 


And while the fact that Palin shoots, cleans, and eats her own moose might result in some snickers in the coffee shops of large cities, that stuff is gold throughout much of this country. 


But the worst of the Democratic responses to Palin’s nomination have been the character attacks on her as a bad mom because her daughter got pregnant out of wedlock.  Those sorts of attacks are morally repugnant whether they are made by social conservatives or by Democrats attacking social conservatives.  But they are also strategically dumb.  When many of the blogs and media started dissecting the revelation about Palin’s pregnant daughter, they showed how little they understand middle America and religious conservatives by acting as if that would be a major blow to the ticket and proof that McCain rushed into his VP choice without vetting. 


I would bet money that Palin’s pregnant daughter was one of the key reasons Republicans chose her.  Having a pregnant daughter, especially one “taking responsibility for her actions” (by “choosing” to have the baby), just makes Palin more “real” for her flaws, and a mom with whom many in middle America can relate. 


Republicans thrive on being “persecuted,” and they knew that our side would not be able to contain itself from the opportunity to level the same vicious character attacks on Palin that we always condemn in the Religious Right and GOP.  And that we’d just spice up those attacks by throwing in some elitism and disdain for small town rural folks.  And Republicans could rest assured that we’d come back at Palin using their definition of “family and Christian values” instead of by questioning how Palin’s Party could claim to represent Christ’s values while supporting torture and cutting programs that help the poor, the sick, and the needy…or claim to be Pro-Life and then cut WIC and veto the expansion of children’s health care.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the Republican electoral strategies…but instead of focusing so much on what we don’t like about Republican politics that we lose sight of who we are and why we are Democrats, we need to get our head in the game and start showing some respect and understanding for the millions of working Americans in middle America we are asking to vote for us. 


Palin may very well mess up on the campaign trail (we can always hope), and there could be a skeleton lurking in the closet that has yet to be revealed.  But right now, especially after her convention speech, we need to accept that she was an extremely smart choice by the Republicans and could very well be a game-changer in this election.  But here’s the thing: She can be a game changer only if we keep the game focused on her. 


She’s more personable (and a whole lot prettier) than McCain.  She has better appeal to the GOP base and to the rural blue collar voters that Obama struggled so hard to win over during the primary.  And the more we attack her, the more many Americans will want to come to her defense.  So rather than focusing our attention on a woman running for “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived,” as John Adams put it, let’s lay off Palin…and return our attention to the only way we will win this election: by focusing on Democratic values, jobs, and the fact that the Republicans are responsible for the disaster that has been the Bush Administration. 




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