In the Arena

Democrats Are Different

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It’s hard to imagine two prominent Republican pollsters slagging a sitting Republican President. And yet here we have Pat Caddell, who gave Jimmy Carter to the world, and Doug Schoen, who helped salvage a second term for Bill Clinton, disgorging an incendiary and outrageous argument against Barack Obama on the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page. (Actually, both Caddell and Schoen are more emeritus than active when it comes to polling, but no matter.)

The argument is that Barack Obama is divisive. One reason he is divisive, they say, is that he supports immigration reform. George W. Bush supported immigration reform. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has supported immigration reform. Plenty of enlightened Republicans do–for moral reasons and, in the case of the Journal, for valid economic reasons. But Obama supports it–they aver, with zero evidence–solely for political reasons. He wants to gin up the Latino vote. One wonders–and I know I’m going out on a real limb here–if it is possible that the President supports immigration reform because it is the right thing to do. Caddell and Schoen don’t even mention the possibility.

Another reason Obama is divisive is because his Justice Department hasn’t paid sufficient attention to the New Black Panther Party case. You remember the New Black Panther Party, right? No? I can’t imagine why. They were the jerks who dressed up in camouflage fatigues and looked threatening at a Philadelphia polling station on election day in 2008. One of them brandished a billy club, but didn’t use it. Somehow the Republicans have decided this act of street theater is a major threat to democracy as we know it–well, actually no: the Republicans are hoping that they’ll be able to tar the President as a crypto-black-racist. This has been a regular entry in the Republican playbook since Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. Abigail Thernstrom, a George W. Bush nominee to the Civil Rights Commission, has pretty much said the case was hogwash. The idea that two putative Democrats would give it any credibility at all discredits them entirely.

Then they claim that the President has played the class warfare card by calling out the wealthy–like the bankers who raped the economy and British Petroleum, which pillaged the Gulf. Actually, I’d say the President has underplayed the depredations of the oligarchs (who probably represent some of Caddell and Schoen’s corporate clients). I would have preferred less regulation and more taxation–of financial derivatives, for example–in the recent Regulatory Reform bill.

Indeed, the idea of Obama as populist bomb-thrower seems entirely at variance with the reality of the man…as does the idea of Obama as crypto-racist, as does the idea of Obama as overly political (to the dismay of many, if not most, Democrats).

Caddell and Schoen do make one valid point, though: Obama did jump the gun when he blamed Cambridge police racism for the shouting match with the jet-lagged Henry Louis Gates Jr. last summer. This is what is known in the trade as…a mistake. Bill Clinton–or anyone who knows Skip Gates, who seems preternaturally mild-mannered when not jet-lagged–might have screwed up similarly. The President, extremist radical that he is, tried to make up for his mistake by inviting Gates and the cop over for a very famous beer.

One wonders why Caddell and Schoen have taken this cheesy route. One doesn’t wonder too hard, however. The words “free” and “publicity” come to mind. Dick Morris has made a late-in-life living off of this sort of swill. But it’s sad: I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from conversations with both Caddell and Schoen. Their op-ed does far more damage to the authors than to the President.