Howie Klein over at his essential Down With Tyranny! blog is issuing a stark warning to liberals everywhere not to get to comfortable with the current self-immolation that the Romney campaign is currently enduring. In terms of macro-view of the election, this concern about progressive enthusiasm peaking too early is a real danger to the re-election of the President, especially when you take into account the various shenanigans going on with voter laws across the country (Pennsylvania especially could be a real mess). However I have to nit pick slightly with the purpose of and reasoning behind this and similar public warnings because I believe that an important distinction exists in terms of how Democrats need to campaign in the next seven weeks and beyond.
It is true that the Romney campaign, despite its own apparent (and unexpected) fundraising problems, is being supported by an ungodly amount of third-party money that could at least hypothetically spell doom for the hopes of people like myself who want President Obama back in office next year. However in terms of history, the massive amount of money that is associated specifically with Romney’s presidential aspirations are not necessarily determinant of the final result of this election. Frankly the Romney campaign, with its amazingly disorganized leadership structure and continuing excellence at shooting itself in the foot, is quickly becoming yet another in a series of well-funded disasters in recent electoral history (Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman 2010 campaigns each come to mind). So frankly the “Romney Death Star” of money is probably about as useful as the Maginot Line at this point for people hoping to unseat President Obama.
What Democrats should be freaking out about right now is how the post Citizen’s United moneygasm will effect smaller local races across the country within the next seven weeks. A 10 million dollar donation from a large corporate funded special interest will probably have zero effect on the presidential race at this point, but $100,000 could easily lead to the election of a struggling wingunt congressional candidate or a psychopathic republican governor. Voters, especially in today’s world where everyone is expected to work 60 hours a week to earn a living, simply do not have the time to become intimately aware of a candidate’s positions on the very specific local issues that can turn an election. An extremely negative campaign ad on local television, perhaps one featuring the body of ambassador Chris Stevens, or maybe one featuring some barely coded racist language regarding welfare benefits could very well define a Democratic candidate and leave them with no time to properly respond.
The real lesson for Democrats in terms of the post-Citizen’s United world is the same damn lesson that we never caught on to until Howard Dean and DFA shocked the establishment in 2004 (and Obama redeployed in 2008). This country’s political system, regardless of how we might like it to be, is one this is built in a way that provides the states and local governments with a tremendous amount of power and influence. The Republican’s are aware of this, and they have thrived since 1980’s by exploiting local differences and resentments using a strong national power structure to fund the entire enterprise.
What makes 2012 unique is that this time around the Conservative movement has finally starting to endure major internal conflicts between those bankrolling the national ambitions of the party and the local activists who have secured and shaped the Republican voting bloc since 1980. A smart Democratic Party would exploit this current split between the “party bosses” on Wall Street and K-Street and the poor and middle class voters in the south and midwest by stressing both our traditional economic policies and the nastiness of the modern capitalist class (which is conveniently well represented by this year’s GOP presidential ticket). However (at least initially) converting these voters is incredibly resource intensive and requires a very disciplined campaign message from the DNC. Just letting the GOP destroy itself from within is not enough if we want to create a true coalition for the future.
So yes “don’t get cocky” is an appropriate warning as we get closer to the election, but the dangers of arrogance are not relevant to the Presidential election nor is this something that individual voters can really change on their own. Rather this time of turmoil for Republicans creates the rare opportunity for progressives to either prevent a further erosion of our victories for the poor and middle class- or to go on the offense. If those with real influence about the operation of the Democratic party do not take advantage of this chance to reestablish our message and convert voters, the “Death Star” of money for the conservative movement (which is completely different from the Romney campaign), is fully armed and operational.