One of the most common reactions to President Barack Obama’s visit to USC was that his inspirational speech was lost amid the overly partisan rhetoric that preceded it.
The rally seemed to actually work against its self-titled theme of “Moving America Forward.” True progress in Washington will require a shift away from the increasingly partisan and extremist nature of American politics.
Whether that partisanship is Nancy Pelosi steering a bill through Congress with virtually no consultation with the other side or Republicans deliberately obstructing Democratic initiatives to help their own electoral chances, party politics have become the chief obstacle to the lean, efficient government that both parties claim to support.
These days, it seems that someone could count the moderates in Congress on their fingers and toes; it is telling that at the outset of the healthcare debate, conventional wisdom suggested that there were at best three Republicans who Obama would have a chance to win over.
Thus, the pleas to vote Democrat that peppered Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s opening address on Friday — and virtually every speech after that — were not exactly productive in terms of moving the country forward.
Unfortunately, the counterproductive nature of partisanship is unlikely to discourage the Democrats from engaging in it if they think it will help them win elections. But maybe another idea will: emphasizing that voters need to elect Democrats is probably a bad strategy in 2010.
In the current political environment, promoting your association with the Democratic party is not a good way to win over swing voters. In the latest Politico and George Washington University poll that used a generic ballot, independents preferred the GOP to the Democrats by a sizeable 14-point margin. In addition, a large majority of Americans voiced concern over the direction of the country, which subsequently leads to negative feelings about the party that currently controls both the White House and Congress.
Many of the Democrats’ signature initiatives — healthcare reform, financial regulatory reform and liberal social policies, such as the impending repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” — are unpopular.
So is their leadership: 51 percent of those polled reported an unfavorable impression of Obama, and 56 percent said the same about Pelosi. Overall, 42 percent had a favorable impression of the Democratic Party compared to 50 percent unfavorable; in contrast, the numbers for the Republicans were 50 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable.
The idea that marketing an association using the Democratic Party brand is a poor strategy is also demonstrated by the voracity with which Republicans are promoting their opponent’s party affiliation this election cycle.
This could result in sending Tea Party candidates, including several whose shockingly extreme views and comments have been pointed out repeatedly in this column, to Washington next year.
By definition, it can only be a good idea for one side to feature party affiliation in its campaign strategy, but this year both are doing so.
Instead, Democrats should change their focus to the particulars. They should concentrate on their individual races and strive to change the perception of this election from a referendum on the party in general to a choice between two contrasting individuals.
In California, for instance, Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer seem to be perceived as more likeable personalities than their Republican opponents Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina.
Democratic Nevada Sen. Harry Reid is highly experienced, and his seniority has resulted in major benefits for his state; his opponent, Republican Sharron Angle, therefore has far less pull and has resorted to advertising that she helped a pregnant teenage rape victim “turn a lemon situation into lemonade” by counseling her to avoid an abortion.
Delaware Democratic Senate nominee Chris Coons is a fairly nondescript candidate with a background in law; his opponent, Christine O’Donnell, is a controversial figure with a background in witchcraft who claimed the Constitution does not mandate the separation of church and state.
The list goes on. Democrats should stop advertising what party they belong to and start talking more about themselves and their opponents.
It is ironic that doing so will probably give the Democrats their best chance at retaining their majorities, and also help “move America forward” by tempering the partisan atmosphere that prevails today.
The party that likes to call itself “progressive” should start acting like it. It would be for its own good and for the good of the country.
Daniel Charnoff is a senior majoring in international relations (global business). His column, “Through the Static,” runs Wednesdays.