Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hackett minus the uniform

As I thought over the "Fighting Dems" discussion that Dadahead and I participated in, something occurred to me. Who do you get if you take Paul Hackett and subtract his military service? You get a fiery critic of the Iraq War with liberal views on social issues other than gun control, moderate fiscal views, and a whole lot of love from the netroots.

In other words, you get Howard Dean. And there's no way Howard Dean polls 48% in OH-2. See how different people look in uniform?


Battlepanda said...

Dean is a moderate who was sunk by his big, big mouth and the band of very liberal, very passionate idealists who made his campaign a juggernaut but also ultimately out of the mainstream.

Military experience *might* help individual candidates overcome some of the ingrained aversion to liberals. But as a strategy for the Democratic party it is pure poison. First of all, if we start forsaking more experience politicians for candidates just because they served in uniform, that is a tacit acknowledgement that what is important is macho swagger, not substance. This is playing into the Republican's strengths.

Secondly, if we start running "Fighting Dems" in any kind of numbers at all, it will be a very transparent ruse. Individual candidates will be seen as puppets putting a military face on the liberal agenda. Not a good vote-getter.

Laura said...

I'd say, Hackett minus the uniform = Howard Dean circa July, 2003. That's when, after watching him in one of those early debates, my milquetoast-centrist-electability-above-all-dar went off and I phoned home all excited "I've found my candidate!"

Dean circa July, 2003 might have polled 48% against Jeanne Schmitt in OH-02. Dean circa January, 2004 wouldn't have for all the reasons Angelica gives.

The uniform helps, but this type of straight-talkin'-middle-American thing can be done without a uniform. You just have to be careful not to let the "fiery" part consume the sensible-mainstream-straight-talk part.

Neil Sinhababu said...

A couple things to say here, some of which I'll say in a future Ezra post. But let me make the quick point that the "Dean was caricatured by the media as a liberal" point is exactly the point I want to make. The guy in the uniform gets caricatured by the media as a soldier, which is good, rather than as a liberal, which is bad, as far as winning elections goes.

Winning elections is about being the kind of person of whom appealing caricatures get made.

Battlepanda said...

Um, Neil,
You're not dealing beyond the first paragraph of my comment. I admitted that military experience might have helped Hackett, what I disagree with is that what we've got here is a strategy.

If Sherrod Brown is a stand-up guy as Dada thinks he is, then to throw the more progressive, more experience candidate over for military tinsel would be a crying shame.

But beyond that, how many "fighting dems" can you run before the other sides start crying bullshit and charge that we're merely exploiting soldiers for their uniform?

Neil Sinhababu said...

Angelica, that wasn't intended to be any kind of comprehensive response. But since you asked...

I can't see the "you're exploiting soldiers for their uniform" charge having any traction. People don't generally see themselves as voting for Nancy Pelosi who is exploiting David Harris for his uniform -- they see themselves as voting for David Harris. The only people who will say that David Harris is merely exploiting his own uniform for political gain, and dislike him for that, are diehard Republicans who we'll never get anyway.

Nobody thinks you should forsake more experienced politicians for candidates just because they served in uniform. Just the same, you shouldn't cast aside some politician just because he had an extramarital affair. But you have to bring this stuff in in your electability calculations. How much does the uniform buy you, compared to the same candidate with no uniform? If I had to come up with a number, I'd guess something like 5% on average. More if you've got cool war stories or if you fit neatly into people's military stereotypes. Maybe the other primary candidate is a local hero, pulled a baby out of a well or some shit like that and gets a bonus 7%. Then you don't pick the soldier. Or if your Fighting Dem is too conservative, pick the other guy. But realize that the uniform has a definite positive value, and run your numbers with that added in.

None of the voters we want to win will see running all these soldiers as "a tacit acknowledgement that what is important is macho swagger, not substance." See, they don't see any of this as a swagger-substance tradeoff. They're seeing it as a soldier-hippie tradeoff, and they like the soldier a lot more than the dirty hippie (or pencil-necked soft-on-crime elitist) with whom they associate the Democratic Party. Now, if we run a soldier who is a moron, the problems you describe will arise. But as I said, this is worth 5% in electability calculations, and not much more. Being a complete moron gives you a loss of greater than 5%. Don't vote for morons. But all else equal, or close to equal -- vote for the soldier.

What keeps this from being any sort of transparent ruse is that there is an immediate reason for Iraq veterans to run for Congress. It goes like this: "I went to Iraq, I got firsthand acquaintance with how badly Bush has screwed up everything, and I decided that I had to do something about it." In the absence of such a narrative, the "transparent ruse" narrative might take hold. But since a more straightforward narrative is present, it won't, except maybe among people whose votes we'll never win anyway.

Do you watch much football on TV, Angelica? Occasionally the announcers will refer to the troops who are watching the game from Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere, and their voices will take on a tone of solemn reverence that nobody -- no politician, no athlete -- nobody else gets from them. Simple-minded football fans who don't think all that much about politics are a pretty big demographic in America, and the positive media caricatures generated by this stuff are worth huge points to them.

Battlepanda said...

Liberals getting a pass because they wear a uniform? Oh please. Kerry wore a uniform. It didn't help him once the smear machine got running. I don't think it would have helped Clark either.

Let me reiterate...it is well possible that a military uniform translates to a 5% gain in popularity for any given candidate. But once it becomes percieved that the dems are playing the veterans card, the backlash can be enormous. Kerry's military experience might well have ended up hurting him once he was percieved to have exploited his record for political gain. Imagine if we ran a bunch of "fighting dems" -- political greenhorns whose qualification primarily consists of fighting in Iraq -- don't tell me the right-wing noise machine will not have a field day excoriating how the Dems just found a bunch of opportunistic warm-bodies in uniforms as fronts for their evil liberal agenda.

Let the military candidates run...but don't count on running the military candidates.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Angelica, did you read my piece at Ezra's? As I say there, there's a huge difference between serving in a different war against a different enemy 30+ years ago, and having experience in a war we're fighting now. Vietnam war service wasn't relevant to the issues of the 2004 election. Iraq war service is relevant to 2006, and that's why it won't look bad to bring it up.

Unless there is some antecedent reason to think of the Democratic veteran as a political opportunist -- and there was, with Kerry -- the narrative will be "Sergeant comes back from Iraq unhappy, wants to change things" and not anything involving political opportunism. The media deals with caricatures that are already in play, and some kind of voted-for-it-before-I-voted-against-it gaffe plus a whole lot of GOP cash is required before somebody new to politics is caricatured as a political opportunist.

Battlepanda said...

It was a while ago, and I'm responding to this post. But I understand your not wanting to deal with the same issues twice.

Unless there is some antecedent reason to think of the Democratic veteran as a political opportunist -- and there was, with Kerry -- the narrative will be "Sergeant comes back from Iraq unhappy, wants to change things" and not anything involving political opportunism.

I'm sure we'll see how this plays out. Whether this positive narrative dominates over a ugly, negative narrative depends on a number of factors -- the quality of the candidates, the astuteness of the candidates, whether or not the candidates are percieved as being the best in the field or simply siezed upon because s/he wears a uniform.