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Stick to the Issues - Don't Make It Personal

Guy has written below about the controversy engendered by the RNC in its comments, construed by many as advising Republicans to avoid criticism of the President.  The RNC has jumped to clarify, as it should have, but just a few thoughts:

It is craziness if any conservative and/or Republican pulls his/her punches in criticizing the President's record.  That's what John McCain and too many others did in '08, and look what it got us.

But it's also craziness if conservatives and/or Republicans give in to the urge to make the election personal -- that is, about Obama the person rather than Obama the President.  There are several reasons:

(1) His record gives plenty of fodder for criticism.  By just about every conceivable measure, America is worse off -- at home and in the world -- than it was when the President took office.  We need positive change, before it is too late.  THAT's what Republicans need to emphasize, and every minute spent trying to assign motivations to the President or talking about his personality is wasted.

(2) Most Americans don't dislike (or don't want to dislike) their President as a person -- especially when many of them have already voted for him and hate to have to admit error, even in their own minds.  It's one thing to have been misled about how capable or liberal Obama is; it's another for a voter to have to admit to herself that she fundamentally failed to understand who he was.  One of the key parts of persuasion is building on areas of shared agreement.  So why try to convince people -- against their inclination -- that Obama is a bad guy when it's easier (and true) to build on the shared agreement that he is a failed President?

(3) Don't degrade the Republican brand.  Like it or hate it (I hate it), fair or unfair (it's unfair) the press routinely paints Republicans as "mean," even though Democrats routinely play harder ball with more over-the-top denunciations than GOP'ers ever dreamed of.  The problem is that, to the extent people already have a stereotypical image of a party in mind, they are more likely to pay attention to behavior that reinforces those stereotypes.  So whenever Republicans do something that could be construed as "mean" or "crazy" (like calling the President a socialist or narcissist or the like), that's likely to stick with the independents who are vital to success.  I know it's not fair.  But it's life.

(4) It prevents Republicans from claiming a mandate.  If we win "ugly," based on personal attacks rather than policy debates, how can Republicans credibly claim a mandate to enact the reforms the country desperately needs?

Don't get me wrong.  WIthout hesitation or mercy, the fight needs to be taken to Obama's door based on record, policy, associations and past actions.  But for those who are less inclined to following the details of his personal behavior on a day-to-day basis -- and who are less invested in political gamesmanship generally -- attacking Obama, the sports lover and family man with the two nice daughters, is nothing  but a reason to dismiss and distrust the GOP.

Personal stuff about the President or his motivations not what voters what to hear about or think about.  They want to understand why his policies are driving America down, and how an alternative will reverse that decline.  Americans will respond better to a "more in sorrow than in anger" approach to critiquing the President and his record than they will to red-hot, righteous denunciation.  Too much anger, and people (often rightly) suspect that you're motivated by your own personal agenda, rather than concern about them and the country -- which is, after all, what politics is supposed to be about.

In fishing for votes, you bait the hook to suit the fish, not the fisherman.  So ultimately, the choice comes down to whether people want to do what feels good emotionally, or what is effective to get the job done.


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