Patrick Ruffini, the demise of the right and the Democratic alternative

Destruction of the right will achieve a necessary good, but it is only the first step, not the last, to achieve anything meaningful.

Published October 15, 2008 12:24PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

From the Right's super-savvy, Gen-Y, high-tech, rising-star political strategist of the future, Patrick Ruffini, July 11, 2008:

Barack Obama's Strategic Miscalculation on Public Finance

Sean Oxendine and Soren have already covered Barack Obama's disappointing fundraising, and the rumor now is that Obama has raised $30 million.

A number like this not be a problem but for the fact that Obama opted out of the public financing system with a smug look on his face that suggested a gusher of cash in the offing. With him formally capturing the nomination in June, that doesn't seem to be happening. In fact, Obama's opting out is starting to look at best premature and at worst a complete strategic blunder. . . .

Obama's camp dramatically misread the meaning of its Internet fundraising surge in the 1st quarter, a mistake that could send it limping into the fall even or slightly behind the Republicans.

Ruffini, September 18, 2008:

Yes, Obama Turning Down Public Financing is Still an Epic Mistake

A disporportionate [sic] amount of Republican energy from now till election day will go towards lifting the Republican tide generally, branding Congressional Democrats, and tearing down the Democrats generally. This will help bring Republican candidate performance in line with McCain (this is already happening) while hardly any national Democratic ads will say "vote Democratic for Congress." When a message is uncontested like this, watch for it to move the needle.

The Politico, yesterday:

In the first three weeks of September, Barack Obama ran 1,342 television commercials in the Washington media market that reaches heavily populated and contested Northern Virginia.

According to The Nielsen Company, in the same period and market, John McCain aired just eight commercials on broadcast stations.

Similar disparities are playing out across the country as the Illinois Democrat flexes his financial muscle to outspend McCain and the Republican National Committee on television advertisements, in some cases by ratios of as much as 8-to-1.

As of close of business last week, Obama had spent approximately $195 million on primary and general election ads compared with $99 million by the Arizona Republican and the Republican National Committee, according to the Competitive Media Analysis Group.

And the gap is widening in the final weeks.

The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk, yesterday:

There has, indeed, been much speculation about the number Sen. Obama will post for his September fundraiser. The operative figure working its way through the rumor mill is $90 million . . . Evidence of that is in the incredible amount of spending he has been doing in the past few weeks. He is vastly outspending Sen. McCain on television in almost every battleground state.

As for the RNC, they have just purchased $5 million of additional television time. But that is a drop in the bucket compared to Obama.

 The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, yesterday:

Do i think Obama broke 100 million for september? Not sure. Will he break it for october? Yes.

 NYT/CBS poll, yesterday (.pdf)

In general, is your opinion of the Republican Party favorable or not favorable?

Favorable - 37%/Not Favorable - 54%

In general, is your opinion of the Democratic Party favorable or not favorable?

Favorable - 52%/Not Favorable - 38% 

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight, Tuesday:

The Democrats appear to have nearly as much momentum in the race for Capitol Hill as they do for the White House, and now have approximately a 3 in 10 chance of winding up with a 60-seat working majority in the Senate.

Not exactly prescient.  Better still, Ruffini yesterday wrote a post he entitled "Hands off Palin," lambasting Republicans who have criticized her; claiming that "from a conservative point of view, [Palin] happens to be the one bit of relief we've gotten from this crap sandwich of a political environment that's been going on for three years now''; declaring "that the political case for Palin decisively hurting the ticket is thin at best"; and defending those who insist that "Palin is the only smart move McCain has made."

A tidal wave of new polls were released yesterday showing Obama with anywhere from a 9-14 point national lead, and also showed this:

New York Times, yesterday:

And voters who said that their views of Mr. McCain had changed were three times more likely to say that they had worsened than to say they had improved.

The top reasons cited by those who said they thought less of Mr. McCain were his recent attacks and his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.

 Los Angeles Times, yesterday:

But the Arizona senator's overall level of support declined, in part because his dramatic decision to vault the little-known governor of Alaska onto the ticket appears to have backfired.

More than one-quarter of voters said they were less likely to vote for McCain because Sarah Palin was his running mate, more than the 22% who said she made them more likely to vote for him. In September, Palin drew in more voters than she put off.

Forty-three percent of voters felt she was qualified to be president, a far lower percentage than the 76% who judged Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden as qualified. Palin was the least popular of the four principal candidates.

These new polls are also demonstrating quite conclusively -- as polls last week did as well -- that the more McCain/Palin attacks Obama's "character," the worse that is for McCain.  Thus, the two principal tactics urged by the Right -- promotion of Palin and turning Obama into a radical-Communist-Muslim-Terrorist (Bill Kristol's two-pronged plan specifically) -- are backfiring completely.   

Is there anything at all going well for the Right this year? The whole edifice appears to be crumbling faster than one can celebrate its demise. It's as though they're being simultaneously unmasked and punished for everything they've done over the last eight years. And they obviously realize that as they are now turning on each other with the same venomous accusations and demonization tactics that they've used to prop themselves up in power.

And that's to say nothing of the fact that the President they spent years creepily glorifying as a holy mix of Napoleon, Caesar and Ronald Reagan -- the Ultimate Standard-Bearer of their movement -- has become the most detested and failed President in modern American history.  The undeniable reality -- as the endlessly wrong claims of their Kristols and Ruffinis show -- is that this is now a small and broken fringe whose worldview is not only anathema to, but in many cases repellent to, the mainstream, and the evidence for that is growing by the day.

* * * * * 

Nonetheless, it's worth underscoring -- in fact, it's vital to keep in mind -- that the option of politically empowering Democrats is the opposite of a panacea.  The Democratic Party structure in Washington, and particularly its leadership in Congress, is more corrupted and destructive than anything else there is -- with the exception of the right-wing faction that has been running the country for the last eight years.   Contrary to the inane conventional Beltway wisdom that bipartisanship is oh-so-tragically scarce, Democrats as an entity have, over and over, passively acquiesced to, and frequently actively enabled and participated in, many of the worst abuses of the last eight years.   Their leadership in Congress is corrupt and craven to the bone in many of the same ways the GOP leadership has been -- and they're about to be far more entrenched and their power far less checked. 

Moreover, it's far from clear which version of Barack Obama will end up governing -- the cautious and principle-free centrist who sought out Joe Lieberman's mentorship and then endorsed him over an anti-war Democratic insurgent; the high-minded and establishment-challenging change agent of the Democratic primary; or the bland establishment figure of the general election seeking to minimize, even erase, every difference he has with Republicans.  I doubt he even knows, but there are some possibilities that are quite bad (though, if he wins, he's certainly entitled to actually do things before being assessed one way or the other).

Earlier this week, Balloon-Juice's Tim wrote a thought-provoking post arguing that the online forces which have opposed the radicalism of the Bush administration will be weakened severely if Democrats win as resoundingly as it appears they will, because "defending all three branches of government is a much less fun job than attacking it."  But I would hope (and actually, in general, believe) that the forces that have spent eight years opposing Bush radicalism aren't going to "defend" -- but rather oppose with equal vigor -- the Democratic establishment when it does many of the same things, as it will.

For the last several years, I've believed and have frequently written that the only worthwhile strategy is a two-pronged one:

I honestly don't know of any "progressive bloggers" who blindly support Democrats. I think the strategy of the blogosphere has always been two-pronged -- (1) remove the hideous right-wing beast from power and (2) change the Democratic Party in order to make step (1) worth doing. Those are EQUALLY IMPORTANT goals.

Step (1) is merely a pre-requisite (an absolute one) to achieving anything worthwhile.  But without step (2), step (1) is mostly (though not entirely) worthless, because the Democratic Party as currently constituted at its core is a wretched and status-quo-perpetuating institution.  If those who spent the last eight years vigorously opposing the radicalism, militarism, and anti-constitutional abuses of the Bush administration fail to oppose the Democratic leadership with equal fervor when they violate the same principles -- as they inevitably will -- then the humiliation of the Right and its removal from power will be emotionally satisfying, perfectly just, and a very mild improvement, but will ensure the continuation rather than the termination of most of the worst abuses of this government.

It's certainly true that there are more good national Democratic office-holders than Republicans -- it's not even close (anyone doubting that should just review the vote totals on the key votes during the Bush era).  But within the Democratic Party, the good members are vastly outnumbered by the bad.  The (understandable) euphoria over the anticipated obliteration of the extremist right-wing movement that has dominated our politics for years (which I share) shouldn't obscure the fact that the alternative -- the national Democratic Party -- shares many of the same sicknesses and is burdened by whole new ones as well, and itself will need far more opposing and changing than supporting and affirming.


UPDATE:  Speaking of the utter bankruptcy of the Right, I can't recommend highly enough this online "discussion" between (more like:  "one-sided obliteration involving") Matt Taibbi and National Review's Byron York on the financial crisis and who is to blame for it (and I particularly like Taibbi's "Fruedian slip" at the end).


UPDATE II:  The face of the dominant faction of the Right:  right here.


UPDATE III:  Obama's total television spending over the last week:  $32.2 million.  The combined total spending of McCain and the GOP:  $11.2 million.  Obama is spending almost 3 times more than McCain/GOP.  That's to say nothing of the vast advantage Obama has amassed in "ground operations."  Just as Ruffini said just three weeks ago:  "Obama Turning Down Public Financing is Still an Epic Mistake."

By Glenn Greenwald

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