Democrat Bill Keating is running to replace retiring Representative Bill Delahunt in the 10th Congressional District of Massachusetts. You might expect Keatings's website would feature staunch defenses of the president's agenda, a celebration of health-care reform, or forward-looking policy proposals for the economy.
Instead, Keating's website focuses heavily on character-assassination style attacks upon his Republican opponent, State Representative Jeff Perry. As of noon on October 9, three of Keating's four "news" headlines are stories personally attacking Perry. Two of the stories center around early 1990s allegations of misconduct about Perry investigating the misconduct of another police officer when Perry was on the force. Perry was never charged with any wrongdoing, and his former supervisor defends Perry's record as a police officer. The third story complains about individuals who are staking out Keating's former residence. Who are these individuals? Well, they once interned at the same office that two people who now work on the Perry campaign once worked.
This is Keating's case for representing Massachusetts in Congress? When the economy is shedding jobs, deficits are shooting through the roof, and our nation faces a host of foreign policy problems, he focuses on these topics?
You will find precisely zero references to health-care on Keating's "Issues" webpage. What was meant to be a signature accomplishment of this administration and this Congress goes unmentioned. The fact that Keating is focusing so heavily on these personal attacks on Perry shows how much he wants to avoid debating policies.
When a Democrat from Massachusetts is afraid to stand with a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, you can guess how frightened Democrats nationwide must be. Keating's strategy is similar to that of many Democrats in this cycle, who use demonize demonize demonize as the centerpiece of their electoral strategy.
Right-wing "teabaggers" are scary or culturally backwards or fascistic or racist or misogynist or extreme or whatever else qualifies as the meme of the day. In all of these rabid attacks, there is not pointed out a way forward for the nation. There is often not a defense of the current administration's and current Congress's policies. There is the dread of the political Other but not much else.
Vitriol, fear, and paranoia do not constitute a good foundation for a political coalition. And hating on "teabaggers" will not, unfortunately, solve our salient public policy problems.
Moreover, it seems as though the attempt to replace a substantive debate about policy with personal poison might not be a successful electoral strategy, either. Just look at Alan Grayson who has launched some truly remarkable attacks upon his Republican challenger, Dan Webster: Grayson is slipping in the polls, and political analysts are now suggesting that this race leans in the Republican's direction.
If they have any hope of limiting their losses in November, Democrats are going to need to pull over as many independents as possible. Those sorts of attacks are not likely to win that many undecided voters in the middle. Americans of all stripes are looking for a change from the past two years (or maybe even from the past ten years), and these sorts of attacks are the politics-as-usual squared.
These attacks are also likely to stir up the Republican base. Jeff Perry, for example, is holding a big online fundraiser on October 10 (a 10/10/10 thing for the 10th district). Perry has been a staunch advocate for limited-government solutions to a variety of problems. Endorsed by Scott Brown, Mitt Romney, and a host of others, Perry is making a serious play for this seat. The 10th Congressional District may be the most Republican-leaning in the whole of Massachusetts, so many Republican strategists are hopeful that he could pull off a win in November.
The savageness of many Democratic attempts upon the personae of various Republican challengers and their supporters may be an attempt to distract voters from the fact that, in the federal government, the Democratic party has had complete control for the past 18 months. Voters have seen what the current administration has done with absolute Congressional power, and they don't seem to be too happy about it at the moment. The politics of distraction may not win out in 2010.