Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

August 27, 2010

PASTS, PROLOGUES, AND PORTMAN.... Of all the statewide candidates doing well this year, I consider Ohio's Rob Portman, the Republican leading in the open U.S. Senate race, one of the more surprising.

While Dems make some efforts to tie various GOP candidates to Bush/Cheney, the task with Portman is altogether different. Portman didn't just occasionally vote for the Bush agenda in Congress, Portman's most recent experience in government was serving as Bush's budget director. When we consider an era in which the Republicans turned huge surpluses into massive deficits, Portman was at the center of the policymaking process.

For that matter, he was Bush's trade rep, in a state where Bush's trade policies aren't exactly popular.

"Rob Portman is the No. 1 George Bush look-alike in the country," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said this week. "I just can't believe the voters are going to choose the candidate who more than anybody else in the whole country represents what got us into this situation."

I can believe it; polls show Portman ahead, despite his background of failure. But what I find the most interesting is Portman's response to the criticism.

After a tour here of the Andersons Inc., a diversified grain, rail and retail company that is a mainstay in northwestern Ohio, Mr. Portman dismissed suggestions that his time in the Bush White House and his image as a trusted adviser to the former president would be a significant liability or that voters would even be concerned about the past.

"What the people in this plant want to know is what you are going to do for me going forward," Mr. Portman said. "That is all they care about, and frankly that's what voters care about."

"The world has moved on," he added. "Maybe the Democrats haven't."

I find this endlessly fascinating. Most candidates seeking high office tell voters, "Look at all that I've accomplished, and vote for me." Portman is telling voters, "Please overlook my record of public service, and vote for me anyway."

"The world has moved on"? I wish we could, but we're still cleaning up the mess Portman helped leave.

The whole strategy is almost comical. I'm trying to imagine an accused thief standing trial, and telling a judge, "Your honor, what matters is what I can do going forward. It's best if we just moved on."

Somehow, I don't imagine that would go over well. I'm not sure why voters in Ohio should be any more persuaded.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

There are two words do explain why Portman is doing well: "Lee Fisher".

Thanks a bunch, Dem establishment hacks, for making sure we nominated a proven loser instead of a strong, electable progressive.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 27, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

You profess to be amazed, but the poll numbers tell you otherwise. The fact is that the GOP could win all these elections by simply asking the question "Are you better off now then you were in 2006 when the Democrats took over Congress?" Add to that the fact that Obama has not reacted to Simpson's remarks concerning social security and every thinking Democrat has got to recognize that the catfood commission is going to gut social security so we can continue to feed the military/industrial complex without raising taxes on the wealthy. The question for Democrats has to be why would we ever bother to vote again?

Posted by: Terry on August 27, 2010 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

It's simple:

1. Americans are mad that there's been no action on jobs -- they're hurting, and want to take it out on those currently in power, no matter what.

2. Americans are clinically stupid, with the attention spans of a mentally-challenged dachshund. Whether or not the guy they're voting for created the mess is irrelevant because they probably don't understand what the guy did.

3. Democrats have failed spectacularly to capitalize on the failures of the GOP -- not just during Bush's terms, but the current crop of obstructionists. If they could get some consistent messaging and start pounding clowns like Portman with it, things might be different. Instead, we get the same old incompetence election after election.

Dems had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact significant change. They failed to do so, and the public is going to punish them for it -- regardless of the fact the GOP is a GIGANTIC reason for those failures.

Posted by: Mark D on August 27, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

THis has nothing to do with Portman and everything to do with Ohio Dem party politics. Fischer hasn't even started a campaign yet and the enthusiasms of progressives, you know the people that swung the election for Obama in this state is so low due to him being anointed. Who does Fischer think is going to be pounding the pavement for him? Democratic party hacks? Just like Ohio District 2 a few cycles back, the Democratic Party is poised to blow an easy pick up.

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on August 27, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

"It's best if we just moved on."

Too bad the Portman Defense wasn't around in 1946, becuase the Nazis could have tried it at Nuremberg.

"Your Honors, we know we killed six million people and plunged the world into a living hell, but that's in the past. We made a few boo boos and we're sorry. It's best if we just moved on."

Posted by: gf120581 on August 27, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, what's commical about it? He'll likely win. It's throw-the-Dem-bums-out time, and logical weighing of issues and the candidates background won't be involved in the "thinking" of many of these dachshunds.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on August 27, 2010 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Too bad the Portman Defense wasn't around in 1946, becuase the Nazis could have tried it at Nuremberg.

Too bad for them that the IOKIYAR defense hadn't been invented yet.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 27, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Jeff has it right. The Democratic Party machine anointed Fisher, despite a primary challenge from a progressive candidate, Ohio's current Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Brunner didn't have a chance because Fisher had a huge money advantage.

Those of us who held our noses and voted for Fisher on the assumption that the Democrats picked the candidate that had the best chance of beating Portman are now appalled to learn that Portman has a 10-1 money advantage over Fisher. So the state party and their donors are not supporting him after all. On top of that, we're going to lose the Secretary of State race, too, because Brunner's replacement is a lackluster, ill-funded candidate. What a mess.

Posted by: figlet on August 27, 2010 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Earlier commenters are correct, this has a lot to do with Fisher's weakness as a candidate, but even that has a lot to do with Portman's tremendous financial advantage. Look at the funds available to each candidate, plus the money being spent on ads by the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads, and it's not surprising that Portman is ahead in the polls. Being a Bush associate should make you unpopular, but it doesn't hurt you financially.

Posted by: SciMom on August 27, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Every time I turn around I'm seeing a Rob Portman ad on TV. I think I've seen a grand total of ONE Lee Fisher ad. The local NPR station mentioned this morning that Portman has over $8 million in his war chest - Fisher has only $1 million. I guess that explains a lot.

Posted by: reddogs on August 27, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Mark D. is correct. The Dems squandered(!) their opportunity to make the Reps a minority party for at least a generation. Instead of taking charge, they allowed the Party of No to demagogue everything on the agenda with impunity. The strategy (if you can give it that much credit) seemed to be that Americans would see truth on their own, and if the change demanded by the voting public did not occur then it could be blamed on the Party of No. Winning strategies are never passive. The minds that decided that this was how to approach problem solving may now be understanding how they went so horribly wrong.

But it's not just the Party of No. It's the Blue Dog Dems who may as well be Republican as that is how they vote. It is ineffectual leadership whose strongest skill seems to be understanding parliamentary procedure rather than framing the public debate in terms that can resonate in a 24/7 media culture. It is a President who puts the foxes in charge of the treasury henhouse. It is the attitude of 'looking forward' instead of at the criminal activity that put us where we are both economically and where war crimes were committed. Obama can't personally do it all, but the people he has put into key positions are not who will enact the Change that was the impetus for record breaking voter turnout.

Dems have squandered a colossal opportunity, and they have only themselves to blame.

I'm a Progressive and the only value the Democratic Party has is in promoting progressive values. I am now in a serious quandry, because I have no one to vote FOR, only against.

Posted by: jcricket on August 27, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK
Winning strategies are never passive.

This should be copied and then pasted about 1,000,000 times into an email to every Dem in the nation.

It is ineffectual leadership whose strongest skill seems to be understanding parliamentary procedure rather than framing the public debate in terms that can resonate in a 24/7 media culture.

It's almost as if Dems still think the media is out there actually doing its job: telling people the truth about what is happening.

But it doesn't.

It covers the horserace instead of policy ... refuses to tell the truth about the GOP for fear of being branded "liberal" while happily pushing every single smear against Dems, no matter how false (which they then call "balance") ... prefers the sensational over the accurate ... and doesn't give a damn about their role as the watchdog of government because it's simply not profitable enough.

The Dems still think we're in the age of Cronkite, when we're actually in the age of Drudge.

It's time they realize the media is made up of a bunch of vapid, willfully ignorant fuckknuckles who are just interested in furthering their careers. Once that happens, they can then do what the GOP does: start to manipulate that vapidity to their advantage.

I'm just not sure they ever will ...

Posted by: Mark D on August 27, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

@jcricket,

I don't know about you but if Al Franken challenged Obama in 2012 I'd give serious thought to supporting him. He's sure as hell turned out to be a lot more progressive than Obama has.

Posted by: reddogs on August 27, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Well said jcricket. I would add that there is also the quandry of what to do with the money I would have given to the Democrats except for the old "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me" I think I will just buy some frivolous consumer item made in the USA. That will do more to help the country than giving money to the Democrats.

Posted by: Terry on August 27, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

It's really bloody tiresome to see online progressives claiming that the Democratic candidate is some sort of hack. First off - he won a primary, and second he is by all accounts very similar in policies and politics to the alternative (Brunner, who I voted for.) It's part of the childish aesthetic of the online blogs to magnify small differences - Clinton vs. Obama, for example - and to put down people who don't happen to get decreed as "acceptable" by online bloggers. We heard the same bullshit about Sherrod Brown vs. Paul Hackett, and Brown turned out to be one of the strongest progressive voices in Congress.

Fisher has won statewide elections before, he's a strong Democrat - and those putting him down as a hack might bother, for example, to provide any evidence outside of tribal online nonsense. I liked the other candidate better, but he's very good. And I'm damn sure that Bruenner would be in the same place in the polls -behind, but not fatally so - as Fisher is.

Posted by: Marc on August 27, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

The whole strategy is almost comical. I'm trying to imagine an accused thief standing trial, and telling a judge, "Your honor, what matters is what I can do going forward. It's best if we just moved on."

Somehow, I don't imagine that would go over well. I'm not sure why voters in Ohio should be any more persuaded.

Except that such things "go over well" all of the time IYAR.

Bush steals election, tells voters to "get over it."

Bush/Cheney lies us into war with forged documents and "misinterpreted" intelligence. Hey, mistakes were made.

Result: Re-Election. Pelosi declares impeachment off the table.

Bush eats cake while New Orleans drowns. Then gives no-bid contracts to companies to make poison trailers.

Result: trailer are Obama concentration camp

KBR electricutes soldiers trying to take showers in Iraq.

Result: More billion dollar no-bid contracts.

Blackwater runs guns and murders Iraqi civillians in cold blood.

Result: More billion dollar contracts from the Obama state dept.

Cheney admits to authorizing torture.

Result: Obama looks forward not backward. Liz Cheney goes on anti-Obama TeeVee tour. No prosecutions.


I could go on and on.

Sarah Palin
David Vitter
John Ensign
John McCain

Posted by: Winkandanod on August 27, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

I think that when we evaluate the first four years of the Obama administration, we will have to face the fact of the incredibly destructive role that the open commenting system on liberal blogs have played in stalling progressive advances. The rise of the Left Blogosphere was critical in defeating Bush, but the effectiveness of it was blunted by the fact that it allowed commenters (some of whom were Naderites and some of whom were GOP trolls) to pound away at the theme of the Obama administration's supposed sell-outs and general Democratic fecklessness. They essentially repeated the general GOP themes about Democrats, right in the place where Democrats were finally gathering strength, confidence and good messaging skills.
Now, we are talking about low Democratic enthusiasm among activists. No Shit!!!! What started as a warning has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It's election time; it's history time. Time to tighten up on the messaging and sideline the nay-sayers and doomsday prophets and progressive concern trolls.

Posted by: tom in ma on August 27, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Portman's most recent experience in government was serving as Bush's budget director.

...taking the spot once held by now-Indiana governor Mitch "Deficits" Daniels, who's currently burnishing his Presidential-fodder cred by complaining about -- yes! -- the defict.

Posted by: Gregory on August 27, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK
I think that when we evaluate the first four years of the Obama administration, we will have to face the fact of the incredibly destructive role that the open commenting system on liberal blogs have played in stalling progressive advances.

Right, if only we'd all clapped louder. Tinkerbell wouldn't have died!

If you really believe this, I feel sorry for you.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 27, 2010 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

"Fisher has won statewide elections before, he's a strong Democrat - and those putting him down as a hack might bother, for example, to provide any evidence outside of tribal online nonsense. I liked the other candidate better, but he's very good. And I'm damn sure that Bruenner would be in the same place in the polls -behind, but not fatally so - as Fisher is."

Never seen Fischer in my district. Never called HIM a hack. I don't know what tribal online nonsense is, sicne I dn't belong to a tribe or spout nonsense. Maybe he's a stronger candidate then Brunner. Hard to say. Never seen him campaign. If he can not make a dent in southwestern Ohio, where I live, he loses. End of story.

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on August 27, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Brunner has some supporters who are out there talking her up, but she showed zero ability or willingness to raise money, which defies any definition of her as "electable." Sad as it is to say.

Posted by: Brittain33 on August 27, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK
I think that when we evaluate the first four years of the Obama administration, we will have to face the fact of the incredibly destructive role that the open commenting system on liberal blogs have played in stalling progressive advances.

No offense, but you're a fucking idiot.

The reason we haven't seen any progressive advances is because OBAMA IS NOT A PROGRESSIVE. I have no idea what more needs to happen before you and others get that through your thick skulls.

He has escalated Afghanistan ... done nothing on DADT ... took discussion of single payer off the table ... refused to investigate what were clearly war crimes ... dragged his feet on jobs ... developed a horrific mortgage modification program ... bent over backwards to appease the same bankers who created this mess ... and has asked "How high?" every time the GOP has yelled "JUMP!"

Is he better than McCain/Palin? Yes, which is why I voted for the guy. But a goldfish and dead moose would have been better than the GOP clowns, so that's not an argument.

And I get that Congress is a dysfunctional mess and has stalled damn near everything -- but that's primary because too many Dems lack the balls to stand up to the GOP, dump the filibuster, or find other ways to pass their agenda, just like the GOP did when they were running things (funny how they got their way on damn near everything, yet Dems can't seem to pass a single bill).

You see, a leader is supposed to actually lead. They usually try to show some fire and passion, and to prove to all how strongly he or she holds onto their beliefs and convictions.

But all we've seen so far from Obama is some talk at the margins, a willingness to cave to every wingnut demand and idiotic media narrative, and to punch hippies and piss on progressives every chance he gets.

You can go ahead and think that my comments on this site have somehow made him less effective, as if all we need to do is ignore reality and clap harder and harder like a bunch of mindless robots.

In reality, however, the rest of us will place the failures where they belong: on the Obama team's disturbing meekness and unwillingness to push for true progressive change ... because they never were, and never will be, actual progressives.

Posted by: Mark D on August 27, 2010 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Well said Mark D. I would make the further point that if those who are left of center right simply applauded Obama it would be akin to the Christian Right's blind allegiance to the GOP although the GOP did precious little to advance the Christian Right's agenda and certainly has never been Christian.

Posted by: Terry on August 27, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

wanna know why dems are in trouble? dumb fucks like the people on here who are ALSO blaming Democrats for everything while they can't understand why voters are blaming Dems for everything. Dumb fucks who claim to know what voters want and then claim the reason dems are losing is because they insulted progressives. you guys are as just as clueless. which makes me more depressed.

Posted by: Alli on August 27, 2010 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Tom in ma, Alli, et al: sure, pessimism can be destructive and weaken a movement. But you'd be fools to dismiss the role of actual missteps and compromise from Democrats in generating this attitude. The critics, thinking apart from tactical issues, mostly have their darn good grounds for complaint. Really, Obama can't justify Pete Peterson and much other rubbish.

OTOH I would ask the critics to keep in mind the difficulty of the current Congressional, Media, and Voter situation. it would be hard for anyone to do really well in a nation with a governmental system, media culture, and idiot voters in such a pathetic condition. And you often exaggerate: Obama did accomplish many things (as discussed herre), we do have some limits on credit card companies, health insurance etc. Can you imagine even that, with Rebaglicans in power? Above all, prevent Republicans from getting more power. If it's a shitty motivation to vote, well then see how shitty things are if you don't.

Posted by: neil b on August 27, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, it's very simple. Rob Portman's opponent is Lee Fisher and "Landslide Lee" is a terrible candidate.

I worked on two of his campaigns, Both times, I was assigned by my boss, who was unhappy with how things were going and asked me to see how I could help. I couldn't.

Let's run through the list of problems:

1. Lee Fisher doesn't like to campaign. He enjoys giving speeches, but he doesn't like retail politics. He likes to get 8 hours of sleep and have leisurely meals. He'll run through his schedule and pull events off, telling his staff that they're wasting his time.

So there are always fewer events on his calendar than any other statewide. So fewer people see him and fewer people get excited and fewer people want to work for him.

2. He doesn't like to ask for money. Never has. That's not what he's about and it's why he hired a staff. So he's always underfunded.

3. He’s a wretched speaker. Believes he's better that regular slobs, so he maintain his distance when he speaks. "I understand how hard it is for all of you little people and I want to make things better for you" as opposed to "I'm a regular slob just like you."

Sherrod Brown is the son of a rich doctor and a Yalie (same residential college as the two Bushes), but you'd swear his dad worked second shift at a Chrysler plant.

Lee is partial to long anecdotes with complex sentence structure and too many words. He's never figured out that self-deprecating humor and ironic understatement-- which he likes to use-- don’t play well with voters who hear it and read terribly in print.

People think he's an egghead and that he's arrogant. It's actually better when he doesn't campaign, because he drives down support.

His wife Peggy is even worse-- the sort of person that Hillary Clinton's enemies claim she is.

So he doesn't work, he doesn't raise money and people who meet him like him less than people who haven't. And no one who has a choice will work for him.

Which is why Lee Fisher won one statewide race (by a handful of votes in a big year for Dems) in three tries.

No, piggybacking on Ted Strickland doesn’t count-- especially since he was Stricklan'd 15th choice.

He won the primary because Governor Strickland and ODP Boss Chris Redfern did everything they could to strangle Jennifer Brunner. Brunner (who worked for Brown when he was SoS and is an energetic and likeable candidate) couldn't overcome that.

Well, now we have a candidate that statewide voters don't know (Portman) running against one they don't like (Fisher got beat by Bob Taft and Betty Montgomery). Nobody who knows Democratic politics in the state is surprised by what is happening.

Posted by: Woodrow L. Goode, IV on August 27, 2010 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Woodrow, why did they strangle Jennifer Brunner?

Posted by: neil b on August 27, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Mark D, the Republicans "got their way" on almost everything exactly because the Democrats in the Senate refused to do what we justly excoriate the Republicans for: being hyper-partisan and placing the welfare of their political party above the welfare of the country.
I personally find it amusing, in a gallows-humor way, to read the whining and bitching about the President and why he won't follow the brilliant ideas of this poster or that poster. Or how another poster knows, knows I tell you!!!!, that Obama and the rest of the "corporatists" are just waiting to tear our beating hearts out and sacrifice them to their Wall Street overlords. Or some such crap, equally juvenile and equally believable. As to workable suggestions about getting the Democratic message out to the citizens; eh, not so much.
I really wonder sometimes at how some of these incredibly brilliant, political savants can find the time to post on these blogs while simultaneously running vast governmental departm...oh, wait.
Never mind.

Posted by: Doug on August 27, 2010 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

Nobody strangled Brunner - she didn't raise much money. She had some minor controversies in her Sec of State time - not an actual problem, but the public front was, to the extent visible, not entirely positive. And, yes, Democrats really like Strickland and Fisher was his choice. I think that aspect, entirely unsurprising, had more to do with Fisher winning than any conspiracy.

The other points are clearly stated Woodrow, and I appreciate hearing that perspective.

Posted by: Marc on August 27, 2010 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Portman may be smarter than we think. After all, isn't the fact that Republicans are leading in the polls in so many races pretty good evidence that many voters have already forgotten what happened a mere 2-3 years ago?

Posted by: mfw13 on August 27, 2010 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

Neil, here's the story. Jennifer Brunner was Secretary of State-- one of five people who will draw the legislative districts for the State after the 2010 Census is completed.

(The other members are Governor, Auditor, someone chosen by the Democratic leaders of the Ohio House and Senate and one chosen by the GOP leaders of the House and Senate.)

At the beginning of the year, three members of the board were Democrats (Governor Strickland, Brunner and the member to be chosen by the D leaders), so the D's would get to draw the districts and maybe win the State Senate and some congressional seats in 2012.

Brunner, who has done a good job and is popular, would have been re-elected easily. If she gave up the seat, the race would be a toss-up (as it is) and the R's might get the majority and a chance to draw the map.

Not having Brunner on the ticket also made it a tougher race for the other D incumbents (Srrickland, Attorney General Richard Cordray and Treasurer Kevin Boyce) on the ticket.

There are also rumors that Fisher joined the 2006 ticket only after Strickland agreed to support him for Senate in 2010. I don't know that to be true, but Strickland was desperate to have a running mate from Cuyahoga (Cleveland) or Lucas (Toledo) County, and a lot of folks had turned him down.

(He really wanted Marvin McMickle because he was running against Ken Blackwell and thought a black minister would help him get blacks and fight off the "godless Democrats" from evangelicals. Strickland is a minister, too.)

So Strickland and Redfern told Brunner "Kid, it's not your night. We're going for the price on Fisher." Unlike Marlon Brando, Brunner balked. She said (a) a Senate seat is too important to punt, (b) I want it, (b) I can win in November, (d) Fisher can't, and (e) since you guys didn't get me elected, I don't owe you anything.

They told her "Run for re-election and help us retain the board and we'll give you full support-- either Governor in 2014 or Senate in 2016, after Fisher loses. Give up SoS to run for Senate and we'll make sure you don't get any money or endorsements. Once you lose the primary, you'll be out of office and have no base to run from."

She told them "Bite me, guys. I'm not letting you blackmail me. And I don't think you can make the threat stick."

Unfortunately, they could.

The merits of this can be argued either way. You can argue that Brunner put her own interests ahead of the party's. You can the State House, State Senate and U.S. Congress are more important than one U.S. Senate seat.

You can argue that a Senate seat is more important-- especially a seat that switches parties. Or that Brunner didn't owe them anything. Or that Redfern and Strickland shouldn't be driving candidates out. Or that it was silly for her to sacrifice to try to keep the board since Strickland was vulnerable and might not win (I don't think he will)

Marc, I realize you don't know me from Adam, and have no way to know if I'm making this up. But I was sitting-- well, not ringside, but in the third row on this-- and this really is how it happened.

Posted by: Woodrow L. Goode, IV on August 28, 2010 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly