• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Trump says he’s been indi…
    William on Trump says he’s been indi…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Trump says he’s been indi…
    Propertius on Trump says he’s been indi…
    Propertius on Trump says he’s been indi…
    Propertius on “Why should you go to jail for…
    Propertius on “Why should you go to jail for…
    thewizardofroz on Trump says he’s been indi…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on “Why should you go to jail for…
    riverdaughter on “Why should you go to jail for…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on “Why should you go to jail for…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on “Why should you go to jail for…
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on “Why should you go to jail for…
    campskunk on Ping me when there’s news
    William on D-Day -1
  • Categories

  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama Bernie Sanders big pharma Bill Clinton cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donald Trump Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare OccupyWallStreet occupy wall street Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans research Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Texas Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    March 2023
    S M T W T F S
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

    • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

  • RSS Ian Welsh

  • Top Posts

1988 Becomes 2023

I saw part of a PBS special on Olympia Dukakis, and I tuned in just as she was winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1987 film “Moonstruck.” The Oscars were in April, 1988, and as she graciously and excitedly accepted her award, she said something like, “Let’s Go, Michael!”

She was exhorting her cousin, Michael Dukakis, who was on his way to winning the Democratic nomination for President. He called her after the show, and he was so proud of her. What a golden moment, when it looked like a bright, capable, and very honorable man might be elected President, and end the “Greed is good” ’80’s, and perhaps bring back liberalism to where it had not been for many years.

Michael Dukakis was a true liberal, who described himself as “a card-carrying member of the ACLU.” He said that he was against the death penalty. How quaint that seems, where a candidate was expected to express his position on the death penalty. No one is asked that now, most likely because the Republican Party has not been demanding that the media grill the Democratic nominee about his or her position on that.

But they grilled Dukakis, didn’t they? In fact, the Republicans were determined to make the 1988 campaign about it, and crime-related issues. Can anyone forget the one Presidential debate in 1988? (George H.W. Bush would only agree to one). Maybe ninety minutes to decide the fate of the country; and moderator Bernard Shaw, his facial expression gleaming with his pride at the question, asked ” If your wife Kitty were raped and murdered, would you favor the death penalty for the murderer?”

What an absolutely appalling question. A classless attempt to put Dukakis in a “double bind.” If he says, “no,” he is an emasculated unfeeling liberal wimp who will not even want to try to avenge the rape and murder of his wife, If he says, “yes,” he is a hypocrite, demanding rules which he would not follow. This is the question that Shaw wanted to make the first of the debate, and set the tone, which it did.

And Dukakis did not handle the question well, as no one would, though he later said that he should have, they had prepared for it. But try to take two minutes to explain that you do not believe in the death penalty, banned throughout most of Europe,; and that the emotional reaction to a personal situation should not be allowed to subsume the principle. It is very difficult, particularly when you know that Republicans, and newspeople like Shaw and Ted Koppel (“You just don’t get it, do you, Governor?” he said to him when he showed up for a 90-minute interview which Bush would not appear for) would hammer away at him no matter what he said.

So that was the campaign where the death penalty (left to each state to decide its laws on) somehow became the major issue in a presidential race. Because the Republicans wanted it to be, and because the media always takes its cue from them. And it was even worse than that. The Republican campaign people, led by Lee Atwater, and then some operatives who now show up on MSNBC to lament how far to the Right that the Republican Party has gone, one of them writing a book, “It Was All A Lie,” thought that their best chance to beat Dukakis, was to paint him as a pointy-headed liberal who was soft on crime.

The death penalty issue was an offshoot of the “Willie Horton issue,” which was actually about the fact that the Massachusetts Parole Board (which was independent of Governor Dukakis), had paroled Horton, who then later attacked a couple in their home. The lesson the Republicans wanted to squeeze out of that, was that Dukakis was “soft on crime,” whatever that means, and that if he became President, Black people like Horton would be allowed to rampage into homes, to rape, kill, and threaten.

It was meekly pointed out by Democrats that the parole board which oversees federal prisoners, had also paroled some prisoners during the Reagan Administration, who committed violent crimes after being released. Reagan and VP Bush, like Governor Dukakis, had no power over the decisions made by the parole boards. But that was ignored, because the Republicans almost always call the tune; and they had a narrative that Dukakis was soft on crime, soft on Black criminals, whereas GHW Bush was a real man, taller, more athletic, and living at least part of the time in Texas, not Massachusetts, home of liberals.

So that became the 1988 campaign. All about crime, the death penalty, flag burning. Republicans once again arrogated to themselves the mantle of “the party of law and order.” What Republicans have ever done to lessen crime is obscure, but they love to talk tough. And just as with the other absurd portrait which cast Republicans as fighting for liberty, while Democrats were appeasers and pacifists, the general populace went along with the narrative which has been used by Republicans and their media for most of the last hundred years.

It is 35 years since that ignominious disgrace of a presidential campaign. And here are the Republicans, again intending to make “soft on crime,” and “law and order” the primary focus in the upcoming campaign. It is so easy for them to do. They just charge any Democratic President, or Democratic nominee who was governor, with allowing crime and criminals to run rampant. They then contend that they, the Republicans,, will crack down on crime. Of course the statistics never bear that out, but it doesn’t matter at all to them, and the media is willing to let them pick the issues in every campaign.

So they’ve got it all teed up. Their issues are going to be…law and order! Black mayors and “woke” people are allowing waves of crime. Weak federal polices allow bad hombres to cross the border to commit crimes and dispense fentanyl. Liberals want to take your guns away, so that you can’t use them to…um, stop criminals. We need tough law enforcement people to stand up, “back the blue.” We need to stop law enforcement, FBI, DOJ, from, um..fighting crime. We attacked the police on January 6, because they were against us We don’t discuss mass shootings with assault weapons, because we worship guns, because they keep us free from…the police

It’s easy to mock or eviscerate their arguments, but they are emotional, not logical. Put in blunt terms, they are saying, as they have always said, “We are White people who are under attack from various outsiders. Blacks, Hispanics, Jewish people, Antifas, Wokes, people who would subject us to a liberal agenda full of sexual weirdness, groomers, people who tell us what we can’t read, when it is we who should be telling people what they can’t read. We are in danger of losing our rightful power, and we will do everything necessary, including shooting people, elected officials, unless we get our way. So you had damn well better let us get our way.”

Then they sit back and wait for every crime report, and blame it on the Democrats. In a similar manner to how they blamed every price rise on Biden and his party, and then when prices went down, they ignored it, or said, “So what, they are still higher than they were.” And so is employment, job growth, and wages, but they ignore that, and the media goes with their framing. Just like they wanted to scare everybody with the migrant caravans ready to cross the border and commit depredations.

So the point is, that no matter how factually wrong or logically absurd their positions are, they go right ahead. And every time President Biden sticks his head outside, they are there to scream questions at him. I don’t know if they will agree to any presidential debates next year, but if they do, you can count on most of the questions being about crime and law and order. It’s as if Republicans always win the toss, and get to choose whether they want to kick off or receive.

Democrats really need to be prepared for this. Why don’t we start out accusing them? Saying over and over again that the massive rise in homicides is due to Republicans’ failure to vote for legislation banning or at least limiting assault weapons. Show videos every day of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, and the attacks on police officers. Talk about the efforts to assassinate Democratic officials.

There are other issues, of course. Abortion and birth control rights! Climate! Totalitarians, people who want to force critics to register and be monitored. Support of democracies vs. support of dictatorships. The key is to attack now, not wait until the Republicans set the agenda, and then have to try to defend or deflect. And if people respond to slogans or catchwords, then come up with a few, but make sure they are effective.

The 1988 election campaign was the second-worst I have ever seen, behind 2016. And the one thing that Republicans can do well, is to create some kind of narrative where it all fits in for the average voter. Democrats need to actually use the “crime issue” against the Republicans. It’s not easy to do, but it is important not to let the Republicans choose the battle terrain and the weapons, and to automatically get to wear the uniforms with the “law and order” emblems on them.