Morale and air power

Obama’s campaign strategy is smart, unflappable –and stealthy. To keep his supporters’ morale up, that will have to change.

I agree with Mark that McCain’s latest antics are likely to be a bridge too far. Perhaps Democrats can calm down now and realize how the election stands. McCain is the candidate of a toxic party. His convention bounce is already dissipating. The Palin choice was a desperate gamble and he probably realizes already—as we don’t—that it’s blown up in his face. The Republicans have put out everything they’ve got, but the race is now tied, with Obama just starting to attack (only a little).

Democrats have been spouting gloom and doom all out of proportion to the state of the race. In response, I support pep talks, but also hard questions as to why this is happening. Among many reasons, a big one has got to be Obama’s strategy of putting so many resources into his field operation.

This may be a good strategy on the merits, likely to give Obama several points more in key states than the polls are showing. But until and unless it turns out to work, it’s invisible. Obama’s supporters simply can’t see this strategy working: we have to take its wisdom on faith. Meanwhile, the polls show what they show; McCain’s ads show up on YouTube, CNN, and a station near you; and Obama’s team seems to be doing nothing—even though it’s not. And if this keeps up, donations will flag and lots of those field staffers will have to be laid off.

Campaigns are about strategy and guile. But like the military operations that they get their name from, they’re also about morale—and right now, the troops need some encouragement. Axelrod is phlegmatic, Plouffe is chintzy, and neither one wants to waste money on lots of new ads that aren’t part of their game plan. But the officers won’t be able to execute their plan if they’re the only ones advancing out of the trench. More of these, please. We grunts don’t just need good leaders. We need to be shown, not just told, that they’re still in the fight.

P.S.: Some of you may recognize my name from a few aeons ago in blog time. Having stopped blogging several years ago, I’m back at RBC until the election is over. Lacking the discipline to follow the nonsense of a contemporary campaign as little as I should, I’m compromising by adding to it.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.