Love and Politics

By Tim Lyman

I did a little experiment today. I asked ten Republicans why they were going to vote for John McCain and 7 Democrats why they were going to vote for Obama.

Five of the Republicans started off with “Because Romney/Huckabee/Giuliani lost the primary,” but all named at least two issues in definitive terms. “Obama is going to double the capital gains tax,” or “Obama will pull us out of Iraq and Al Qaeda/Iran will move in,” or “McCain will nominate strict constructionist judges.”

Two of the Democrats launched into a paranoid, delusional anti-bush rant that would do Michael Moore credit and the remaining five gave some vague variation of “He’s so cool!” with the word change thrown in there. When I asked them what specific changes, other than withdrawing our troops from Iraq, they meant, I got another vague variation of “He’s so cool!” with the word change thrown in there.

Republicans generally choose candidates based on the candidates’ positions on issues, thus they were able to articulate the reasons behind their decision to vote for McCain (or, more accurately in most cases, the Republican nominee).

Democrats fall in love, and like most people in love, they are unable to articulate exactly why they fell in love. Ask people why they got married and you’ll usually hear something like “I just knew s/he was the one.” Nobody has ever said they picked their spouse because they shared views on tax policy. At least, I hope not.

Like all people madly, desperately in love, they’re absolutely bonkers for the object of their affection. Consider the fact that t-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs and all manner of paraphernalia bearing Obama’s likeness are outselling McCain items by ten to one. Even at the height of Ronald Reagan’s popularity he never incited this level of devotion from the Republican faithful.

JFK is worshipped like unto a god, even though his ineptitude almost got us into world war three at least twice, as is FDR whose policies probably doubled the length of the great depression. Even the biggest Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt fans among Republicans are not this emotionally invested in their political idols and freely point out their shortcomings when they sing their praises.

This is a problem for Republicans, as anyone who’s ever tried to rescue a friend from a destructive relationship knows. The McCain camp must get enough Democrats to fall out of love with Obama and in love with McCain to win the election. That means making positive emotional appeals. Simply making Obama look bad is not enough, McCain has to look good. Republicans haven’t been any good at image ads since the Reagan years, but they’re going to have to get awful good awful fast if they want to stay in the white house in 2009.