His & Her Candidates

My lovely wife, the self-taught Web Goddess, supports Obama (as does almost everybody we know in our blue-town/blue-state of Maplewood, New Jersey). I support McCain, primarily on the basis of the Iraq war issue. As I’ve discussed before, this makes for some careful-but-substantive conversations as the election drama unfolds.

Tempting though it may be sometimes to mock the opposing candidate, we know it can easily feel like mocking each other by proxy. Because we have an extraordinary personal bond, there is no worry that political differences might damage the relationship. But out of simple respect, we avoid excessive harshness and look for common ground, even as we state and stand by our opinions.

This model cannot, of course, be replicated in the broader society. Democracy depends upon the clash of ideas, and negative campaigning can be a highly effective way neutralize an opponent’s strength. However, excessive harshness can cause a backlash, as the Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) have found in their initial feeding frenzy over Sarah Palin.

Palin may have gone too far herself in mocking community organizers in her acceptance speech. Less than a day after Palin’s speech, Daily Kos launched the meme of Jesus vs. Pontius Pilate, and it’s gaining a lot of traction. On Facebook, if you search the popular Flair application for “Community Organizer,” you’ll find more than two dozen buttons making this point. The button at left is the one that comes up first, indicating more people have chosen that than any other similarly themed button. I mention this because this button was created by my wife Nina, whose graphic design skills led her to design a button more readable than the alternatives, featuring a red-blue color scheme that helps tell the story.

The Republicans are seeking to buff some of the harsher edges off of the meme — McCain’s acceptance speech made a nod to community organizing without using the term, and then on Face the Nation he explicitly said that community organizing is “very honorable.”

But I think the Jesus-vs-Pontius debate helps the Republicans much more than the Democrats. The downside for Republicans is it helps establish a High School Mean Girl image for Palin that will cost her some sympathy. However, what it does much more powerfully, I think, is emphasize two story lines that cannot help Obama: the experience issue (by all means let’s argue until Election Day about whether Obama has more experience than Palin), and the Obamessiah image that undermines the ability of many voters to feel comfortable with the idea of Obama in the very pragmatic and secular role of leader of the free world.

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