Posted under: American history
“How to talk to non-supporters about Obama” is an excellent primer that explains very effectively how to get other Democrats on board for November. The author, demoinesdem, was a precinct captain for Kerry in 2003-04 and for Edwards in 2007-08 (in Iowa), so this wasn’t her first rodeo, and it sounds like she’s a very patient, practised, and effective campaigner. (Her website is Bleeding Heartland.) She’s got a lot of great scripts for comments that people who didn’t vote for Obama in the primary might throw at you, and examples of both ineffective and effective replies.
Much of her advice boils down to this: “Remember that voter contacts are not about winning an argument. They are about finding ways to get on the same side as the person you are talking to.” In other words, you don’t have to bring people to a Road to Damascus moment about Obama so that you can bask in the warmth of your shared enlightenment. You just need their votes. Some people will never warm to Obama or see him as the Democrats’ best bet, and it’s not prima facie evidence of a character flaw that they won’t, so don’t annoy people with your Testimony. (Do you really want to be like the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Think about it.) She’s got some great anecdotes about how some Obama supporters lectured her when she was an Edwards supporter. One person actually wrote her an e-mail that started, “I actually feel bad for you, I really do, and I do NOT mean to be even the least bit demeaning, or snooty (no matter how it may sound — I really don’t.) Because I think you are missing out on a unique time in US political history…” What can you say about a guy like that? (That reminds me of an anonymous note left on someone’s windshield, which was equally ineffective in its evangelizing.)
There are only two major points in her essay that I’d quarrel with. One is a simple factual error. About Clinton supporters, she writes:
These people are just as disappointed by the way things turned out as you would be if the superdelegates had handed the nomination to Clinton after Obama earned it. They liked Bill, they like Hillary, and they thought she would do a great job. They are frustrated that millions of voters picked the hot shot over the smart, hard-working woman. In their minds, Hillary deserved the nomination, but voters picked someone less prepared for the job.
No, the voters didn’t pick Obama by “millions.” (I know she’s not claiming that his victory margin was in the millions, but her phrasing here obscures the millions of votes that Clinton won.) This race was a photo finish to the end. Even the most generous interpretation of the popular vote totals for Obama (and the least generous for Michigan!) puts him ahead by only about 151,000. And other entirely reasonable ways of counting up the popular vote put Clinton ahead by 48,000 to 287,000 votes. That’s something that Clinton voters may still be sore about–because it clearly wasn’t “voters” who “picked someone less prepared for the job,” it was the Superdelegates who picked Obama. Addressing people still unsettled about the popular vote is the one major omission in demoinesdem’s excellent scripts. (Perhaps acknowledging that the popular vote was indeed essentially a tie, and expressing regret that only one candidate could emerge the victor would be the way to go with this one?)
Secondly, demoinesdem’s frequently suggested tactic for getting Democrats on board with Obama is to invoke the spectre of a Supreme Court with two, three, or four new Associate Justices appointed by John McCain. This strikes me as a little weak and a little desperate–if you’re canvassing for Obama, you should give people reasons to vote for Obama, not reasons to vote against McCain. It may come down to that for many loyal Dems, but that should be a reason of last resort. At this point (June, people!), citizens who didn’t vote for Obama may not be familiar with his overall record–try to surprise them with an impressive detail or clear policy position that will make them feel better about their vote.
All in all, however, demoinesdem is on the money in acknowledging the power of emotions in this primary, and in suggesting some ways to find common ground.