Ed Rendell is a Democrat … a meat and potatoes Democrat. He's been around for a long time … winning and sometimes losing elections in the rough-and-tumble of Pennsylvania politics. He's been D.A. and Mayor of Philadelphia, and two-term governor of the state.
Recently, on MSNBC, he was part of a four person panel discussion of presidential politics. The eldest of his colleagues was half his age. As his high SAT scoring, amazingly hip colleagues chirped on about who's narrative was or was not resonating, Rendell sat silently, with a slightly bemused, but not disrespectful, expression.
Finally, he took his turn. "You have to understand," the governor said, "In politics, hate is the greater motivator, not love."
Let's accept the governor's assessment. It's unpleasant, but it makes intuitive sense. We know in our individual lives how anger, even hatred, can motivate.
How does a politician harness anger and hatred and turn it into votes to win an election? I would suggest two models: the Kennedy-Reagan model and the Nixon-Santorum model.
KENNEDY-REAGAN VS NIXON-SANTORUM
The Kennedy-Reagan model is not really hate-based at all. It's benign. It appeals to our better angels. It looks at the existing situation and says, We can do better. Give me the job, and I'll get it done.
The language of the Kennedy-Reagan model is uplifting. It's self-confident. It points to a New Frontier, or a Shining City on a Hill. It's willing to exaggerate a little, but it's not mean-spirited. On the contrary, both Kennedy and Reagan were able to make powerful points with grace and good humor.
They didn't hate their opponents. They merely viewed them as misguided.
The Nixon-Santorum model is a horse of a different color. It thrives on "enemies" and "grave threats" (Nixon). It speaks in hushed, melodramatic tones as if important secrets about the inner workings of the universe are about to be imparted (Santorum).
Nixon would identify a group that many viewed as a threat. He'd exaggerate the threat, and identify his opponent as a protector or sympathizer with the demonized group. Early in his career, it was Communists. We've got to stop the Red Menace. His opponents were "Commie sympathizers." Later, the enemies were demonstrators and flag burners. Kids with long hair, women without bras, and anybody who even thought of going to Woodstock. They had to be stopped. What's this country coming to?
It worked. Nixon won the presidency twice. It came apart later.
Santorum has a different challenge. People are fearful and resentful about different things. Plus, his audience is not the country at large, but voters in Republican primaries who are far more conservative.
Much of the Republican primary electorate (over 50% in Mississippi and Alabama) does not believe that Obama is a Christian, or that he was born in this country. They are staunchly pro-life, but madly in love with the death penalty. They spend their days listening to Limbaugh, and their nights watching Hannity. They are prepared to believe the worst about Obama, no matter how far-fetched.
As a world-class opportunist, Santorum doesn't need to be told what to do next. He's more than happy to give the natives all the red meat they can handle.
He'll maintain a cowardly silence while a participant at one of his townhall meetings rattles on about Obama being a Muslim not born in this country. He'll suggest that Obama's beliefs are "not based on the Bible, but some false ideal". He'll call Obama a "snob" for his position that everybody should have a chance to get some schooling past high school. Left unsaid is the fact that Santorum and his wife have a total of six degrees between them.
He has the image of a purist on right-to-life that is undeserved. He has supported pro-choice candidates for President, and for statewide office in Pennsylvania, against pro-life opponents.
He claims in campaign speeches and on his website to "steadfastly oppose federal funding of abortion", but the last time he had a chance to vote on the matter, he voted for federal funding of abortions.
He wants it both ways, and he gets thrown off his game easily when questioned about inconsistencies in his record.
Ron Paul served ten years with him in Congress; Paul in the House, and Santorum in the Senate. In one of the debates, Paul was asked why he described Santorum as a "fake" in his advertisements. With Santorum standing less than three feet from him, Paul smiled and said, "Because he's a fake."
And a whiner.
**Please note that Wednesdays Wars will be on hiatus next week, and will return with new articles on Wednesday, April 4th.**