LEFT OF DAYTON

Shadows On High: It’s 3 am; Fear & Ohio’s Swing Voters | March 7, 2008

Shadows On High: It’s 3 am; Fear & Ohio’s Swing Voters

[Note: I started this column on Tuesday while polls were opened. This is meant as an analysis piece and not in support of any candidate.]

It’s a dirty little secret. The thing most folks don’t understand about Midwesterners.

We whisper about those things that make us uncomfortable.

You saw no knock-down drag out discussion about race and gender politics in Ohio’s primary as you did in South Carolina. But it’s there. It may not be correct – but Midwesterners are no different in their inner psychology than southerners. We just don’t talk about it. We whisper our irrational fears and true prejudices. We talk behind closed doors – or worse – we hold the deepest darkest of unpopular thoughts under lock and key. We don’t show our fears, but we sure as hell vote them.

Fear – not change – is once again the root of Ohio’s 2008 zeitgeist. Without fear there is no hunger for change. Fear is the underlying neurosis of our inner dissatisfaction with our government, the energy which makes us crave change. Without fear, there is no neutron in the chemical reaction of political change.

Fear of terror. Fear of the cost of the War in Iraq. Fear of the bloodshed and uncertainty of radical Al Qaeda. Fear of the politicians without answers.

Like it or not, if there is a turning point in our national dialogue for change, it was in the Hillary Clinton “It’s 3 a.m. ad’’ released in Ohio on the eve of our primary election.

George Bush rode fear into the White House in 2004. John McCain knows that. If Americans fear terrorism – McCain wins. If Americans fear the economic costs of war or the uncertainty of the “hawkish” and bellicose behavior that led to War – Michelle Obama or Bill Clinton will be redecorating the West Hall. (I’ll let you all fight out Tuesday’s results.)

All you need to do is think back to another Arizona Senator running for President back in 1964 and the fear engendered by Lyndon Johnson’s use of a child with daisies to conjure up fear of a different warmongering Arizona cowboy as President.

Times may change and technology may change but the wiring of the human brain does not. If Lyndon Johnson’s infamous Daisy Girl commercial , Willie Horton in 1988 and the Swift Boat Strategy in 2004 taught America anything about itself, it is that the path to the White House goes straight through the opposition’s strength. Hillary’s “It’s 3 a.m. ad” will likely be that memorable regardless of how her candidacy ends.

Much like Johnny Cochran taught us in the ‘90’s most infamous murder case, you must go right to the juries reasonable doubt—“if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” All of which makes Ohio’s primary meaningless to Ohio swing voters – who likely decide this race by focusing their fears and doubts on the losing candidate – fear of terror or fear of war and because of war our biggest fear — being poor.

That will decide the Presidency in Ohio.

Progressives are hiding from the issue of war

Last week, ProgressOhio partner True Majority launched what it called the Iran Mobile to push back hard on war-mongering that still goes on over lack of evidence of Iran’s nuclear capability and the “hawkish” statements that continue from John McCain and President George W. Bush. Late last January, none other than conservative Pat Buchanan said, “You get John McCain in the White House, and I do believe we will be at war with Iran.”

Yet in that very same vein, in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, Ohio, the Iran Mobile – a papier-mâché covered bomb with a papier-mâché John McCain riding on the back – pulled up outside a benefit for progressive Columbus radio station WVKO, and promptly got booted and censored.

The owner of the facility hosting the benefit gratis told the radio station the symbol of the group “Notanotherwar.org’s” float was offensive to him. So two kids from Vermont who drove all the way to make their point about war-mongering found themselves kicked out by progressives whose host would give them cover to speak their views indoors, as long as it was not in the light of day.

Worse yet, the next day, the Chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party kicked the same float out of the parking lot of the Cuyahoga County Democtratic dinner. Dimora’s aide said he found the float inappropriate. Which makes you scratch your head when you realize that even Pat Buchanan in late January said of McCain and bombing Iran, “that’s one of the things that makes me very nervous about him [McCain].”

When Cleveland’s Jimmy Dimora, refuses to allow discussion of an issue that has Pat Buchanan concerned about John McCain, you have to wonder if Democrats have the stomach to win. Pat Buchanan is more afraid of John McCain than Jimmy Dimora is?

And Ohio’s most powerful Democrat, Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern, got put on the hotseat when he skirted the war issue on Chris Matthews’ Hardball show before the Cleveland MSNBC Democratic debate. He told Matthews that in the case of Democratic primary voters, “they know where they stand” on the war. Never mind that they also seemingly know where they stand on the topic of change, health care, Ohio’s economy, NAFTA – but you didn’t see Barak and Hillary shying away from those issues. So why this fear of discussing Iraq, Iran and war-mongering – why is the war so different when it is the dominant foreign policy issue of our day. Do Democrats really think that this decision does not come down to who answers that red phone at 3 a.m.?

The fact of the matter is that somewhere, somebody decided not to talk about Iraq, Iran and the mistakes of the Bush years. And unless Ohio progressives regain that voice – Ohioans will cede the motivation of fear to John McCain’s very able handlers.

POLL: Swing Voters in Ohio want to hear about Iraq

Late last month, ProgressOhio partner U.S. Action released a poll of only swing voters that clearly showcased the frustrations and fears of Americans who are on the fence over the Iraq War.

  • As defining framework for a candidate, an investment agenda works very well. A 58 percent majority describe themselves as at least somewhat more likely to support a candidate for President and Congress in favor of such an investment agenda. Underlying this support is a clear sense that we have had the wrong priorities and that our focus on Iraq – the larger world – has taken away from a focus on our problems at home. These speak to the voters’ overall desire for change and, as important, deliver an implicit criticism of the current government.

The poll, released publicly and in bi-partisan fashion in the Cannon Building of the U.S. House of Representatives, shows the following traits among swing voters:

  • Voters are cynical about candidates for public office who talk about change. On an open-ended inquiry, four in ten voters believe candidates talking about change are just talking politics.
  • Voters’ definition of change shares much with the USAction and USAction Education Fund Agenda. Asked in both open-ended and close-ended format what they mean by “change,” voters tend to stress issues such as health care reform and energy independence, ending the war in Iraq and, of course, the economy.

By a two-to-one margin these voters – not Democrats, liberals or progressives – moderates many of whom are anti-government, believe that America is in a recession. They are also angry – 74 percent consider the country off-track; 67 percent disapprove of the way George W. Bush is doing his job as President.

The battle for the votes of Ohio swing voters comes down to who best defines the word “change.” And while generically, Republicans trail with swing voters on the Presidential races 41- to 34 percent, the Congressional races are fairly competitive at 40 to 38 percent Democratic.

These voters want change because they fear the status quo. George W. Bush’s “cowboy” diplomacy has them more fearful than their ambivalence toward a Congress that just can’t seem to move on their fears over gridlock.

Define change in Ohio or change will define you is essentially what this poll says.

Let the right-wing define fear and change in Ohio and progressives lose

The Greenburg poll was clear – whoever defines change in November wins Ohio swing votes. And whoever reaches the angst of our fear captures change. If anything defined that in Ohio’s primary it was the tremendous surge of young voters participating in the primary campaign on Tuesday.

Swing-voters distrust government – they fear it. They react viscerally to corruption as much as they reacted viscerally to Ronald Reagan’s assault on big-government – that has not changed in Ohio. Their solid Midwestern make-up finds fundamental unfairness in big government and their limited trust in government was eroded by a string of scandals involving people like a GOP-star coin dealer named Noe.

These voters did not trust John Kerry. They allowed Karl Rove and his Swift Boat veterans to dishonor Kerry’s military service. In a contest between a man who fought in Vietnam versus a man who toiled in the National Guard and never saw a rice paddy – the National Guardsman won.

Change is a powerful word – and an even more powerful concept.

But without definition – change can define you as well. That is what happened to John Kerry in Ohio.

What those Vermont kids with their Iran Mobile attempted to tell Ohioans last week, was that John McCain continues to make provocative overtures toward bombing Iran – over intelligence that is eerily similar to that which pointed to the phantom “weapons of mass destruction.”

Ignore the War at Your Own Peril

Democrats ignore the war in Ohio at their own peril – the peril of Ohio swing voters.

Swing voters in this poll fear the lack of attention to what is happening here at home while this war is dragging on in this far away place. They fear for their economic security and they relate to the cost of these decisions about Iraq, Iran and faulty intelligence.

What Hillary’s “Its 3 a.m. ad” captured is the essence of the fear that will decide which change voters will choose in November – whether it is Barak, Hillary or John McCain.

The guttural punch in this ad may not be politically correct on Ohio’s Ed Board pages – but then neither was Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, or Willie Horton, or Daisy girl – and bad editorials aside, their benefactors recovered well in the comfy white confines of Potomacland.

So when you watch the reaction to the censored Iran Mobile, somehow, I’ve gotta believe there is laughter in the right-wing halls of Ohio as they gear up to define fear and change this Fall.

That wasn’t Dr. Strangelove that Jimmy Dimora and WVKO progressive radio allowed to be censored. That was the definition of change. That was the same trepidation and concern voiced by Pat Buchanan in January about John McCain.

Pat Buchanan understood the power of the message on Iran with Americans – eerily similar to the vulnerabilities of Barry Goldwater to Lyndon Johnson. But in our typical Midwestern way – Ohio progressive leaders chose not to define our fears but to banish them – too abrupt – too disturbing – too visceral.

“It’s 3 a.m. in America” and who do you want answering the phone? There are only three choices and that is 2008 politically in a nutshell.

And when you really think about it, the jury that will make the decision on whether the gloved hand which answers the phone is a fit, is likely to be Ohio swing voters who are poised as in 2004 to decide who gets the phone bills on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Shh, Shh, Jimmy, Chris, WVKO, guess what – there’s a war going on and it’s costing us at home. People want to know what we intend to do about it.

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61 Y/O VIET VET WORKING FROM THE LEFT OF CENTER

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