‘Sorry’ state

By STEVEN STARK  |  October 27, 2008

Massachusetts was, in fact, the only state that allowed prisoners serving sentences of life without parole the opportunity to go out on furloughs. And, worse, Dukakis had vetoed a bill that would have reversed this practice. (The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize showcasing the program.) Dukakis could have spent the whole campaign responding and it wouldn’t have done a bit of good unless his response had been, “I made a mistake and I won’t make it again.”

Better safe and sorry
So, what are the lessons for Obama from the Bush-bested Democrats? First, from the Kerry experience, avoid glamorizing your past or making categorical assertions or denials about it. (Obama’s claim that Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory declarations were “not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity” is just such an assertion.) No matter what Obama thinks happened in the past, there were other people there at the time who might have a different version of events that will contradict his.

Second, apologize when necessary — it goes a long way. Politicians as varied as Ronald Reagan (Iran-Contra) and Ted Kennedy (Chappaquiddick) have used apologies to rescue their political careers. The key, as they demonstrated, is to apologize in the politically savviest way — namely by pleading guilty to a lesser offense and showing contrition for that.

It has been a regrettable trait of the Obama campaign so far (which is reminiscent of the Dukakis reaction to Willie Horton) that it can seemingly never admit when its candidate makes a mistake. An old questionnaire that contradicts a policy stand? Oh, an aide must have done it for him (even though one copy apparently featured Obama's handwritten notes added to an answer). Reverend Wright gives outrageous sermons? Obama must have never been in church to hear them.

The problem with the answers in these cases is that they leave the door open to more factual disputes that keep the story alive and slowly damage the candidate’s credibility. If Obama would just apologize and show a tad more humility from time to time, the Republicans would have fewer easy targets to hit, and the rest of us could all move on.

Willie Horton and Swift-boating have become talismanic words for the Democrats — symbols of how elections can be lost by dirty tricks and not fighting back. That’s the wrong lesson. Kerry made a bad strategic choice, Dukakis a bad policy one, and neither was really defensible. The voters are a forgiving lot: occasionally admitting mistakes can go a long way.

BARACK OBAMA VS. JOHN MCCAIN
Odds: even | this past week: even

On the Web
The Presidential Tote Board blog: http://www.thephoenix.com/toteboard

< prev  1  |  2  | 
  Topics: Stark Ravings , Michael Dukakis, Barack Obama, Election Campaigns,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY STEVEN STARK
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MAPPING OUT THE NEW YEAR'S POLITICAL LANDSCAPE  |  December 29, 2010
    MAPPING OUT THE NEW YEAR'S POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
  •   DEMOCRATS AGAINST OBAMA  |  November 03, 2010
    Now that the midterm wipeout has concluded, analysts are already sizing up the GOP challengers to a weakened Barack Obama. Not only that: some Democratic party elders are considering the once-unthinkable scenario of a debilitating challenge to Barack Obama from inside his party.
  •   THE INDEPENDENT HERD  |  October 06, 2010
    The big news in this election cycle is the rise of the Tea Party. Fair enough. But passing under the radar is an accompanying development that could have even more far-reaching consequences — the rise of an emboldened third force in our politics.
  •   THE AMERICAN IDOL PARTY  |  September 23, 2010
    Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell might not turn out to be good candidates, but they make great television.
  •   HAS OBAMA PEAKED? YES, HE HAS  |  November 12, 2009
    To listen to some pundits, Barack Obama's public image began taking a serious beating when the off-year election returns came in a week ago. Or maybe it was the undeserved Nobel Prize, his approach to the war in Afghanistan, or when he revved up his pursuit of national health-care reform.

 See all articles by: STEVEN STARK