The Other McCain

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Incompetent, Yes, But Also Stupid: How Carol Moseley Braun Lost the Black Vote

Posted on | March 5, 2011 | 19 Comments

Black voters in Chicago chose Rahm Emanuel over Carol Moseley Braun, which Instapundit suggests indicates their preferrence for “a white guy who seemed, you know, kinda competent, and who was willing to ask for their votes.”

When Moseley Braun announced her candidacy, I said that this was the only possible justification for electing Emanuel. This judgment was based Moseley Braun’s career as the Worst Senator Ever. Even Chicago doesn’t deserve a mayor that bad, and her rejection by black voters there is very encouraging. Still, it took a special kind of stupid to accomplish this transcendence of racial identity politics:

In a series of internal campaign e-mails . . . David Schaffer, an adviser to Ms. Braun, said “all factors” indicated that Ms. Braun would finish second and qualify for a runoff election against Rahm Emanuel by winning the vast majority of black votes.
“We remain confident — with a high degree of certainty — that Carol has 50 percent of the AA [African-American] vote today and will have at least 60 percent (hopefully more) by election day,” Mr. Schaffer wrote in an e-mail on Feb. 15. A week later, Ms. Braun, the former United States senator, finished fourth in the six-candidate field with no more than 23 percent backing in any ward. . . .
Mike Noonan, Ms. Braun’s campaign manager, said the candidate and aides like Mr. Schaffer changed campaign strategy on the assumption that Ms. Braun was guaranteed the support of blacks when black leaders chose her as the community’s consensus candidate.
“It was a terrible mistake,” Mr. Noonan said this week. “The thinking was: ‘Why waste our time with African-American voters? They have no other place to go.’

People will see in this tale what they want to see, but it offers three very important points about politics:

  1. You have to ask for their votes — This is just Politics 101. Nothing is more important in a campaign than campaigning: Having the candidate get face-to-face with voters and ask them to vote for him. This is how Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, for example — he drove around in a truck, shook people’s hands and asked them to vote for him. For all the talk about “messaging” and “strategy,” it is nice occasionally to be reminded that old-fashioned campaigning still matters.
  2. Good candidates run good campaigns — A political candidate is CEO of his own campaign, with full authority to hire or fire anyone on the staff. It is always wrong to attempt to excuse a losing campaign by blaming it on the staff because, after all, who hired the staff? Hillary Clinton’s doomstruck 2008 campaign, when she frittered away a seemingly insurmountable early advantage, was a classic example of this principle. If she had campaigned throughout 2007 as hard as she was campaigning by the time she got to Pennsylvania, Obama never would have stood a chance. But she began by hiring the wrong people and allowing them to implement the wrong strategy (and spend too much money) in 2007, and that’s how she lost. It was entirely her own fault, however: If a campaign isn’t working, if the staff is making bad decisions, it’s up to the candidate to intervene and make the necessary changes.
  3. Campaigning is a test for governing — Let’s admit that their are politicians who are good at getting elected and re-elected and yet bad at everything else. Neverthless, someone who can’t organize a winning campaign is unlikely to be able to manage the responsibilities of public office. This is why competitive elections are so important to good government in a democraic system. If incumbents never have to fight for re-election, there is less incentive to governmental competence. Elected offices become filled with incompetent party hacks, who employ cronies in staff positions, and there is no one with any real “insider” access who has any motive to blow the whistle on corruption.

That we are talking about Chicago in this context si not entirely coincidental. Whenever I say that Chicago is the most corrupt city in American, my friends from Louisiana claim that I’ve deprived New Orleans of its hard-won distinction. What both cities have in common (and a trait they share with nearly every major city in America), is that they are uncontested Democratic fiefdoms. And if the GOP is effectively dead in such places, whose fault is that?

If the Republican Party refuses to invest the time and money it takes to improve its electoral apparatus in urban America, if the GOP is willing to cede the cities without a fight, then Republicans ought not complain about the consequences — including the awful fate of Chicagoans having to choose Rahm Emanuel as the best-qualified candidate for mayor.


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