Pettiness and Spin: Political Lessons to Learn From Dobbs Ferry
I have always tried to maintain the hope that, despite individual political differences, candidates of the same party could maintain certain degrees of civility and respect for one another when campaigning for the same office. I am, of course, referring to the race for the Democratic nomination for President. In the last week, we've seen Hillary Clinton launch nonsensical attacks against Barack Obama's campaign. First, there was the accusation of Obama using plagiarism in his speeches, and the now semi-famous "change you can xerox" quip that rightly drew jeers and boos from the audience at Thursday's debate. Practically everybody borrows something from other people's speeches. It's how candidates can evoke the past and conjure the spirit and enthusiasm of older supporters...it's nothing special. Now we have Hillary on CNN, holding two of Obama's Ohio mailings -- one criticizing her health care plan and the other criticizing her stance on NAFTA -- and saying, "Shame on you, Barack Obama."
I'm not going to talk about where I stand on those issues, as most people who know me know that I'm an Obama supporter. What I'm more ticked off about right now is the name-calling, such as Clinton likening her opponent's tactics to those of Karl Rove, Bush's old Grand Master of Slander.
Karl Rove was the architect of personal attacks on other candidates, such as that 2000 South Carolina push poll asking, "Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" Let's not also forget the hogwash surrounding the "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth."
What I'm trying to say here is that I hate when political campaigns start to resort to petty tactics -- especially when it's against candidates of the same party -- and I hate that this often results in severe fracturing within said party when unity is what's needed.
This is where the issue gets personal for me, as I hail from a little village called Dobbs Ferry. Dobbs Ferry should be given a star on the map for its legendarily pointless and vicious political infighting, especially among Dobbs Ferry Democrats. My gripes about the Dobbs Ferry Democratic Committee's (DFDC) choice for mayor aside, rarely have I seen such hostility harbored toward those who have ideas that might contrast with those of the committee's more prominent members. Anyone who wants to copy and paste my last name into a Google search and put it in the context of Dobbs Ferry will likely find things related to my father, David Mintzes. He's been painted as the "Karl Rove of the Dobbs Ferry Party (DFP)" and had been hit with other slanderous attacks in the past. Apparently in Dobbs, having the ability to write coherent articles and essays that logically and critically analyze other viewpoints (and support keeping partisan politics out of the local arena) is enough for you to be labeled as one of Mr. Rove's acolytes and subsequently outed.
The Dobbs Ferry Party was formed because two trustees (life-long Democrats, mind you) were worried about the potentially disastrous outcome if a certain mayoral candidate had elected, and because they were fed up with those who unthinkingly adhered to party lines (the Democrats had thrown all their backing behind this empty shell candidate). That sounds like a good reason to me, and it seemed to be something the voters of Dobbs Ferry agreed with when the DFP gained control of the Board of Trustees. However, when the DFDC saw that every sitting member of the Board had run on the DFP ticket, they spun their majority as something akin to tyranny. As Paul Sterne said, "Politics is sadly all about getting and holding power," and I agree with that statement. However, there are ways to go about getting power that don't involve changing the date of a local election. Instead, nominating candidates with reasonable ideas (like finding ways to gain more tax revenue for the town that don't involve actually raising Village taxes) would be a good start.
I wasn't a follower of the Dobbs Ferry Party simply because of my family ties. I'm not blind. I'm a smart kid. I knew enough to make up my own mind and get involved, though I'm sure there are people who thought that I was just doing "what the ol' man told me to do." I would have said no to walking around with mailings on cold February days if I disagreed with the DFP.
Believe me, there are things on which my father and I disagree, but we both believe strongly that local politics should be just that: local. I supported having village elections in March instead of in November because I didn't want local politicians to ride into office on the coattails of their state and federal constituents. That's what happened in November 2006. I was excited that the Democrats took back Congress (though it hasn't done a whole lot since then), but seeing how the tide was turning nationally, I could see the reverberations this would have (and did have) on local levels. I wonder how many people who voted for the Democratic trustee candidates in the midterms have watched a Board meeting since then. I'd imagine there aren't very many. Many people just vote their party line without any forethought and then go home, righteously satisfied that they performed their "great civic duty." There's nothing that parties love more than blind adherents who believe the spin. That applies to the Democrats as much as the Republicans.
The Dobbs Ferry Party didn't lose because of a Stop & Shop, as Sterne might have you believe. They lost because the Democrats wanted their majority back and managed to get the election date changed to a time where people were far more likely to blanket vote without giving much real thought to the issues. Along the way, huge amounts of political venom were thrown against the DFP/Back to March Coalition, in the form of mailings, speeches at Board of Trustee meetings, and letters to the editor in the Rivertowns' Enterprise. DFP Republicans were guilty by association, DFP Independents were viewed as cowards, and DFP Democrats were viewed as traitors (probably worse than the Republicans and Independents). People got petty and made things personal. Friendships were wrecked by these rhetorical skirmishes. As a result, politics in Dobbs Ferry have become more fractured than ever.
As you can imagine, I consider the Karl Rove label about my father unfair, and I found it laughably predictable when the DFDC decided not to include my father -- a registered Democrat for over 40 years -- in their affairs when he offered to work with them even after the Dobbs Ferry Party lost the local elections. I imagine they enjoyed telling him to screw off, as I know they're not very fond of him. Like I said, the DFDC had a habit of painting independents as "cop-outs" and Democrats who joined the Dobbs Ferry Party as "turncoats." Apparently, they like you if you're an independent and intellectual thinker...if you think along their lines, that is. If you don't think like them, they'll slam you.
Campaigns should not stoop to personal attacks, labels, and name-calling in order to get the upper hand (even though they often achieve that end). Clinton likening Obama to Karl Rove is a low blow, and it left me asking, "Who's the real 'Rovian' here?" Comparing Obama's tactics to those of a man so reviled by active Democrats in order to gain votes feels more like something Rove would do. I'm not going say that Clinton should give an apology or an explanation. What's done is done, and what's been said has been said. Let's just get over it and get past the pettiness.
To wrap up, my point is this: the use of petty tactics is one of the things that tore apart Dobbs Ferry Democrats. I see this fracturing happening again now, but on a much larger level. If Clinton continues with the personal attacks, the gaps between her supporters and Obama's supporters could widen as well, potentially lessening the chances of one candidate's supporters voting for the other candidate in November (especially if Clinton gets the nomination, since Obama's been able to maintain the higher ground). Dobbs Ferry is just a microcosm. If we Democrats want to have any chance of getting the nation's highest office in November, we cannot afford to let this sort of mindlessness and pettiness tear us asunder.
Tags: Dobbs Ferry , Democrats , Politics , Clinton , Obama , Dobbs Ferry Party , Dobbs Ferry Democratic Co , Mintzes
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