It’s been going on for a long time: Republicans identify some Democrat as a threat to their power, and they go all out to smear them, to besmirch their character, to make much of America regard them as an enemy. In a word, to demonize them.
- In the 90s, it was that trail of murders that Bill Clinton left behind in Arkansas.
- In 2004, it was swift-boating the war hero John Kerry so effectively that the favored-son, duty-shirking George W. Bush could run as the military hero.
- In 2009-2016, it was Barack Obama — the Kenya-born, Muslim, socialist, terrorist pal — whom a percentage of rank-and-file Republicans came to see as the anti-Christ.
- In 2015-16, it was Hillary Clinton who should be running for Prison, not President.
In some of those cases, it was quite clear that the Democrats were completely ineffectual in dealing with this Republican demonization. Too often, the demonization campaign was just ignored. Sometimes, the effort to respond came too late.
In no cases that I can think of were the Democrats able to neutralize the dishonest and irresponsible attacks.
(Much less to counter this disreputable way of doing politics so effectively as to make the Republicans actually pay a price for it.)
Now we can see two excellent Democrats who are being subject to the demonization process: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (been going on a couple of months) and Adam Schiff (seems to be just taking off).
I’m wondering: Is there a really good way for these targets — or their allies — to respond that would turn this ugly Republican practice back to damage the Republicans?
I don’t claim to have the answer. But I believe that the Democrats really need to take the question seriously. (And I’ve never seen evidence that they have– except for AOC who on various occasions, has been quite skillful at the comeback.)
It is important that Democratic leaders be protected. (And it may be important that we choose leaders who can turn Republican fire back against them.)
This issue is part of what needs to be a more general challenge that Democrats take on: how to make sure that the Republicans are punished, not rewarded, for disgraceful political behavior.