If the final senatorial debates of Jaime Harrison vs. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Amy McGrath vs. Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) were ten-round boxing matches McGrath and Harrison would have won all the rounds on points.
But they lost their elections. Why? They were knocked out by the oldest dirty trick in political debates: Boogeyman sucker-punches. And they had no effective counter-punches.
Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock should prepare for the boogeyman trick in their upcoming Georgia elections.
The boogeyman, you'll recall, is the mythical creature some parents invoke to scare children out of bad behavior. "The boogeyman will get you if you don't behave" is the threat many remember from their childhoods.
The charge "You want to defund the police" was an easy one to defuse. Democrats Harrison, McGrath, Cunningham (North Carolina), Ossoff, Warnock --and I'm sure others like Ossoff--simply said "No, the answer is not to defund police. The answer is to reform police." They praised the police but emphasized the need for reform to root out the "bad" cops. Cal Cunningham in his debate with Thom Tillis went even further, saying that he favored increasing resources for police.
But deflating the boogeyman is a different challenge. Denials give the boogeyman substance when it is in fact imaginary. Or worse, embracing or defending the boogeymen and women who the Republicans demonized over four years of conditioning and brain washing. Republican David Perdue threw the "devil" Chuck Schumer at Ossoff in their Oct. 29th debate claiming Ossoff would be "nothing but a rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer "and his radical socialist agenda," a mantra that he included in nearly all his responses. Ossoff sidestepped the charge but in another statement as reported in Politico, he said "he hoped to have the opportunity to work with Schumer to get things done for Georgia." It would have been better to say I will work with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done for Georgia and will fight anyone on both sides of the aisle who doesn't join me for that."
In some instances, the boogeyman tactic seemed bizarre. The Republican candidates often made no attempt to respond to challenges or defend failed policies and inactions. Instead they answered with some of these boogeyman warnings : "If you vote for him (or her) you will be voting for Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Bernie Sanders, AOC and the radical left agenda, socialism, Marxism, socialized medicine, allowing crime and rioting to flourish, and opening borders to let in criminals who will ravage our cities and your communities."
At the October 13th debate between Mitch McConnell and Amy McGrath, McConnell used the boogeyman tactic in every one of his responses to his opponent's point-by-point citations of McConnell's failure to deliver for Kentucky. His favorite boogeyman--in this case a woman--was "Nancy Pelosi," whom he used falsely in almost all his responses as code for socialism and the far left. In his summation, he went full boogeyman, saying nothing about what he would do for Kentucky, and instead unloaded eight boogeymen.
Lindsey Graham invoked the boogeyman over and over in response to Jaime Harrison's documentation of Graham's failure to deliver for South Carolina. Like McConnell, he made the boogeymen and women the totality of his opening and final statements. The same is true for the final statement by David Perdue in his faceoff with Jon Ossoff (Georgia). And Kelly Loeffler (Georgia) dredged up the boogeyman in her attacks on Raphael Warnock.
Did the RNC advise all the Republican candidates to pivot to the boogeyman when they had no effective policy responses? I wonder.
In the face of these scary threats, the Democratic challengers wisely didn't parry. The temptation to argue about or defend the boogeymen and women ("she's not a communist and he's not that radical") should be avoided. It's a trap like responding to "when did you stop beating your wife?"
But here is one strategy to disable the phantoms.
Lt. Col. Amy McGrath could have said to Mitch McConnell:
"Real fear and hard work are landing a jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier flying at 150 miles an hour at night in bad weather and no navigational guide." (She actually said this but not in response to the boogeyman.) "When I did that I was laser-focused on making a safe landing. There were no boogeymen to distract me from that singular focus. And when I am in the Senate I will have that same laser focus and will fight anyone who stands in the way of a safe landing for the people of Kentucky. You can count on that. I don't see or fear boogeymen. We know what Mitch wants to take away from you. He tells you that again and again: your healthcare with no plan for replacement, your health and safety with no plan to end the pandemic, cuts in Social Security, no plan for clean air and water, and much more. So he distracts you from his failures by scaring you with boogeymen and women. He thinks you are stupid and will fall for it. Watch carefully. Every time he has no answer for his failures he will throw the boogeymen and women at you."
And the next time he did it she could have turned to the viewers, laughed, and said, "There he goes again--no plans so he's throwing the boogeyman at us. He thinks you and I are stupid. But, my friends, he can't scare me. You have to decide, do you want boogeymen and women or plans and actions to improve your lives? If you believe in the boogeyman Mitch is your guy."
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