Along with thousands of others, I got an email from Bill Clinton last week. "Hey there," the former president began. He was raising money for the Democratic candidates. "There's an election around the corner, so I've been traveling around the country to help Democrats who are standing up for the values you and I believe in, Fred," he continued, adding a nice personal touch.
"I've been in Kentucky with Alison Lundergan Grimes, in Florida with Charlie Crist, in Iowa with Bruce Braley, in Arkansas with Mark Pryor, and several other states. These folks are real leaders with great ideas about how to expand the middle class and make sure that every American has a shot at success. They do us proud."
Clinton was moonlighting as a party hack. Is it possible he actually believes these candidates are leaders who make Democrats proud? No. Grimes, for all the aid she's gotten in her race against Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, has been a disappointment to Democrats. Crist is an empty suit. Braley specializes in gaffes. Pryor is a senator thanks to his family name.
Clinton's email is a small part of the Democratic campaign to dress candidates in tough races in political apparel suitable for 2014. They're no longer partisan Democrats or liberals or tied to President Obama's agenda or allies of Senate majority leader Harry Reid or House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Instead, they're fakes.
In this cross-dressing effort, a favorite tactic of Democratic senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina is to claim she's bipartisan. "One of the things I love about North Carolina is that unless you're talking about basketball you don't have to pick a team," she says in a TV ad. "That's how I get results for folks here at home. Republican or Democrat, if a good idea works for middle-class families, I'm all for it." Republicans, however, note that Hagan has voted with Obama 96 percent of the time.
Democrat Michelle Nunn, running for the open Senate seat in Georgia, says she too is eager to work with Republicans. In a debate last week with Republican David Perdue, she declared: "If you want to have people that are going to work together pragmatically to do things that will matter in people's lives .??.??. and you want to put the people of Georgia first, then I'd ask you to look at my candidacy." Nunn is adept at sounding like a Republican. She's said she might not vote for Reid to continue as Democratic leader in the Senate.
That touches on another tactic: separation from party leaders. Senator Pryor was quoted as saying at a fundraiser: "Possibly the best thing that could happen .??.??. this election cycle would be if Mitch McConnell gets beat and Harry Reid gets replaced." Pryor says he wants Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to take over from Reid. His GOP opponent, Tom Cotton, says Pryor has voted with Obamaand thus with Reid93 percent of the time.
Other Democrats won't confess their position on Reid. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, in a televised debate last week, was mildly critical of Reid but dodged the question of removing him. Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Begich of Alaska and Grimes have flatly declined to answer whether Reid should stay on.
Nor is Pelosi immune. In Florida, Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Democratic governor Bob Graham, is challenging GOP congressman Steve Southerland for one of the few House seats regarded as a potential Democratic pickup. She shows Pelosi and House speaker John Boehner on the screen in a TV spot and says: "Congress is broken. Both partiesRepublican and Democratare to blame. And both need new leaders in Washington."
To obscure their having voted for Obamacare, Democratic incumbents stress they're now bent on "fixing" it. Warner wants to add a cheaper fifth tier of coverage. He calls it the "copper plan." Warner wasn't a major player in health care negotiations, and if he fought bravely for his new plan before voting for Obamacare, it escaped notice. But now it's one of his top campaign talking points.
Warner doesn't mention the deductibles a copper plan would necessitate. Grace-Marie Turner, the health care expert and critic of Obamacare, says they would be "in the stratosphere. The real question for Senator Warner is, how does he expect people to pay that first possibly $7,000 to $10,000 before insurance triggers in?" Nunn also supports a copper-type plan.
That many Democrats in competitive races who opposed President Bush's war in Iraq have emerged as born-again hawks should be no surprise. Once the beheadings of Americans by ISIS made military intervention in Iraq and Syria popular, they were forced to respond, Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal has noted. Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley, for instance, said in a debate: "Anytime American citizens are attacked by a terrorist group, they need to be brought to justice or to the grave." He had won a House seat in 2006 while calling for a troop withdrawal in Iraq.
In North Carolina, Hagan appeared furious in a 30-second ad to rebut criticism by her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis, on Iraq. He "should be ashamed for running an ad that says I would let our soldiers die in vain. .??.??. I'll stand up to anyone when it comes to protecting our military, and Speaker Tillis knows that." Whew! She refers to him as "Speaker" to remind voters of his role in the unpopular, GOP-controlled state legislature.
Like other Democrats, Hagan portrays herself as a victim of attacks funded by the Koch brothers. In her telling, it's as if a great wrong has been committed. It's true the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity has aired ads tying her to Obama. On her website, there's a sign-up to "help Kay fight back against the Koch brothers." She doesn't acknowledge the help she's received from well-heeled Democratic groups from outside North Carolina. Harry Reid's Senate Majority PAC alone has spent $1.4 million defending her and $8.7 million trashing Tillis.
When Clinton was in Arkansas last week, he took up the victimhood theme. "Out-of-state money buying television ads," he said, is turning Pryor's bid for reelection into a protest against Obama. Forget Obama, Clinton said. He urged voters "to think about what would be best for our children and grandchildren." He spoke as if the $4.2 million that Reid's PAC has spent against Tom Cotton didn't exist.
I'll stipulate that Republicans are capable of camouflaging their candidates when that's required. But Democrats are a lot better at it, as we can see with our own eyes this year.