All publicity is good publicity, right?

Well, not for Barack Obama and the Democrats, who have been incredibly poor at creating some their own positive coverage during the run up to the Midterms, indeed, the past two years. The sterling and vocal work of the Obama 2008 Presidential campaign has petered out into a quiet, somewhat aloof organisation, who does not deign to tackle rumour and supposition – despite the clear harm it is doing to their reputation.

The Democrats are getting publicity though, in the form of daily right-wing Tea Party attacks against Obama, his policies, and his heritage, which go largely unchallenged. Even if those attacks are based on absolute groundless rumour, supposition and innuendo. It infuriates many of the Democrats loyal supporters that the Tea Party can make such outlandish claims without being corrected. Michael Tomasky writes in his column of what conventional wisdom says about responding to claims made against you, namely ignoring them, and why the Democrats should be doing the opposite, and handing the Republicans some spades:

But we are in a new media and political environment. In fact it’s not even new any more. It’s been around for 15 years, but still Democrats think the old rules apply. One old rule is, don’t respond to nutty allegations because you only give them oxygen. Well, Democrats have spent two years not responding as “birthers” spin their conspiracies about Obama, and the result is that between 20% and 25% of American adults doubt that the president is a genuine American.

So I propose a new rule: when the other side is shooting itself in the foot, stand close by and keep handing out bullets. Democratic strategists should be thinking of fresh ways to demonstrate to the American people that these Tea Partiers are not the sons and daughters of John Adams but people who stand almost entirely outside the country’s best mainstream traditions.

This debate raises an interesting question about when you should speak out and repudiate (or equally, my favourite Palinism, ‘refudiate’) such attacks. What the Democrats haven’t been doing is putting to bed some of the more ridiculous claims bandied about. Significantly, the claim which a quarter of Americans (jaw-drop) believe, that Obama is Muslim. Not to mention that he is communist, socialist, Indonesian, ex-CIA employee , and angry ex-Colonial subject,  who has been making suspicious side-trips to Pakistan; pick whichever ludicrous claim you want, all are being given significant airtime.

Obama is clearly stuck in a bad negative news cycle, but what is most interesting is that nearly all commentators and observers agree that he has actually done a pretty good job in his first two years, faced with an economic problem the size of Dubya’s Texas Ranch. Many articles cite his top three hits of introducing healthcare legislation, the fiscal stimulus package and ending combat operations in Iraq. What the Democrats have failed to do is tell anyone that they’ve been doing a good job in a tough atmosphere. You can’t ride the wave of optimism all the way to your destination, then forget to continue to carry on the conversation when you get there.

Tea Party darling Sarah Palin

Tomasky’s point is a good one though, and maybe the Democrats are slowly getting there; as they would much rather the GOP field a raft of extreme rightwingers, than established, moderate conservative candidates. Midterm gains for the GOP are inevitable in the House, the Democrats might just hold the Senate, but they really need to put Obama back in campaign mode and start addressing those Tea Party accusations. Palin, Beck, Limbaugh et al, can get away with making some seriously ludicrous statements; just as an organisation or business tries to control what is being said about its brand, the Democrats need to control what is being said about their own brand, Obama himself.