Republican-Generated Controversy over Common Plays into Republican Hands

President Obama invites progressive black rapper Common to read poetry at the White House, and the folks at Fox “News” explode. It was perfectly predictable, since Fox and the Republicans have been waging a race-based cultural war on Barack Obama since Obama began running for President. That race war has included Reverend WrightVan Jones, ACORN, the “New Black Panther Party”Shirley Sherrod, and others as proxies for Obama in the Republicans’ “Scary Black People” strategy.

This time, the war on Obama (using Common as the proxy) was launched by Fox and Republicans contracted to work for Fox, including Sarah Palin and Karl Rove. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly then challenged Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” to a debate on the subject of Common, and Stewart took the bait. Many progressives are cheering, saying that Stewart will clean O’Reilly’s clock with the facts. Bad idea. Once such a debate is being held — on O’Reilly’s Fox “News” home turf, of course — Fox, O’Reilly, and the Republicans have already won.

This is a classic example of Messaging Maxim #1: Go On Offense. As that post indicated, “[i]f you’re fighting a political battle on the other side’s rhetorical turf, you’ve already lost.” The post quoted a CNN.com article by Princeton University professor of history and public affairs Julian Zelizer:

you need to play offense to win elections and shape political debate. When parties only respond to criticism and participate in the discussion that their opponents want to have, eventually their team will get tired of just being in a reactive mode and the other side will score points.

Democrats still need to learn that fighting Republicans on phony controversies created by Republicans is like playing tic tac toe and always going second: there’s no way to win, the best you can do is tie, and it’s a distraction from doing something more important.

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