The problem for Democrats is best summed up by Michelle Obama - "When they go low, we go high."
But going low can't always be the one winning strategy, can it?
To test that, I decided to go back to the 1988 campaign. Michael Dukakis has long been criticized for his ineffective response to Bernard Shaw's question about his stance on the death penalty for a hypothetical criminal who raped and murdered Dukakis' wife (the first question!). Of course, this was more of a statement than a question. Republicans swat away such questions, but Democrats, with their openness on issues and deliberation on detail, often hurt themselves politically. These types of questions will always be asked by debate moderators because it makes for a better show.
So it pretended to be a question about the death penalty, but Dukakis' stand on the death penalty was well known. It was actually a test of Dukakis' feelings about his wife and of his general calm demeanor. Was there anything that could ruffle his feathers. This was a cheap shot, an unfair question.
In all these years, I never read any commentator's take on what Mike D. should have said, but before doing an internet search, decided to concoct my own. In this age of constant trumpisms, it did not take long to craft a response similar to others.
"Well, Bernie, first I would strangle the bastard who did this with my bare hands. Then, before the body was cold, I would go after the son of a bitch who gave the bastard the idea by talking about the rape and murder in the debate. But we can't run a country that way, can we Bernie."
The sarcastic, angry tone used at each mention of "Bernie" would be lasting. The whole issue would be deflected from Dukakis to Bernie Shaw, which actually would have been fitting and appealed to many on a basic level. No one would have blamed Michael for this. But that type of response was not possible from a man whose nature was to go high when they go low, whether the opponent or the debate moderator. And, the Dukakis willingness to go after the moderator for wrongdoing, a black man, would have helped him soften or shed the "Willy Horton Ad" effect.
Dukakis did not have that kind of surprise in store for us, but George W. Bush did. He not only provided long detailed answers, but launched a surprise attack of Dan Rather, "It’s not fair to judge my career by a rehash on Iran,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?'"
Though milder than the Dukakis retort needed to be. Bush succeeded in turning attention away from himself and toward perceived shortcomings of Rather.
The Democrats have their own self-imposed standards of adherence to the norms of a progressive democracy. That is fine, but assuming that your political opponents or journalists are always acting in good faith and need to be treated as if they are, creates an opening for abuse that can not be ignored if we are to survive this mess.