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Brain vitamins for Democrats
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Dr. Drew Westen of Emory University may be peddling just the kind of medicine the Democratic Party of Georgia needs, but it's a bit expensive.
Since November, as a consultant for the Peach State's Democrats, psychologist Westen has collected about $36,000 from the DPG for imparting such bits of wisdom as this one:
"Behind every campaign lies a vision of the mind  -  often implicit  -  rarely articulated and generally invisible to the naked eye. Traces of that vision can be seen in everything a campaign does or does not do."
If you want more, pick up Dr. Westen's latest book, "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation." It explains how emotions figure into successful politics.
If the author maintains his consulting contract with the Georgia Democrats past the 2008 election, he will have billed the party more than $100,000. Some Democratic candidates for House seats are boiling at the expenditure. They believe the cash-strapped party could better spend its funds on tried-and-true campaign approaches.
Westen was the talk of the political consultants' community last year. Somehow he had discovered that rational appeals often do not work with Democratic or Republican voters  -  so why not try irrational pitches?
Westen  -  his friends call him "Dr. Drew"  -  devotes an entire chapter of his book to crafting challenges to the gun-rights position of the National Rifle Association.
Whoa! Is that correct? Dr. Drew wants to put down the NRA. Where does he think he is, Lower Manhattan? Just because kids mow down other kids in parking lots doesn't mean the NRA is bad.
The most successful Democratic candidates often wear NRA buttons. Govs. Roy Barnes and Zell Miller were NRA guys. The NRA helped Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, in all three of his campaigns. Democrats running statewide or in rural Georgia probably won't find much use for Westen's guidance on gun control. Remember, in areas south of the Farmers' Market and north of Big Shanty, guns are us.
Westen also offers some enlightened insights on past Democratic disasters, including incumbent Sen. Max Cleland losing his post to Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss in 2002. He dissects John Kerry's dismantling at the hands of George W. Bush in 2004. Westen, like many other commentators, notes that Democrats have an established tradition of failing to respond effectively to Republican attacks, or of declining to play the necessary hardball to win.
In another medium, Westen provides advice to Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on handling the incendiary and racist comments of his former pastor.
Writing on the Huffington Post blog, Westen dismisses the problems created for Obama, stating, "The meaning of Obama's loyalty to his pastor in the face of enormous pressure to cast him aside is not likely to be lost on white males who value strength, courage, honor and loyalty." That sounds nice, but defending a pastor who curses America is not likely to create support for a candidate anywhere in the white South. Then again, remember that Westen dabbles only lightly in rationality.
Before we delve further into Westen's treatment plan for Georgia Democrats, we ought to consider the following:
-   The state's presidential primary turnout clearly indicated new enthusiasm for Democrats. Record turnouts were recorded among young voters and minority voters.
-   Holding on to and expanding the party vigor through the election will be no easy job. A change in campaign approaches and better candidate recruiting may provide the answers. Last year's left-wing nuts and racial firebrands may be this year's mainstream voters among Democrats. So before state-level Democrats trash Weston's pointy-headed theories, perhaps the donkey brain trust should give his prescriptions a try. No telling what a few more dollars spent on Westen might buy.

You can reach Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail:, or Web address:
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