Chances are if you went to public school, somewhere along the way you read an old story in English class called “The Interlopers” about two feuding landowners pinned under a falling tree while hunting.

 

They exchange insults, argue over whose men will arrive first to free their master and kill the other; and eventually they become BFF’s, united by their common plight and a love of Zagnut bars or some such thing. Only it’s too late, because right after they realize their mutual interest in living to fight another day, they also notice that they have been discovered by a pack of ravenous wolves. Survival of the fittest, like comedy, can be all about timing.

 

And right now, both major political parties are exhibiting neither basic survival instincts, nor good clock management, nor much of a sense of humor. The nation is faced with some real problems requiring real action: A catastrophic oily tide in the Gulf, renewed concerns about terrorism, lingering problems in two foreign wars, and oh yes, is that pesky recession over? Yet Democratic and Republican leaders alike are choosing the same campaign message for the battle this fall. “Elect us, because we’re not the other guys.”

 

We don’t need the Amazing Kreskin to make a prediction: This is a losing slogan for both parties. (Like “Beyond Petroleum” for BP, for example. Perhaps that was a good idea at the time, but now.)



Running “against” something, instead of “for” something else is a time honored way of winning, I’ll grant that. But these are different times. President Obama himself has mused about the peculiar surprise of his own election; readily admitting that what propelled him into office was a broad and deep public backlash against politics as usual.


And that backlash, to judge by the polls, is not only alive and well, but also like the Gulf spill, keeps growing. Tea Partiers. The Militant Middle. Rogue independents and moderates popping up like dandelions.


Despite all that, the parties are betting that in these uncertain times the electorate may be confused and divided enough to permit old-fashioned party lines to be re-established. Change? That was so yesterday. This is about going old school.


But, I don't know. In the woods just past the playground, I think I can hear wolves howling.



– CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360 ”/www.ac360.com and “Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull.”


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