It starts at the macro level, with a few things understood on the left about conservatives:
Pro-growth and low-tax policies are really code for loving rich people and hating poor people and pretty much everyone else. Balancing budgets and making entitlement programs sustainable really mean hating old people and young people and pretty much everyone else. Gathering to discuss the Constitution, limited government, or balanced budgets - as tea partyers do - is the equivalent of hating black people and pretty much everyone else.
These are not random thoughts from the fringe. They are mainstream Democratic beliefs.
Here's the demagogue in chief last spring attacking Rep. Paul Ryan's budget (Ryan was in the front row for the White House speech, at the invitation of President Obama): Ryan's plan would replace Medicare with a "voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry"; and "poor children," "children with autism," and "kids with disabilities" would be "left to fend for themselves" - all handily refuted later at factcheck.org.
Here's former demagogue in chief - now just citizen-demagogue - Jimmy Carter during the health-care-reform debate: "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."
Too subtle? Here's Rep. Andre Carson at a Congressional Black Caucus jobs fair last month: "Some of them in Congress right now of this tea-party movement would love to see you and me . . . hanging on a tree."
The micro level was on display when Perry announced his candidacy for president last month. In addition to the governor's policies, his looks, his hair, his walk, his Texas education, his poor background, and his religion are all suspect.
Bill Keller of the New York Times worries about Perry's - and Michele Bachmann's - ties to "fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity."
Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post: "Perry's ideas range from wrongheaded to terrifying."
MSNBC's Ed Schultz immediately detected racism in a Perry reference to a "big black cloud" over America. Perry wasn't talking about you know who, but the debt. Schultz later backed off.
And Politico quickly asked, "Is Rick Perry dumb?"
Steven F. Hayward, in his first volume of The Age of Reagan, shared media insights about President Ronald Reagan in 1980:
The New Republic: "darling of the rabid right . . . an international innocent, and an economic extremist." Its White House correspondent called him "an ignoramus."
Time magazine: "the propounder of unqualified conservative answers to the most fearsomely complex problems."
Former diplomat George Ball said of Europeans, "The thought of Ronald Reagan as president terrifies them."
And Reagan was frequently attacked for his ties to conservative Christians and often accused of racism.
Voters didn't care. Over-the-top criticisms reflected more on the attackers than Reagan. And with those on the left showing they weren't serious about problems, people shopped around. When they looked at Reagan, they didn't see a demon. Particularly at the debates, they saw a reasonable person who understood the issues and offered ideas about going forward. Given the disastrous economy, voters were willing to give that alternative a chance.
Barack Obama came across the same way in '08. Despite all the talk about a radical past, in the debates and much of the campaign he sounded like a practical guy ready to upend a status quo that was clearly not working for too many people.
What does this say about 2012? If unemployment stays high, economic growth stagnant, and the debt crisis unresolved, it's likely that voters will be open to changing presidents. Not because they believe any nonsense about Obama's birth certificate, but because, for all his good intentions, his policies just aren't moving the needle.
It remains to be seen if a reasonable Republican alternative will emerge. But in the meantime, do keep up the attacks. They remind voters how little the left has to offer - and assist those poor, dumb conservatives like Rick Perry who somehow manage to keep winning elections over smart Democrats.
Contact Kevin Ferris at 215-854-5305 or firstname.lastname@example.org.