Poor Boo is being targeted by sleazy Yankee Republicans again!
Okay, McCain and his campaign have really gone beyond the pale now with their new ad casting nasty Yankee Republican aspersions on Britney Spears! They're completely off the cliff. But I'm so upset about that one I can't talk straight about it. So I'll stick to less inflammatory stuff, which was already bad enough.
The [Karl] Rove [political] play is based on three things: wrapping yourself in the flag, never admitting you're wrong, and impugning your opponent. These three tactics have one thing in common: They are aimed at the lowest common denominator of the American people. Under normal circumstances, they have only limited effectiveness. But when the nation is at war, they are extremely potent - as John Kerry and the Democrats found out in 2004. And McCain is going to use them and use them and use them.
McCain's repeated claims that we are succeeding in Iraq and must stay the course to final "victory," and his attacks on Obama, are textbook examples of the Rove-Bush-GOP tactic. Take the recent speech in which McCain attacked Obama for not supporting the "surge." "If Sen. Obama had prevailed, American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi army would have collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically," McCain intoned. "Al-Qaida would have killed the Sunni sheikhs who had begun to cooperate with us, and the 'Sunni Awakening' would have been strangled at birth. Al-Qaida fighters would have safe havens, from where they could train Iraqis and foreigners and turn Iraq into a base for launching attacks on Americans elsewhere. Civil war, genocide and wider conflict would have been likely." (my emphasis)
The McCain campaign is making some arguments, like about Obama refusing to visit wounded troops in Iraq, that are so blatantly false that even some of McCain's loyal fans in the national press feel it necessary to point out they are false. On that, see McCain TV Ad Draws Scrutiny for Distorting Facts PBS Newshour 07/30/08.
But the claims in 2004 from the Swift Boat Liars for Bush were also false. They couldn't stand up to any kind of honest scrutiny. But our "press corps" doesn't do scrutiny. They do scripts. And the Swift Boat slanders gave them a chance to promote their stock "Democrats are wimps" script. Absent an effective counter-attack from Kerry's campaign, the Swift Boat slanders were instrumental in encouraging doubts about John Kerry. The Establishment press shamelessly facilitated the Swift Boat sleaze-slinging. And the most law-breaking administration in American history got to serve four more years. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are, at best, no closer to resolution than they were in 2004.
Obama and his campaign need to go after this nonsense hard. We remember Bill Clinton for "triangulation" and his "Sister Soljah moment". But in the 1992 campaign, his "Sister Soljah" moment was literally about criticizing pop singer Sister Soljah, who most people had never heard of until Clinton's criticism made her name part of the political vocabulary. It gave Clinton some symbolic advantage but cost him nothing politically.
Obama, on the other hand, has been doing things like his "Wes Clark" moment, backing aware from one of the most effective voices he had defending him against McCain's jingoistic attacks.
We almost never hear about another important moment in the 1992 campaign. The Republicans were spreading a Bircher-style rumor that Clinton had been an agent for the Soviet KGB. Yes, the honorable campaign of Old Man Bush was that sleazy. And Old Man Bush himself brought it up near the beginning of one of their debates. Clinton responded by getting in Bush's face and telling him he should be ashamed of himself, leaving Bush to shrug that, well, he guessed Clinton had explained it. That pretty much blew the KGB claim out of the water, and Bush looked much diminished for having used it.
Obama needs to have some in-your-face moments like that with McCain. Because one of the reasons that voters tell pollsters that they trust Republicans more on general issues of "national security" is that Republicans trash Democrats as traitors and weaklings and soldier-haters, and the voters don't see the Democrats defending themselves in an aggressive way. Instead, they too often whine that the Republicans are denigrating their patriotism. Of course they're denigrating your patriotism! That's what today's degenerated, authoritarian Republican Party does!
Wes Clark told at story in his speech to the Netroots Nation convention this year about a conversation he had with James Carville. Carville said that he didn't think that the Democrats could sufficiently convince the voters that they could adequately defend the country until the voters could see them defending each other. Given Obama's week response to the attacks on Clark, that was a big applause line before that audience.
The Republicans and their more-than-willing enablers in the press are working hard to promote the notion that Obama is a strange, threatening, mysterious figure, potentially something from the worst nightmares of the "culture warriors". Richard Cohen, for instance, is writing about Obama the UnknownWashington Post 07/29/08. He opens with one of the favorite devices of our broken press, putting his own opinion in the mouth of an anonymous (or apocryphal?) "prominent Democrat".
"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.
And then he proceeds to gush about our greatest living saint, that bold Maverick John McCain. He concludes:
... [Obama's] record now, while tissue thin, is troubling. The next president will have to be something of a political Superman, a man of steel who can tell the American people that they will have to pay more for less - higher taxes, lower benefits of all kinds - and deal in an ugly way when nuclear weapons seize the imagination of madmen.
The question I posed to that prominent Democrat was just my way of thinking out loud. I know that Barack Obama is a near-perfect political package. I'm still not sure, though, what's in it.
That's pretty much what the McCain campaign wants potential swing voters thinking: this guy Obama, we hear some strange things about him, and we're not sure he can handle things as well as the War Hero and Great American McCain.
If the McCain campaign succeeds in defining Obama as a scary, risky gamble to enough voters, we could have McCain in the White House and the US Army in Iran.