CAMPAIGN MISCELLANY….Here’s a miscellaneous core dump of campaign stuff. Just some links and random thoughts, none of them especially pressing.
The headline on the Washington Post’s main campaign piece today is “Obama Campaign Vows Aggressive Response to GOP Attacks.” And I have to say: that’s a headline you really don’t want to see. It makes you sound like a 98-pound weakling promising that next time you get bullied you’re going to write a stern letter to the editor about it.
Unfortunately, the reason for the headline is obvious: it’s because David Plouffe sent an email to reporters this morning vowing an aggressive response to GOP attacks. That’s really dumb. If you’re going to attack, then attack. If you broadcast it beforehand you’re practically hanging a sandwich board over your head announcing that the stuff you’re planning to air next is just a political ploy and you don’t really believe any of it. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Note the difference between this and the way Republicans act. No matter how dumb or revolting their attacks are, they spray ’em like they mean ’em — and reporters, who are intimidated by this kind of thing, react accordingly. Democrats should take note.
In Slate today, Farhad Manjoo observes that John McCain is lying a lot in this campaign and that it’s working. Then he explains why. So why isn’t Obama lying a lot too? He doesn’t have an answer for that.
Maybe Chris Cilliza has the answer:
Republicans have always — or at least for as long as the Fix memory lasts — adopted a realpolitik approach to political campaigns.
That is, they use tactics that work — whether or not they are “fair”. Republicans are, typically, far less concerned about the approval of newspaper editorial boards and the so called “eastern media elite” than their Democratic counterparts, a fact that allows them almost total freedom when it comes to how they conduct their campaigns.
Democrats, on the other hand, always promise to play as down and dirty as Republicans but when the rubber hits the road tend to back off somewhat.
That certainly seems to be the case today, anyway. Plouffe promised a more aggressive response and we got….an ad mocking McCain for not knowing how to use email. I bet that has them quaking in their boots over at RNC headquarters.
OK, so what would a Republican-esque attack on McCain look like? Steve Benen half-jokingly suggests that Obama try to tar him as anti-Israel because he’s vowed to end earmarks — and aid to Israel is technically funded as an earmark. But that won’t work. Not because it’s too moronic (I’m not sure we’ve plumbed those depths yet), but because every attack needs to start with a kernel of truth, and this one doesn’t have it. There’s just nothing plausible to hang it on.
So what would work, smart guy? Beats me. Anyone who’d hire me as a campaign consultant would be an idiot. And my mind doesn’t really work this way anyway. But if I had to take a guess, it would be a vicious attack on McCain’s honor. It’s character-based, there’s much more than just a kernel of truth to hang it on, and it would put McCain on the defensive.
I’d never do it because I’m a wimp. But I’ll bet FDR or Bill Clinton could have figured out a way to make it work. Maybe Obama ought to head back to Harlem and have another chat with the Big Dog this weekend.
Sure, sure, you say, that’s all very clever. But what do I really think? Answer: I think E.J. Dionne has the right take:
Here’s the problem: Few voters know that Obama would cut the taxes of the vast majority of Americans by far more than McCain would. Few know Obama would guarantee everyone access to health care or that McCain’s health plan might endanger coverage many already have. Few know that Obama has a coherent program to create new jobs through public investment in roads, bridges, transit, and green technologies.
In short, few Americans know what (or whom) Obama is fighting for, because he isn’t really telling them. And few know that McCain’s economic plan is worse than President Bush’s. As Jonathan Cohn points out in the New Republic, McCain would add $8.5 trillion in new debt over the next 10 years. It’s McCain who should be on the defensive.
It should not be hard for Obama to use crisp, punchy language to force the media and the voters to pay attention to the basic issue in this election: whether the country will slowly continue down a road to decline, or whether, to invoke a slogan from long ago, we can get the country moving again.
Bottom line: Democrats aren’t Republicans. Slamming McCain is fine, but I just don’t think Obama can pull off the kind of Lee Atwater gutterball that the GOP specializes in. And if he can’t do it with conviction, then he shouldn’t do it. Instead, he should figure out a way to make his real message resonate with voters. If he does that with conviction, voters will respond just fine.