SLEAZE….Josh Marshall says John McCain’s campaign is the sleaziest we’ve seen for a very long time:
You may say, wait, Willie Horton? The Swift-boat smears? What about those?
But here’s the key point, one that is getting too little attention. President Bush’s father didn’t run the Willie Horton ad. And this President Bush, however much they may have been funded by his supporters and run with Karl Rove’s tacit approval, didn’t run the Swift Boat ads. These were run by independent groups. Just how ‘independent’ we think they really are is a decent question. But even the sleaziest campaigns usually draw the line at the kind of sleaze they are wiling to run themselves under their own name.
This is basically what’s struck me about McCain’s campaign too: his sleaze has been done in his own name, not kept at arm’s length, as it was in 1972, 1988, and 2004.
But although that was my initial reaction to events of the summer and fall, I’m pretty sure it isn’t right. Yes, the Willie Horton ad in 1988 was officially an independent expenditure, but the “Revolving Door” ad was very much a Bush-Quayle production. Lee Atwater promised to make Horton a household name, and he did just that. Bush Sr. spoke about him frequently in speeches. And Dukakis’s patriotism was a major theme too, as the Bush campaign hit him over and over and over about his stand on the Pledge of Allegiance.
In fact, I’d say 2008 is a surprisingly faithful replay of 1988. On the Republican side it’s been sleazy, it’s been issue free, and its biggest feature has been a young, attractive, unqualified, base-pleasing conservative vice presidential choice. The big difference is that Obama is a better candidate than Dukakis and 2008 is a far more Democratic year than 1988. On the sleaze-o-meter, however, I think it’s pretty much a draw. Anyone with sharp memories of 1988 is invited to agree or disagree in comments.