This week John McCain took a page from Bush’s election strategy and started hitting below the bet. Those who were paying attention in 2000 (or subsequently read about it) may recall that McCain was the victim of a brutal character assassination campaign in South Carolina. Back then, mailings full of the most outrageous lies about McCain were mailed to potential voters in the GOP primary. Bush said it wasn’t his campaign doing the attacks, but sat back and reaped the benefits (can’t interfere with 1st amendment and all that). Given this history, you would assume that McCain would do his utmost to run a high-minded campaign in which, as he promised, the candidates debate the issues.
Apparently we would be wrong to assume such. For several weeks now, McCain has been leveling a string of petty ads aimed only at Obama the person. Though sometimes cloaked in off-hand policy issues, these ads serve only to attack Obama’s character and ignore policy in any real way. The worst example, though only one of many, is the “Britney Spears/Paris Hilton” comparison ad. I know politics is a dirty game, but by linking an elected senator to the most vacuous and self-absorbed members of our society, McCain makes the “Swift Boaters for Truth” look like the model of respectful and honest campaigning.
So just when I thought the man I admired in 2000 couldn’t sink any lower, his campaign manager, Rick Davis, came out with this statement: “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.” Hu, what? Davis was responding to a comment that Obama made saying that the McCain campaign would try to make voters afraid of him, which as we can see from the video above, is 100% accurate. By distracting voters from Obama’s policy differences with McCain, McCain hopes to make this a race about personality, not policy. You know, thinking about it, how desperate must McCain be to choose personality as the field of combat if Obama truly is “the biggest celebrity in the world”? That plan doesn’t say much about whatever else McCain might bring to the table as president.
The press, of course, smelled blood in the water as soon as the word “race” was used, and the results have not been good for McCain. Among the various news outlets, I thought this article from Newsweek was pretty insightful, as well as amusing. Because the statement that the McCain campaign points to as evidence of Obama playing the race card is so benign, this article suggests that we have a new political first: a campaign playing the “playing the race card” card.
Those who watched McCain hammer Romney in the primaries should not be surprised by McCain’s latest tactic. One pundit described this round of attacks as a temper tantrum, not campaigning. It’ll be interesting to see if this kind of politics continues to work as it did for Bush. Nobody, but nobody, does character assassination better than the Bush/Rove republican machine. It’ll be interesting to see if 2000’s victim can be 2008’s beneficiary.