McCain as Clinton?

Chris Boderner guest posting on Andrew Sullivan’s site has this to say:

I predict these nasty, petty, and desperate attacks [in reference to McCain’s “Obama would rather shoot hoops than go see the soldiers ad] will only grow as Obama soars into November. What else does McCain have to run on? It’s the same approach Clinton took after Feb. 5: if I can’t beat him, I’ll drag him down to my level and hope he hits back, besmirching his image as a “new politician.” It wasn’t exactly a winning strategy.

It’s the last line of that I would like to question. I assume he is right about how these kinds of attacks will only increase and are the sign of McCain being left with nothing but the infamous “kitchen sink” to throw at Obama.

But it did work for Clinton didn’t it? The reason Clinton lost is because she had her campaign run by moronic imbeciles like Mark Penn (who couldn’t count and/or didn’t know how the primary actually worked) as well as running as a throwback quasi-incumbent in a year of anger/desire for change. Elections are always about the future particularly at the end of a two term failed presidency. That and of course (connected to points 1 and 2) her vote for the Iraq War. [iow all products of an establishment mindset].

Obama had already won the Democratic Primary by Wisconsin for anyone with ears to hear/eyes to see. Before Texas, Ohio, Pennyslvania, and prior to the kitchen sink strategy. When Clinton did employ the sink she started winning. Or at least as Bonderner points out she brought him down while herself not taking too much of a hit.

So why would this necessarily be any different for McCain? He can’t peak much in the polling above 44% but doesn’t really dip down below 40% either. But Obama’s support to date has been softer (more volatility)–higher potential/ceiling but also possibility for a tank.

This is the moment where I’ll reiterate, I’ve never believed this non-sense about the “American people are too smart to fall for this kind of tactic again” trope. Many are. Deal with it or suffer the consequences. Ask President Kerry.

I’m not advocating Obama stoop to the McCain level because McCain–undeserved but reality qua perceived nonetheless–will always have the upper-hand on the reformer/straight talk/above this sort of thing politician. And Obama has much more to lose by appearing sleazy.

Now granted getting dirty isn’t Obama’s style and he can’t be seen to be looking too crass/trying to be something he isn’t and once the debates come around and he looks calm and reasonable and McCain looks old, angry, and petulant, then that will help Obama. But I’m not sure how much the debates are watched anymore. And either way they are a ways away.

So in the interim….Where Obama did score some push during the Clinton onslaught back when was by using Clinton’s own attacks on him against her. Very judo. And this is screaming for Obama to do on McCain. But Obama’s current, “Now I respect John McCain and his service but….this kind of thing is unfortunate” ain’t gonna cut it.

e.g. He could point out that the picture of him shooting hoops was “VISITING TROOPS” instead of “visiting troops?” Come again? He could also use the McCain Line about how “always puts the troops first” and then show him voting against The Webb Troop Funding Bill and then (just somebody find the soundbyte on this one) praising his own efforts on the Bill with President Bush.

Now as a caveat to my counterfactual it should be added the populist-fighter turn Clinton took. That was significantly part of her winning streak in those more conservative Democratic bastions. I don’t see that with McCain–so the kitchen sink minus the populism might not work. But not because the kitchen sink tactic was a loser if you see what I’m saying. In both cases it will simply have been tied to a larger strategic defeat/self-inflicted error (McCain by going hard right and having no coherent vision, Clinton by her frontrunner strategy). Kinda like the surge (change tactic) in Iraq (failed strategy).

Published in: on July 27, 2008 at 4:21 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I agree with most everything here, but what I can’t agree with is Sullivan’s implication that Obama took the high road during the campaign and ushered in “the new politics.” After his loss in New Hampshire especially, the Obama campaign sunk arguably lower than Clinton ever did by playing the race card in several different ways. Then there were the Rove-like ads and a lot that was less than honest. Not that Clinton was much better, but it is one of the great myths of our time that Obama took the high road during the primaries.


  2. D,

    Obama is from Chicago and Chicago politics is brutal if it’s anything. So yeah I’ve never bought this notion of him as the total above it all figure. He’s an extremely shrewd pol and I think people continue to underestimate him to their peril.

    On the race question though I think Bill clearly signaled with the whole “Jesse Jackson won SC” what he wanted to signal. That coming on the heels of the Clinton camp bringing up his drug use (esp. the odious BET founder Johnson).

    I think it’s right to say the Obama camp responded to that by upping the temperature–Jesse Jackson Jr. playing a major role on that front, behind the scenes putting pressure on black Democrats in the House esp. that if they supported Clinton they were turning their backs on their people. But maybe I”m a little naive on this one, but I saw that mostly as a rearguard or reaction move. I think it’s still fair to say, Clinton started it and therefore asked for the response.


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