Does the Economy Make Obama Indestructable?

During the last few months, some site commenters have feared (or gleefully predicted) that an all-out right wing Rove-style assault would swing public opinion against Obama in the closing weeks of the campaign. The assault has commenced. If the best the McCain campaign can muster is a rehash of accusations that the public has already assessed and rejected, there isn't much to fear. The reality of looming economic disaster leaves voters with no time or patience for the politics of distraction.

Campaigns go negative because it works, but the strategy has a cost. Nate Silver analyzes the risk McCain runs of damaging his own image by relying so heavily on negative advertising. Silver's explanation is reassuring:

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It may be quite difficult for McCain to attack Obama in this fashion without significantly damaging his own brand. ... If the McCain campaign brings up William Ayers -- or Jeremiah Wright -- it will almost certainly be seen as attack politics. This might seem to be stating the obvious. But remember that this wasn't the case during the primaries. The Wright and Ayers stories were instead driven by actual news -- ABC's reporting of Wright's inflammatory sermons, for instance -- and were largely not pushed by the Clinton campaign. So unless McCain's oppo research team is sitting on some fresh news about Obama's ties to Ayers or Wright, the stories are liable to be reported as a typical partisan attack, which will impeach their credibility in the public's eyes and reduce their staying power.

AP writer Douglass Daniel echoes Silver's suggestion that negative attacks have a downside in this look at Sarah Palin's disingenuous attack upon Barack Obama's patriotism. First, the facts:

In her character attack, Palin questions Obama's association with William Ayers, a member of the Vietnam-era Weather Underground. Her reference was exaggerated at best if not outright false. No evidence shows they were "pals" or even close when they worked on community boards years ago and Ayers hosted a political event for Obama early in his career. Obama, who was a child when the Weathermen were planting bombs, has denounced Ayers' radical views and actions.

And then the question: How will the public perceive this attack?

Palin's words avoid repulsing voters with overt racism. But is there another subtext for creating the false image of a black presidential nominee "palling around" with terrorists while assuring a predominantly white audience that he doesn't see their America?

In a post-Sept. 11 America, terrorists are envisioned as dark-skinned radical Muslims, not the homegrown anarchists of Ayers' day 40 years ago. With Obama a relative unknown when he began his campaign, the Internet hummed with false e-mails about ties to radical Islam of a foreign-born candidate.

Whether intended or not by the McCain campaign, portraying Obama as "not like us" is another potential appeal to racism. It suggests that the Hawaiian-born Christian is, at heart, un-American.

The fact is that when racism creeps into the discussion, it serves a purpose for McCain. As the fallout from Wright's sermons showed earlier this year, forcing Obama to abandon issues to talk about race leads to unresolved arguments about America's promise to treat all people equally.

The Obama campaign needs to keep the truth about the Ayers story in plain view, but Obama has no reason to be distracted. Reports of rising job losses and tumbling markets are speaking for him. The public is listening. Obama needs to give them a positive message, a reason to believe he'll change the economic strategy that Bush pursued and that McCain would continue. If Obama and his campaign stay focused (and they've demonstrated remarkable concentration to this point), this is the year that the politics of personal destruction (as trademarked by the GOP) will fail.

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    Yes ... probably. (5.00 / 0) (#1)
    by Robot Porter on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 03:51:19 PM EST
    And I'm glad about this.

    But it does cause me one minor annoyance.  I will never know whether Obama's GE strategy would have worked.

    Because if he's elected, I will always believe that he won because of the economic crisis, and the Democratic brand on economic matters.

    But it's still a minor annoyance.  But one which I will happily live with.

    well (5.00 / 0) (#2)
    by connecticut yankee on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 03:51:53 PM EST
    Obama is punching back hard today.  It's a big mistake for McCain to announce the strategy. Obama is just picking it up and throwing it back in his face.

    Even Rove said announcing the change in strategy was a mistake on McCain's part.  You don't annouce that stuff, you just do it.

    The politics of contrast (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Manuel on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:01:12 PM EST
    I am glad that the economy has forced the Obama team to emphasize the politics of contrast (on the economy, on health care, on taxes) while deemphasizing the post partisan unity theme.  OTOH enough remains (talk against deficit spending, promising no more bailouts, failure to talk about HOLC/HOME) to cause me worry when it comes to governing.

    What's he saying about health care (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by nycstray on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:31:21 PM EST
    these days? That ad is horrible that he is running. It says status quo to me, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

    I don't think the economy will shield him as much as it could. He doesn't wear the democratic brand well. Seems to have disdain for it. I'm not sure how much of his support is soft, but I don't think the economy alone won't protect him there. He needs to do some work on his own to make it stronger.


    He is making the case (none / 0) (#12)
    by Manuel on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 05:20:41 PM EST
    that McCain's positions on these issues would be a disaster.  The main thing the Democrats have going for them is that, as a party, they have great talent on health care and economic issues.  The challenge for Obama will be to bring that talent to bear on the problems we face.  It is our best hope.

    But Obama had that chance (none / 0) (#13)
    by Cream City on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 05:28:59 PM EST
    in choosing his VP.  

    And then his comments last week on the economic situation deferring action on health care for who knows how long -- that's not encouraging for those of us who have health care high on our list of priorities.  I would like to have seen a Dem say that now that we've nationalized banks, let's national health insurance companies, too.  And saying so before passage of the bailout bill might have prevented that passage and bought time to figure out a far better bailout/buyout bill.


    I agree it is not encouraging (5.00 / 0) (#14)
    by Manuel on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 05:40:32 PM EST
    But the alternative is unthinkable.  The Republicans have mostly shown themselves to be totally clueless about the workings of a modern economy and the government's role in it.  On the economy, foreign affairs, health care, and education, we need to get back to competence in government and McCain won't get us there.  Obama may not either but he has a much better chance.

    I see it as a draw on that issue (2.00 / 0) (#16)
    by Cream City on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 05:48:40 PM EST
    sadly, in terms of actually getting change done.  So then I look to other issues.  Right now, I'm researching Obama's years on the Joyce Foundation board, when it contributed significantly to the eventual destruction of my city's schools (and thus the core of my city).  This is the sort of thing that I used to be able to turn to media to connect and assess for me to make a judgment.

    I'm entirely distrustful of "just words" from any of these guys and have to look at their actions, their records.  Just because one doesn't have much of a record in office doesn't mean we can't make a judgment based on actions in other venues.  And there's more power in the funding sources than in politics -- except, of course, when it's our taxes that pols toss about like li'l pork-filled piggies at the public trough.    


    McCain's record on the economy (5.00 / 0) (#19)
    by Manuel on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 06:49:00 PM EST
    says he will make it worse (much like Bush has done).  Just avoiding that path makes Obama worth the risk.  We should go into it with eyes wide open but the choice is clear.

    From what I saw this week of Dems (2.00 / 0) (#21)
    by Cream City on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 07:14:18 PM EST
    who made a bad bill worse, it's hard to make that call, too.  So I'm focusing on other issues.

    how is that? (5.00 / 0) (#22)
    by Iris on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 08:21:37 PM EST
    House Republicans defeated the first "bad bill" and "sweeteners" were added to make it more acceptable to them.  How is this not the fault of House Republicans?  If the Dem leadership had tried to get more Democrats on board with progressive provisions, they would have been smeared as not being bipartisan enough.

    Plenty of Dems got pork (none / 0) (#26)
    by Cream City on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 11:01:58 PM EST
    from that bill.  Not to mention that the Senate doesn't need to do what the House tells it to do.  It could have stood firm for a better bill.

    Senators are supposed to be the grownups.


    McCains record on the economy... (2.00 / 0) (#28)
    by simontmplr on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 12:20:10 AM EST
    Well, at least he will not try to pass over 900 million in earmarks like Obama tried. I am in no way a fan of George Bush (not at all), but if your intellectually honest you can't blame the recent economic woes resulting from the mortgage/subprime crisis and its effects on Wall street on the Bush Administration. Think about it, Democrats in congress liked sub prime loans because it helped address what they thought was an issue of fairness in housing/mortgages. It helped people with low incomes/bad credit get loans for houses. Democratic Senators in congress urged Fannie/Freddie to increase their portfolio of sub prime loans. In 2003, Bush's secretary of commerce saw Fannie/Freddie increasing their holdings in sub prime loans and brought attention to the issue with the Administration, which in turn brought the issue before the Senate banking committee. The Bush administration wanted tighter regulation on Fannie/Freddie. The chairman of the committee was Barney (Fife) Frank. Using his influence and Democrats control on that committee they rejected it. Barney Frank even replied that Fannie/Freddie are financially sound. ( Turns out to not be the case- maybe he really is as dumb as he sounds when he is talking-but I digress)
    The administration tried again the next year and again democrats rejected calls for stricter regulation on Fannie/Freddie. They wouldn't even let the measure get to the full senate for a vote. The next year a GAO audit turned up serious audit violations by Fannie,  basically they were cooking the books to overstate revenues and down play losses and sub primme holdings. The CEO at the time his name is Raines I believe, was also using those accounting irregularities to pad his bonus and compensation. The SEC is actually still investigating this. Whats worse, this Raines clown is now one of Obama's advisors( talk about scary). After the audit findings republicans in the senate put together a new measure for stricter oversight and regulation of Fannie/Freddie. It was voted on in the senate, it went along party lines. The democrats having the majority in congress defeated it. As a result we find ourselves where we are at now. The sub prime market blew up and now we all have to pay for it.  Thanks democrats        

    The GOP was in control of Congress until 2006 (5.00 / 0) (#29)
    by Iris on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 01:32:01 AM EST
    and they have continued to govern from the minority through the use of the filibuster.  It's a crock to claim that Republicans wanted to reform "Fannie and Freddie" but couldn't because of Democrats.  As if Fannie and Freddie were the only problem!

    Anglachel has a good post up refuting this, btw (5.00 / 0) (#30)
    by Iris on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 01:34:35 AM EST
    From Obama's sppech yeterday (none / 0) (#24)
    by coigue on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 09:18:02 PM EST
    In the end, none of this will be easy.  We're up against a powerful, entrenched status quo in Washington that will say anything and do anything and fight with everything they've got to keep things the way they are.  
    But I know that if we come together, and work together, we can do this.  So many people are counting on us.

    A woman named Robyn who I met in Florida, is one of those people.  Back in May, her 16 year old son Devon came to one of our events, and I got to meet him at the airport in Fort Lauderdale.  Later that day, Devon became seriously ill.  His heart started racing, and his lips turned white.  He was rushed to the hospital and almost went into cardiac arrest.  He was later diagnosed with a heart condition and told he needed a procedure that would cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Robyn's insurance company refused to pay -- they said it was a pre-existing condition - and Robyn's family doesn't have that kind of money.  

    But until Devon has that procedure, he has to take medication and stop all physical activity.  No more gym classes.  No more football at school.  No more basketball at the park with his friends.  

    After we met, Robyn sent me an email in which she wrote, "My son deserves all that life has to offer.  Money should NEVER determine the quality of a child's life.  I can't help but feel as if somehow we failed Devon.  Why couldn't we be the rich family that has the great insurance or could whip out 50 grand like it is nothing?"  

    She ended her email with these words, "I ask only this of you - on the days where you feel so tired you can't think of uttering another word to the people, think of us.  On the days when you are playing basketball, think of Devon, who can't.  When those who oppose you have you down, reach deep and fight back harder."

    Today, I want to say to Robyn and Devon and everyone like them across America, you have my word that I will never back down, I will never give up, I will never stop fighting until we have fixed our health care system and no family ever has to go through what you're going through, and my mother went through, and so many people go through every day in this country. That is my promise to you.  
    And if all of you here today will stand with me in this work - if you'll talk to your friends and neighbors, get people to the polls, and give me your vote, then together, we won't just win this election, we will transform this nation.  Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America.

    Sounds a bit like Hillary (none / 0) (#31)
    by nycstray on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 02:42:53 PM EST
    in the part you bolded.

    I wish I could believe him, but I have only seen him fight for himself. For us, backdown and compromise or total flips. His commercial says the opposite. I wonder which it is?

    Thanks for the speech content!


    I think this is a sign (none / 0) (#33)
    by coigue on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 07:41:05 PM EST
    he is feeling the import of what he is about to do.

    He is a good man, and I do not feel cynical about him.


    I understand your concern (none / 0) (#34)
    by Iris on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 08:12:13 PM EST
    but campaigns are a different animal than governing.  Obama can do very little as a candidate and an individual Senator, and all the exhortations for him to take risks and "lead" now neglect the fact that if he takes big risks during the campaign, he's not just risking his own hide, but a Democratic victory and our futures.

    Look at McCain's gamble on the bailout.  He got nothing accomplished and got nothing for the attempt.  The very definition of what Obama should not have done, and to his credit he kept his cool and didn't pull such a stunt.

    Let's try not to hold Obama to a different standard than any other Democrat.  When Hillary voted for the bailout, it was seen as her choosing between 2 bad options.  When Obama did, it was somehow because he is nefarious and is going to betray us.  Come on.


    The attacks were inevitable (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by esmense on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:21:18 PM EST
    as was the employment of Palin as an Agnew-type attack dog.

    It's tried and true Republican strategy -- but that strategy has been overwhelmed by events.

    Perhaps some unexpected, unforeseen, major and terrifying foreign policy crisis could change the dynamic in McCain's favor -- but nothing less has any chance of doing so.

    I emphatically do not want McCain to be president.

    But, over all these months I haven't found a reason, with the exception of the historic one, to want Obama to be president.

    Although I believe he is a good man, I genuinely don't believe he is the right man at the right moment.

    For the first time in my life I will vote for someone who I believe, because of the mismatch between his experience, disposition and world view and what the times actually demand, is most likely to be a failure.

    I can only hope that when he's in office he will reveal some unexpected strengths that have been hidden or unaccessable to him during this campaign.

    The Republican brand... (5.00 / 0) (#10)
    by white n az on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:21:22 PM EST
    is so thoroughly damaged that their own internal dissent is doing them in. There are conservatives who have little enthusiasm for McCain's candidacy and feel betrayed by his selection of Palin and you have the evangelicals that are excited about Palin but have little direction.

    Add to that the machinations of Davis and Schmidt which have completely killed off whatever good will McCain might have had with the main stream media.

    If he continues to escalate this negative campaigning, his numbers will continue to slide because there are too many people who are weary of the culture wars and with it, a lack of focus on the problems that this country faces.

    Pay attention to Mike Murphy, McCain's campaign advisor from 2000 because he sees what is happening and actually is finding the courage to express it.

    To answer the question: Probably yes (5.00 / 2) (#17)
    by lambert on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 05:59:42 PM EST
    For all the fulmination, the Swift Boat Veterans ran their first ad back in May. This, needless to say, is October. I just don't think the Republicans have their hearts in this one.

    And, despite the Obama campaign's best efforts to destroy the Democratic brand and replace it with the Obama movement, people still think that the Democrats are better on the economy.

    So there we are!


    Indestructible? No (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:01:01 PM EST
    But not far off.

    Man (none / 0) (#6)
    by Steve M on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:08:49 PM EST
    Sometimes I really think you need to audition for a job as an MSM pundit!

    Not fair! (none / 0) (#8)
    by andgarden on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:15:02 PM EST
    I call 'em as I see 'em.

    Look (5.00 / 0) (#23)
    by coigue on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 09:14:52 PM EST
    TChris mentioned Nate Silver and your head didn't explode.

    Good for you.



    I do believe the race will tighten ... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Robot Porter on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:07:15 PM EST
    and the negative campaigning will aid that process.

    But absent some major blunder by Obama, I don't think McCain can catch him.

    McCain's actions alone can't swing the election his way.  He'll need some help from Obama.

    But this is another reason you go negative.  It can force the other candidate to respond, and you hope they do so in a stupid way.

    If the economy had waited another month (none / 0) (#7)
    by tigercourse on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 04:14:25 PM EST
    and a half to fall apart, I would be worried about Obama's chances. His campain was pretty bad for a long time and I think he's a pretty terrible candidate. But when the house is burning down around you, you don't go running for help to the friend of the guy who set the fire.

    Obama is a total lock.

    I think so (none / 0) (#15)
    by zyx on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 05:47:11 PM EST
    Republicans win in the dammdest circumstances, but this time they have too many albatrosses.

    1. George Bush
    2. Iraq
    3. The Economy
    Those are all HUGE. And, to some extent
    4. That crazy VP (I think there are a few folks who can't stand her)

    Not indestructible but damn near unbeatable (none / 0) (#18)
    by abdiel on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 06:34:16 PM EST
    I think the only reason to fear attack ads are that Obama still hasn't pulled away from McCain nearly as much as you might expect given unhappiness with the Republican party.  

    That said, going negative is an act of desperation by a campaign that knows it is facing defeat.  Calling it a right wing tactic is being unfair - Obama would be reaching for equally negative attack ads if his position with McCain were reversed.  

    I don't think McCain is at all worried about hurting his brand name either.  Losing is the absolute worst for your brand, and if Obama is elected, McCain's political career is effectively over.  An Obama loss would end any chance he ever has of becoming president as well (HRC would most certainly win the 2012 nomination).  If you believe the "Palin might step in on Day One" critics, McCain may not even live to see January 20 so he really has nothing to lose by going negative.

    Dang near, I'd say... (none / 0) (#20)
    by wasabi on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 07:10:56 PM EST
    However there are alot of voters who don't really pay much attention to politics until just prior to the November election as I have observed from cancassing in previous years.  Unforeseen events between now and November could change the dynamics of the race.

    Exactly. Please tell that (none / 0) (#27)
    by Cream City on Sun Oct 05, 2008 at 11:03:38 PM EST
    to the fools here who say that Obama has teflon from the primary re Rev. Wright, Rezko, et al.

    Swift Boat attacks = Loss of credibility (none / 0) (#32)
    by mafia on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 03:41:27 PM EST
    It's ironic that the McCain campaign has resorted to what has become a recognized negative tactic, that of veiled personal attacks disguised as campaign issues, where the integrity of the person being attacked is ( hopefully, if you're a Republican ) diminished or seriously damaged. What the Dems have done, which has been so effective, is to attach the "Swift Boat" label to any such attacks.

    This has the effect of responding with both an offensive ( attack the attacker ) and defensive ( rally 'round the candidate ) position. The Dems have learned the lesson well. Keep Obama focused on the issue(s) that really matter to the voters - and he has done an admirable job of that - while members of his staff have been charged with dealing with the "annoyances". It's like shouting " There's the schoolyard bully" which not only sets people on guard against the bully, but more importantly pulls people together to defend the community against the bully. And Obama is part of that community. It's an excellent tactic on the Dems part.

    The irony, in my opinion, is that in launching "Swift Boat" attacks, the Repubs try to recall the past, and the past is over. More voters are looking towards the future, to how to survive the financial upheavels facing the planet, and frankly don't care that much about what anybody says about who knew who or what color someone is. So Republican energies and dollars are being expended with the message falling on mostly deaf ears. Voters have become jaded hearing "The sky is falling" when they see their financial security unravelling. And many will remember that when they vote.