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:
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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