Reversing the Partisan Prism of Authenticity
Last night, Joshua Marshall nailed a hard truth about the upcoming presidential campaign:
The core is to drill a handful of key adjectives into the public mind about Barack Obama: Muslim, anti-American, BLACK, terrorist, Arab. Maybe a little hustler and shifty thrown in, but we’ll have to see. The details and specific arguments are sort of beside the point.
Just this morning, Attaturk caught another angle of the same broad assault–that Obama is too haughty and arrogant for heartland America to support. As I noted in a comment in that thread, though, this isn’t just a race card, since the same line of attack was used on Al Gore. What we’re really seeing is the re-animation of the same zombie logic the Republicans trot out against Democratic presidential candidates every four years. Here’s how Paul Waldman described it a year and a half ago:
If there’s one thing Republicans have understood and Democrats haven’t, it is that politics is not about issues. Politics is about identity. . . .
Think about what happens in campaign after campaign. The Democrat comes before the public and says, “If you read my 10-point policy plan, I’m sure you’ll vote for me. Let’s go over it point by point." The Republican then comes before the public, points to the Democrat, and says, “That guy is a weak, elitist liberal who hates you and everything you stand for. I’m one of you and he’s not." And guess who wins.
. . . voters don’t read policy papers, and they don’t make decisions with a checklist of issues in their hands. That’s why Republican campaigns operate on a different level: Whom do you identify with? Whom can you trust? Who is strong, and who is weak? These questions transcend issues, which is why Republicans — who know they are at a disadvantage on the issues — spend so much time talking about them.
"I said, well I would always reserve the right to go in and strike against al Qaeda if they were in Iraq," Obama said. "So, you know, this is how politics works. McCain thought that he could make a clever point by saying, ‘Well, let me give you some news Barack, al Qaeda IS in Iraq,’ like I wasn’t reading the papers. Like I didn’t know what was going on."
. . ."But I have some news for John McCain," Obama said, "and that was that there’s no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq!"
. . . "So John McCain may like to say he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell," Obama said, "but so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that’s cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars."
What Obama is doing here isn’t just responding to the factual specifics of McCain’s gibe — he’s portraying himself as the ordinary, common-sense guy dealing with reality, and McCain as a foolish, out-of-touch phony who’s only concerned with politics.
For those of us who’ve been worried about Barack’s readiness to deal with the GOP sludge machine, it’s a good sign.
Update: So is this bit of framing goodness from Team Obama, responding to Dubya’s press conference today:
With their words today, George Bush and John McCain called for staying the course with an endless war in Iraq and a failed policy of not talking to leaders we don’t like, but Americans of all political persuasions are calling for change. The American people aren’t looking for tough talk about fighting for 100 years in Iraq, because they know we need to end this war, finish the job in Afghanistan, and take the fight to al Qaeda. The American people aren’t looking for more of a do-nothing Cuba policy that has failed to secure the release of dissidents, failed to bring democracy to the island, and failed to advance freedom for fifty years, because they know we need to pursue new opportunities to achieve liberty for the Cuban people.
Notice how the statement intentionally links "tough talk" with failure, and puts Obama on the side of the American people in wanting policies that get results instead? A couple of months ago, I mentioned that for almost three years now, I’ve been "writing about the basic distinction of bluster versus responsibility and the need to consciously rehabilitate and reclaim common sense as an approach for addressing policy issues, especially with regard to national security. . . . We need to start asserting the value of thinking about what works, not just what sounds like the most macho response." It’s great that Obama and his brain trust appear to get this.