Months ago, Peggy Noonan lamented that it would be difficult to attack Barack Obama because many of the attacks on him would be construed as having racial overtones. Her column made it appear that she wished to use attacks with racial overtones, so I guess she was doubly vexed. But then the whole Rev. Wright thing blew up, and it appeared that her concerns were misplaced. And then, whodaguessedit, Obama pulled through.
Now, Charles Krauthammer is in one of his trademark tizzies because the McCain campaign didn't follow his advice of "Smear, smear, and smear some more." You know, Charles, some useful advice you could have given to McCain? "Don't underestimate Obama. Don't assume that you'll win just by showing up." Except, you know, underestimating Obama is Krauthammer's other theme.
Krauthammer's thesis, that McCain could win if only he would get down in the gutter and smear Obama, has two huge flaws: First, it would require McCain to abandon the public persona that he has carefully built over the last couple of decades, risking both that he would alienate his more moderate supporters and look desperate, and second, polling showed that the smear tactics employed by "independent" groups are not working. Does it need to be said? It's counterproductive to tarnish your own image through tactics that do not diminish your opponent's support. Further, as Krauthammer has to know, there has been a concerted effort made to attack Obama's character and associations through Sarah Palin, resulting in negative media attention and perhaps contributing to Palin's diminishing approval rating with independents.
Krauthammer takes umbrage over this New York Times editorial, which dares to accuse the McCain-Palin team of "race-baiting and xenophobia". That editorial notes some of Palin's antics:
Ms. Palin, in particular, revels in the attack. Her campaign rallies have become spectacles of anger and insult. “This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America,” Ms. Palin has taken to saying.Now perhaps the Times is reading too much into how some of the people at McCain-Palin rallies have responded to statements like that - "Kill him", "Terrorist", etc. - while Krauthammer is happy to divorce the campaign tactics from those responses. But how would he characterize those dishonest attacks? Or does he endorse them?
That line follows passages in Ms. Palin’s new stump speech in which she twists Mr. Obama’s ill-advised but fleeting and long-past association with William Ayers, founder of the Weather Underground and confessed bomber. By the time she’s done, she implies that Mr. Obama is right now a close friend of Mr. Ayers — and sympathetic to the violent overthrow of the government. The Democrat, she says, “sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.”
Krauthammer proceeds to attack Bob Herbert, pointing to Herbert's misinterpretation of some of the imagery in McCain's "celebrity" ad.
He took to TV to denounce McCain's exhumation of that most vile prejudice, pointing out McCain's gratuitous insertion in the ad of "two phallic symbols," the Washington Monument and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.The truth is a bit more amusing.
Except that Herbert was entirely delusional. There was no Washington Monument. There was no Leaning Tower.
Herbert mistook the images flashed across the ad behind Obama as being of landmarks that were more familiar to him.
Krauthammer's apoplectic that people see racial overtones in "the Republican attack on ACORN". You know, the organization McCain lavished with praise a couple of years ago. Maybe Krauthammer is correct that this is political opportunism and the racial element is purely coincidental, but you don't have to be a genius to see how an attack on Acorn, particularly one replete with misrepresentations and distortions, is likely to be perceived.
What makes the charges against McCain especially revolting is that he has been scrupulous in eschewing the race card. He has gone far beyond what is right and necessary, refusing even to make an issue of Obama's deep, self-declared connection with the race-baiting Rev. Wright.Here, Krauthammer is attempting to blow out of proportion and generalize the Times editorial's criticism of the tactics of the McCain-Palin campaign, and most notably of the tactics employed by Palin, as an unfair broadside against McCain. It seems too easy to point out that McCain has to know about, and should be held responsible for, the tactics of his vice presidential candidate. Otherwise, how could we not infer that he's so out of touch that he is completely incapable of governing a nation? But more to the point, Krauthammer is doing what he's accusing others of doing - taking an isolated comment, blowing it out of proportion, then suggesting that the exaggerated version he presents is typical of McCain's critics.
It is not. McCain's favorables have slipped, certainly, but that appears to relate to his performance in the debates, his simultaneous floundering and grandstanding on the fiscal crisis, and his (as far as independent voters are concerned) poor choice of a running mate. There's no evidence that he's being affected by racial issues, and there's reason to believe that his eschewing Krauthammer's chant of "Smear, baby, smear" has saved him from further erosion of his support.
Even at this point, Krauthammer can't bring himself to cut his losses. He has to accuse Obama of having played "the race card" against McCain. For this he resorts to the Obama comment that inspired some of McCain's campaign staffers to accuse Obama of "playing the race card", in what turned out to be a severe and premature overplaying of their own hand. Those poor tactics, still endorsed by Krauthammer, got media play, but their limited effect on poll numbers likely play a role in McCain's reluctance to again delve into race issues.
And Obama has shown no hesitation in [deploying the race card] to McCain. Weeks ago, in Springfield, Mo., and elsewhere, he warned darkly that George Bush and John McCain were going to try to frighten you by saying that, among other scary things, Obama has "a funny name" and "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills."That's all he has? Obama's joking about how he has a "funny name", even as McCain supporters continued and continue to make Obama/Osama comments, or emphasize that his middle name is Hussein? Or that he doesn't look like other presidents on the dollar bill? You mean, like this McCain web ad illustrated even before Obama made that comment? Obama's response to the "race card" nonsense was to point out that it was nonsense. Krauthammer's case against Obama here seems far weaker than the one he is attempting to refute against McCain. (And let's just say, some of McCain's backers aren't helping.)
All in all, I suspect Krauthammer's tantrum will play well with some factions on the far right, but will do nothing to help McCain with the voters he needs to win over. But that's no surprise - other than their mutual underestimation of Obama, one place McCain has demonstrated a great deal of sense is in consistently rejecting Krauthammer's notions of what it will take to win the race. The obstacle before McCain is not insurmountable, although I suspect it will quickly become so if Krauthammer takes the lead on his campaign.