Who’s Smearing Whom?
James Kirchich, recent nominee for an Yglesias Award for fairness, says that, while the Obama campaign is setting itself up to believe that “The only obstacle between Barack Obama and the presidency is the mountain of smears that will no doubt come his way,” the truth of the matter is that most of the smears are coming from his side.
Thus far, no one with any serious affiliation to John McCain’s campaign has resorted to the alleged “scare” tactics in which Republicans — and, apparently, only Republicans — have been perfecting since Richard Nixon was first elected. On the contrary, if the past few months have showed us anything, it’s that the Obama campaign is the one dealing in crude smears.
There have been only two incidents in which people officially associated with McCain have done anything approaching what Thomas and Wolfe predicted those dastardly, conniving Republicans would inevitably do. In February, a conservative talk radio host speaking at a McCain rally made reference to “Barack Hussein Obama.” McCain immediately condemned the statement, leading the embittered and embarrassed professional yacker to complain that McCain “threw me under the bus.” The only other smear-worthy episode occurred in March, when the McCain campaign suspended a low-level aide who provided a link on his Twitter account to a video featuring the rants of Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Heavy stuff, to be sure.
Contrast the absence of smears from the McCain camp with some of the outlandish remarks made by high-ranking Obama supporters. In April, West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV said that because McCain “was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet,” and “was long gone when they hit,” the Arizona senator who spent five and a half years in a Vietcong tiger cage having his arms repeatedly broken didn’t really understand the carnage of war. “What happened when [the missiles] get to the ground?” Rockefeller asked a crowd at an Obama rally. “He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.” That the great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller would impugn the wartime experience of John McCain is especially rich, given that the only “battle” Rockefeller has seen is when he hunts wild game at his 80-acre ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo. g in crude smears.
He gives other examples, many of which detailed yesterday in “Democrats Attacking McCain’s Military Record: Is A Pattern Emerging?”
Greg Sargent, meanwhile, asserts that,
The truth is that there’s zero evidence that there’s any coordination going on or that the Obama campaign wants this conversation to be taking place. Not that this matters: The McCain campaign is very determinedly pointing to anything it can — Webb’s comments included — to drive the message that Obama is demeaning McCain’s military service.
Not to resort to the undergraduate paper standby of “they both have good points and bad points,” the argument seems rather silly. Professionally run campaigns make a concerted effort to maintain plausible deniability, ensuring that the candidate and senior campaign staff can disavow any negative attacks that get judged as beyond the pale while nonetheless benefitting from their effects.
Do I think there’s a concerted effort on the part of Democrats to call into question the degree to which John McCain’s military service makes him more qualified than Barack Obama to step in as commander-in-chief? Of course. Are some of the attacks over-the-top? Yup. Have they reached the worst levels of the Swift Boat attacks against John Kerry in 2004? Not yet.
Is there a smear campaign to undermine public confidence in Barack Obama’s patriotism and that of his wife? To say that he’s a Muslim and might be terrorist-friendly? Yup. Were they promulgated by Republicans? No, by Hillary Clinton supporters, actually. Will Republicans pick up the ball? Probably.
The “Who’s smearing more?” game is silly at this point since McCain has been the presumptive Republican nominee for months and has thus been the object of Democratic attacks for much longer. By contrast, there hasn’t been much need for the GOP to smear Obama, since Clintonistas like Larry Johnson were more than happy to do it. I’m pretty sure McCain won’t touch any of that nonsense. Pro-Republican or Pro-McCain or Anti-Obama 527s, though, are another story.