Saturday, August 30, 2008

Killing McCain with kindness

Perhaps the most effective riff in Obama's convention speech was his attack on McCain's policies anchored by the refrain, "It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it."

A lot of Democrats have been wringing their hands because they feel Obama isn't Rovian enough. But Obama's counterattack is double-edged: full frontal attack on McCain's "failed policies of the past," and a pointed contrast between his own policy-based criticism of McCain and McCain's character-based assault on him.

The policy attack is straightforward: McCain is offering to continue the failed policies of the Bush Administration. The character issue is a bank-shot: contrast the way my opponent speaks about me with the way I speak about him.

The convention made plain that Obama has put his stamp on the party. The Democrats all attacked his way. Bill Clinton, Kerry, Biden, and then Obama himself killed McCain with kindness. Their tributes went far beyond the obligatory attack preface: "John McCain is a great war hero, but..." They emphasized personal friendship, paid tribute to McCain's love of country, noted past stands he's taken that Democrats could admire. Then each pivoted to McCain's recent flip-flops (on taxes, immigration, climate change), fervent early support for invading Iraq, descent into Rovian attack politics, and 90-95% support of Bush.

First, Bill Clinton:

The choice is clear. The Republicans will nominate a good man who served our country heroically and suffered terribly in Vietnam. He loves our country every bit as much as we all do. As a Senator, he has shown his independence on several issues. But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America’s leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.

They took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt; from over 22 million new jobs down to 5 million; from an increase in working family incomes of $7,500 to a decline of more than $2,000; from almost 8 million Americans moving out of poverty to more than 5 and a half million falling into poverty - and millions more losing their health insurance.

Now, in spite of all the evidence, their candidate is promising more of the same: More tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that will swell the deficit, increase inequality, and weaken the economy. More band-aids for health care that will enrich insurance companies, impoverish families and increase the number of uninsured. More going it alone in the world, instead of building the shared responsibilities and shared opportunities necessary to advance our
security and restore our influence.


I have known and been friends with John McCain for almost 22 years. But every day now I learn something new about candidate McCain. To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician, I say, let's compare Senator McCain to candidate McCain. Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain's own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against theimmigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you're against it.

Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself. And what's more, Senator McCain, who once railed against the smears of Karl Rove when he was the target, has morphed into candidate McCain who is using the same "Rove" tactics and the same "Rove" staff to repeat the same old politics of fear and smear. Well, not this year, not this time. The Rove-McCain tactics are old and outworn, and America will reject them in 2008.


John McCain is my friend. We’ve known each other for three decades. We’ve traveled the world together. It’s a friendship that goes beyond politics. And the personal courage and heroism John demonstrated still amaze me.

But I profoundly disagree with the direction that John wants to take the country. For example, John thinks that during the Bush years “we’ve made great progress economically.” I think it’s been abysmal.

And in the Senate, John sided with President Bush 95 percent of the time. Give me a break. When John McCain proposes $200 billion in new tax breaks for corporate America, $1 billion alone for just eight of the largest companies, but no relief for 100 million American families, that’s not change; that’s more of the same.

Even today, as oil companies post the biggest profits in history — a half trillion dollars in the last five years — he wants to give them another $4 billion in tax breaks. But he voted time and again against incentives for renewable energy: solar, wind, biofuels. That’s not change; that’s more of the same.

Millions of jobs have left our shores, yet John continues to support tax breaks for corporations that send them there. That’s not change; that’s more of the same.

He voted 19 times against raising the minimum wage. For people who are struggling just to get to the next day, that’s not change; that’s more of the same.

And when he says he will continue to spend $10 billion a month in Iraq when Iraq is sitting on a surplus of nearly $80 billion, that’s not change; that’s more of the same.

The choice in this election is clear. These times require more than a good soldier; they require a wise leader, a leader who can deliver change the change everybody knows we need.

And finally, Obama:

Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

Lest the contrast between these clean-cutting attacks and McCain's middle school taunts be lost on anyone, Obama took it upon himself to spell it out. As in his fight with the Clintons, he positioned himself as the adult in the campaign:
what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.

So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

Back in March, as Hillary was ratcheting up her attacks on Obama's readiness to be commander in chief, David Brooks mocked the Obama campaign's purported belief that "they can go on the attack, but in the right way. They can be tough and keep their virginity, too. " But that's more or less what Obama did. Successfully.

When the Clintons went fiercely negative, Obama said they were mired in the same old "say-anything, do-anything" politics that Americans were tired of. While Hillary renewed and ratcheted up her attacks at intervals, Obama managed to shame her into shutting them off for long stretches, during one of which -- from late January to the end of February -- he essentially wrapped up the nomination.

It was hard for Obama to go on the offensive against Hillary because there was so little policy difference. Against McCain, he and his party have got a literally clean shot -- as the four-barrelled assault showcased above makes clear.

At the same time, eschewing character attacks, Obama style, constitutes the most devastating character attack. That's what happened in the primary: the long fight evoked the candidates' characters, and in Hillary's case it wasn't pretty. As she threw everything she could get her hands on at Obama, he was pointedly magnanimous at strategic intervals: praising Hillary as a "fierce and formidable competitor," asserting that she should stay in the race as long as she wanted, dismissing her bizarre allusion to RFK's assassination as a product of campaign fatigue.

At Denver, Obama started sculpting a similar character contrast between himelf and McCain. This time, he had the whole party carving with him.

Related posts:
Obama does it with Integrity
Changing "The Rules" on Clinton
Truth and Transformation

1 comment:

  1. You are a gifted writer, a cogent thinker, and have put coherency into the thoughts that have rambled around in my head for the last couple of weeks. Thank you!
    Maren Hofstad