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Why you shouldn’t fear a last-minute McCain smear assault

By Griffin · October 20th, 2008 · 2 Comments


Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wrote a post yesterday that is well worth reading in its entirety about the final two weeks of John McCain’s campaign and why Obama supporters should be afraid:

If you’re thinking to yourself that there’s little more than two weeks before election day and Obama has a solid lead in the polls, don’t be so sure.

Yes, it looks good for the Democrats. But you need to play close attention to the McCain campaign’s final weeks’ strategy under and just above the radar. McCain’s final strategy relies on two pillars. The first is aggressively playing to voters’ fears of electing a black president. Make no mistake: not just his campaign in a general sense, but McCain himself and his top handful of advisers, are banking on the residual racism in a changing America to get them over the finish line. The second is an aggressive use of innuendo to convince casual voters that Obama is in league with Islamic terrorists bent on killing Americans.

Many people have asked whether enough Americans really care any more about the cultural convulsions of the 1960s. The answer? It doesn’t matter. For the McCain campaign, Bill Ayers has nothing to do with 60s radicalism. Ayers is nothing more than a tool that permits McCain, Palin and all their surrogates to use the noun “terrorist” in polite company in the same sentence as “Obama,” over and over and over again. It allows them to cobble together a ‘respectable’ version of those Obama smear emails they can push in commercials and robocalls and surrogate talking points every hour of every day.

Stripped down to its components McCain’s message to voters is this: “Don’t forget. He’s definitely black. And he may be a terrorist.” That’s the message. The nuts and bolts is a concerted effort to keep Democrats from voting — through intimidation, by striking new voters from the rolls, which is going to happen to lots of them, clogging polling stations to create delays that keep late day (predominantly) Obama voters from voting altogether. Smears in the air and voter suppression on the ground.

Many people say, well … all this stuff just hasn’t worked. But the truth is that the really corrupt and vicious part of McCain’s effort only comes now because it’s only in the last couple weeks that you can pull stuff that the press won’t get to call you on before election day — after which it doesn’t matter. Will it take Obama down? So far McCain’s gutter campaign has hurt him more than helped. But there’s no reason to be sure it will continue that way. And many Obama supporters, sure the election is basically wrapped up, appear ready to slack in the stretch and let McCain smear and cheat his way into office.

As you may know, I’ve expressed a bit of overconfidence around here lately about the prospects of an Obama victory.  I’d like to reiterate that overconfidence and say unequivocally that Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States.

Now, Marshall makes a few good points.  McCain’s strategy is indeed to “use the noun ‘terrorist’ in polite company in the same sentence as ‘Obama,’ over and over and over again.”  And without a doubt, McCain’s final, closing message to the American people, “Don’t forget. He’s definitely black. And he may be a terrorist.”  Maybe I’m being naive, but I believe there are two reasons why this strategy won’t work:

1) The times are too serious.  In an election year when the country is in relatively good shape and the notion that it doesn’t really matter who gets elected, scare tactics and Rovian politics might work against Obama.  Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers and “Muslim, Muslim, Muslim, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist” might be enough to push John McCain over the top.  But this year, in 2008, with the country in the shape it’s in after eight years of Republican rule, the American electorate is in a deadly serious mood.  We know deep down the difference between issues and distractions, and we won’t allow the latter to influence our vote this year.  You could say that I share Obama’s faith in the American people to make the right decision.

2) McCain’s message is being drowned out by Obama’s.  When you follow politics as closely as Josh Marshall– and I– do, you get to hear all the Republican robocalls and see all the slimy campaign ads on YouTube and get a glimpse of all the below-the-belt mailers and “viral” e-mails that get posted to different blogs.  And it’s easy, in your mind, to put those campaign tactics on equal footing to the campaign tactics of the Obama campaign.

But the fact is, they’re not on equal footing or anywhere close, because nearly all of McCain’s slimy tactics are being aired underground, below the radar, with very limited resources.  Those robocalls and mailers and e-mails that associate Barack Obama with terrorists only reach a few hundred thousand voters in a very limited part of the country (the number of people who actually take the time to stay on the phone and listen or sit down and read those things is even less). And almost none of those YouTube ads ever run on the air; they’re just catnip to distract journalists from real news.  Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is using its $150 million September haul to flood the airwaves. I’ve seen this Obama campaign ad– no exaggeration– about five times in the last two days on national television:

That is the message voters nationwide got this weekend– tens of millions of voters, not just a few hundred thousand in rural Pennsylvania. It is an issues-oriented ad for serious times, and it is drowning out whatever McCain is trying to do underground.

So while Marshall may fear a last-minute all-out smear assault by the McCain campaign, the fact is that it won’t reach nearly enough voters, and the ones it does reach have much more important things on their minds.

Tags: Barack Obama · Democrats · John McCain · Republicans


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