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Monday, August 25, 2008

Paul Krugman: Accentuate the Negative

Barack Obama begins to counterattack Country Club Republican John McCain, and not a moment too soon:

Accentuate the Negative, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: So the Obama campaign has turned to the politics of personal destruction, attempting to make a campaign issue out of John McCain’s inability to remember how many houses he has. And the turn comes not a moment too soon.

Over the past month or so many Democrats have had the sick feeling that once again their candidate brought a knife to a gunfight. Barack Obama’s campaign, inexplicably, was unprepared for the inevitable Republican attack on the candidate’s character. By the middle of last week, Mr. Obama’s once formidable lead ... had virtually evaporated.

Mr. Obama’s waning advantage brought back bad memories of the 2004 campaign, whose key lesson was that there are no limits to the form G.O.P. character attacks can take.

You might think, for example,... that a party committed to tax cuts for the rich, a party that routinely castigates those who engage in “class warfare,” would shy away from attacking a Democrat for his wealth. But raw class envy played an important role in the attacks on Mr. Kerry, whom Rush Limbaugh described repeatedly as a “gigolo” with a “sugar daddy wife,” and G.O.P. supporters don’t seem to have experienced any cognitive dissonance.

It was predictable, then, that Mr. Obama would find himself on the receiving end of an all-out character attack, much of it nonsensical: he’s un-American because he vacations in Hawaii, where his grandmother lives? It was also predictable that responding by repeating what a great guy the candidate is, or denouncing the attacks as unfair, would be ineffective.

So now the Obama campaign has responded with its own character attack.

Is it fair to attack Mr. McCain for having too many houses? In an ideal world, politicians would be judged by their actions, not by their wealth or lack thereof. ... But in the world we actually live in, pro-corporate, inequality-increasing Republicans argue that you should vote for them because they’re regular guys you’d like to have a beer with, while Democrats who want to raise taxes on top earners, expand health care and raise the minimum wage are snooty elitists.

And in that world, stripping away the regular-guy facade — pointing out that everything Rush Limbaugh said about Mr. Kerry applies equally to Mr. McCain, that Mr. McCain lives in a material world few Americans can imagine — is only fair. Yes, Mr. Obama vacations in Hawaii — and Cindy McCain says that “In Arizona, the only way to get around the state is by small private plane.”

The ... Obama counterattack has the G.O.P. worried. ...[T]he McCain campaign, after initially mumbling something about how Mr. Obama eats arugula, quickly resorted to its all-purpose answer: you can’t criticize the candidate because he’s a former P.O.W. ... Assuming that the Obama campaign isn’t scared off by the P.O.W. thing, can it really win in an exchange of character attacks? Probably not — but it doesn’t have to.

The central fact of this year’s election is that voters are fed up with Republican rule. The only way Mr. McCain can win ... is if it becomes a contest of personalities rather than parties — and if his campaign can instill in voters the perception that Mr. Obama is a suspicious character while Mr. McCain is a fine, upstanding gentleman.

The Obama campaign, on the other hand, doesn’t need to convince voters either that he’s the awesomest candidate ever or that Mr. McCain is a villain. All it has to do is tarnish Mr. McCain’s image enough so that voters see this as a race between a Democrat and a Republican. And that’s a race the Democrat will easily win.

    Posted by on Monday, August 25, 2008 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (106)

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