Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Will going negative work for McCain?

There's been a lot of hub bub in the World of the Politicos lately about the closing gap between McCain and Obama in national polls (Rasmussen even had the cajones to release a poll showing McCain leading - albeit by a statistically insignificant 1%). It isn't clear (to me at least) why this happened, but it is worth considering that McCain's nasty Paris Hilton/Britney Spears ad was released just days before this sudden closing of the gap (According to Rasmussen, Obama was leading by 6% on July 26 - that's a 7% move in a matter of ten days. Although, to be fair, Rasmussen seems to be gaining notoriety - in my eyes, at least - for releasing polls that are clearly outliers). So, it's worth asking: will going negative win the election for McCain?

Well, no. I don't think anything other than a meltdown by Obama will win this election for McCain. But, I think McCain would have a better chance of winning if he stayed positive - in other words, if he stayed the McCain of the 2000 campaign. I'm not naive; I know that negative campaigning works. But, I think there is a limit to how negative a candidate can go. Remember when Mitt Romney was the golden boy of the Republican Primaries Season (before any of the primaries actually happened, that is)? Granted, he probably wouldn't have won had he stayed positive (that whole Mormon issue was tough on him), but I think he shot himself in the foot by going so negative. He became labeled as "The Sleaze." Okay, maybe I'm the only one who called him that, but the perception abounded. After he slimed McCain, he had to do a lot of backtracking to make it seem like he didn't actually go negative, and people saw right through that. I think people are going to see through McCain's claims that he is a positive, bipartisan maverick and label him "The Sleaze" if he keeps running negative (and irrelevant) ads.

It certainly isn't helping McCain that Obama isn't taking the bait. He is responding with ads that simply say "That isn't true. Here is what I really stand for. Let's get beyond old-fashioned negative politics." McCain's negativity has allowed Obama to hone in on what has been a talking point throughout his whole campaign: we need a new kind of politics. If McCain wants any chance of winning, he can't give the Obama campaign ammo. In essence, he needs to play their game.

Monday, August 4, 2008

To the Editor: Fire William Kristol

When The New York Times decided to add conservative political commentator William Kristol to its op-ed columnist line up, I was not pleased. The idea was that a good op-ed page should present a multi-faceted view of the issues facing the nation. Known for being a "liberal rag" and the butt of most "liberal media" jokes, The Times' editorial board felt it necessary to give a token right-wing nut job a weekly column. In theory, this is fair enough - we liberals always rag on FOX News for being a pawn of the far-right wing of the Republican party, so we should promote fairness and balance, right?

I'm all for fairness and balance, and I think intelligent authors like David Brooks can certainly bring some balance to such an unabashedly liberal op-ed page. The problem is that Bill Kristol just isn't a very good writer. Now, I'm no literary genius, but I'm not writing for The Times, either. Kristol's columns, unlike Brooks's, are rarely thoughtful - that is, they hardly ever shed new light on an issue. His columns read like talking points sent out by the McCain campaign. The title of a recent column was "Be Afraid. Please." The object of the proposed fear was, of course, Barack Obama, or more specifically, the havoc Obama would bestow upon America if he were President while the Democrats control Congress. Mr. Kristol extols the benefits of divided government, noting with an un-Times-like lack of eloquence,

You really should be alarmed about a President Obama rubber-stamping the deeds of a Democratic Congress next year. A President McCain, on the other hand, could check Congressional appetites — as well as work across the aisle with a Democratic Congress in a bipartisan spirit where appropriate.

Yes, because divided government has worked so well since 2006 when the Democrats won control of Congress. Given Senator McCain's recent shifts to the more extreme right-wing of his party and his appalling lack of dignity, there is no reason to suspect that his White House would be any more willing to cooperate with a Democratic Congress than the current administration. Moreover, with Kristol's logic in mind, one might have expected to see him campaigning for Democratic candidates for Congress in 2006, arguing that an unchecked majority is bad for democracy.

Maybe I missed it.

And today, Kristol provided us with what I'm sure he thought was some brilliant insight with his article titled "How to Pick a V.P." I guess we can overlook the fact that he doesn't even touch on the choice Obama faces (that would just be asking too much). What we cannot overlook is the fact that he is just regurgitating what the cable news networks have been saying for weeks now. Oh, Mitt Romney would bring useful executive experience to the ticket? Bobby Jindal would represent the new era of the Republican party, echoing the Obama campaign's call for change? Tim Pawlenty would please staunch conservatives who don't want McCain to try any funny business with his pick? Meg Whitman would provide "outsider" cred while appealing to women?

None of these are revelations. These points have all been made numerous times by the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC and FOX News and so on.

So, it's not just that Kristol is preaching a thoughtless, uninspired, trite sermon on conservatism. Worse, his thoughtlessness is about two to three weeks behind the rest of the media.

Times, I understand what you were going for hiring Kristol, I really do. But, he's been a failure. He's not doing the job of presenting a thoughtful, informative, provocative conservative voice for the op-ed page. If you want another conservative voice, use your own David Brooks as a model. But it's clear to me - Bill Kristol is no David Brooks.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

How low will he go?

You know, I used to have a great amount of respect for John McCain. In 2000, when he got slimed by the Bush campaign as being father to an illegitimate black child, I was outraged. My outrage was increased by the fact that this tactic actually worked. It's this kind of politics that keeps good men from becoming President.

So, to see Mr. McCain resort to the same kind of slimy tactics really turns my stomach. First, he blamed Barack Obama for high gas prices. A ridiculous claim to be sure, but at least it's related to politics. His latest ad, featuring Paris Hilton and Britney Spears is simply inexcusable. Bob Herbert has a good op-ed in The New York Times today about how this ad injects race into the campaign.

Referring back to an infamous ad in 2006's race for the Senate seat from Tennessee, Herbert states...

Both ads were foul, poisonous and emanated from the upper reaches of the Republican Party. (What a surprise.) Both were designed to exploit the hostility, anxiety and resentment of the many white Americans who are still freakishly hung up on the idea of black men rising above their station and becoming sexually involved with white women.

Now, McCain is accusing Obama of playing the race card. Apparently McCain can make quasi-racist ads, but when Obama suggests that McCain is painting him as "The Other," he's the one who's injecting race into the campaign. As Herbert points out, "[Obama] does not want the race issue to be front and center in this campaign. Every day that the campaign is about race is a good day for John McCain."

It seems the media is finally hounding McCain, making him answer the charges that his ads are, well, revoltingly negative. His response? "I don't think our campaign is negative in the slightest... We're having fun and enjoying it."

Oh, okay. As long as you're having fun doing it, it can't be negative.

I'm seriously wondering if this guy might have Alzheimer's. Has he really forgotten who he was eight years ago? I miss that John McCain.