Thursday, October 23, 2008

Running Yesterday's Campaign - by Thomas Mills, Political Consultant

The McCain campaign is imploding. This week they may well have squandered whatever chance they had of changing the dynamic in the race. Instead of focusing on serious issues facing the country, they chose to overreach with accusations that are more reminiscent of 1958 or '68 than 2008.

Sarah Palin began the week by accusing Obama, his supporters and even whole states as being "un-American" or "anti-American." Next, McCain laid into Obama for having "socialist" policies. Republicans had to reach deep into their toolbox for this language—past the "liberal" label of the 1980s and 90s, past the "people like us" of the '60s and '70s, all the way to the McCarthy Era of the 1950s Cold War. While these tactics may fire up the base, they alienate a more moderate electorate that is looking for unity and leadership in a time of crisis.

Republicans have long used fear to divide and conquer. What's different this year is who is saying it. In both Bush campaigns and in the 1990s, Republican candidates have let third parties make the most personal or outrageous attacks to give themselves plausible deniability. This year, McCain and Palin are the messengers which means McCain has to own these statements—and they don't sound very presidential.

With McCain and Palin setting the tone, the wing-nuts of the Republican party feel emboldened to say what they think. Congresswoman Michelle Bachman (R-MN) called on the media to investigate Congress to determine which members were pro-American and which are anti-American. Congressman Robin Hayes (R-NC) introduced McCain at rally with "Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." At this time in history, Americans are looking for someone who can bring the country together and they don't want, or need, this type of rhetoric.

McCain had a huge opportunity to look like a leader and refocus the race. Shortly before the third debate, the media was dumping on both campaigns for misleading attacks. McCain could have used the debate as forum to say, "Enough is enough. We'll pull all of our negative ads if Obama will do the same and make this race about the issues facing Americans." Instead, he chose to defend the Bill Ayers attack, another throwback to a time gone by, and to make himself look more out of sync with the conversation taking place across the country.

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