McCain Campaign Running Off the Tracks

So, today makes day three of the McCain campaign driving the news cycle with a bunch of manufactured, irrelevant drama. I’m sure the students of Rove are basking in their own personal brilliance at their ability to take over the airwaves with their baseless drivel. The fake lipstick flap, sex ed ad, and the stunning lack of a narrative focused on the issues that face America going forward is what the McCain camp has become, and in doing so they not only damage their own campaign, but also the brand that John McCain has worked so hard to nurture.

Simply put, the McCain camp may be attracting some attention, but it’s not the attention that will elevate him from the deadlock in the polls. Further, by going all in with the gutter politics that he himself has been victim to, and railed against, John McCain is playing fast and loose with his credibility. This may not hurt him today, or tomorrow, or next week even, but there’s little doubt that the American people will not like 55 more days of gutter politics, and if that’s all McCain’s got, he’s got a big problem in the most important place to his campaign, with independents.

Independents are the most fickle of voters. They have the same problems as Republicans and Democrats, but they don’t necessarily have any allegiance to either. They want solutions. So what will independent voters do when they see the McCain camp waste two weeks of news cycles on rhetorical rubbish? Some of them will start to wonder why there’s only one person talking about the issues. Some of them will get mad a John McCain for not being serious. If it keeps up, many of them will get tired of it and stop listening to McCain. This means that even if he did change his messaging, once people have checked out, they won’t hear it.

Now, I know that there’s this conventional wisdom out there that negative attacks, or other devices that distract from real issues work. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. My question to that conventional wisdom is, when was the last time there was such a negative opinion of one party or the other as this year? I can’t think of one. So while McCain may try to do everything he can to distract from the fact that he is a Republican with Republican positions, when voters go into the booths, as soon as a month from now, what’s going to be on their minds? Lipstick on a pig, or their friend who just got their house foreclosed? Are they going to remember an ad that ran for a day distorting Obama’s record, or that their kid is overseas fighting a war that they no longer understand or support? Whaddya think it’ll be?

I’m putting my money on issues, and that’s precisely why I’m glad that the Democrats have a candidate who is both keenly focused on the issues, and still willing to call the McCain campaign and their surrogates out as serial distorters, liars and the very same people responsible for the mess we’re in right now.

There’s another line of conventional wisdom that says that if Obama doesn’t attack in the same way that he’s attacked he’ll look weak. I reject that line of reasoning also. It doesn’t matter how you attack, it’s the effectiveness of the attack within the framework of your overall messaging. Obama would look like a fool out there gettin’ all mad at people and callin’ people names, just like the McCain campaign looks foolish right now doing the very same thing. Just because someone takes a swing at you doesn’t mean you have to swing back. How you react determines whether a punch was landed or not. I’ve seen more than my fair share of people beat their own ass while trying to beat someone else’s. It’s a beautiful thing.

This is exactly what John McCain is doing to the brand he has so steadfastly sought to build over his time in Congress. In less than a week he’s taken his image turned it upside down and started emptying the contents on the ground so his campaign people can stomp all over it. He’s taken his public image from that of a reformer to a conformer. He’s done a complete 180.

Earlier today, I linked to several people who’s opinion of McCain has shifted over the past week. I’d like to add one more. Andrew Sullivan, an Obama supporter who has held McCain in high regard over the years, said today,

McCain has demonstrated in the last two months that he does not have the character to be president of the United States.

That’s good enough for me.

When the guy who helped torpedo universal healthcare in the 90’s, and argued against affirmative action, both conservative hot button issues, leaves you, you’re on the way to being all alone.

It’s disappointing really. I wanted Obama to be able to dismantle many of the right-wing talking points that have been the focus of so many campaigns in my life. John McCain, and his diversional line of attack won’t give him that chance. But Obama will have the chance to strike down some of the conventional wisdom that has become so pervasive in our political culture by beating McCain with one of the cleanest campaigns in my lifetime. That’s change I can believe in.

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