So Hillary has gone above and beyond and given an unequivocal speech to bring the warring strands of the Democratic Party together for November. By most accounts it was well received, and calculated to bring her wayward ‘flock’ back under control. She also (finally) started the formal party process of attacking John McCain saying:
“John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn’t think that 47m people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatise social security. And in 2008, he still thinks it is okay when women don’t earn equal pay for equal work,” she said.
It was appropriate that Bush and McCain should appear together at the Republican convention in Minneapolis-St Paul next week “because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart”.
It’s quite right to say there hasn’t been enough of this in recent weeks. The choice of Biden as VP candidate was not just telling in terms of his experience in foreign policy, with a new Cold War looming with Russia, but in bringing to the top table his ability and willingness to attack the GOP and their lamentable record on, well, everything. But this will be far from enough to defeat the resurgent McCain. Baratunde Thurston is entirely right when he says:
First, define Obama in a way that’s understandable by those who haven’t gotten his life story engraved on to their iPods. Second, redefine McCain. Tell the story of how he’s no longer the straight-talking “maverick” many thought they knew. Third, go on the offensive and respond swiftly to attacks.
The Democrats must wipe out the advantage of McCain’s ‘maverick’ narrative. Yes it apes the Idiot Bush’s past ability to speak huge amounts of garbage, yet remain popular for being a ‘straight talker’ who humanly ‘made mistakes’. But despite Bush’s huge unpopularity now, they haven’t yet shown how disastrous those characteristics have been under him, and how much worse they would be under John McCain. And Michael Tomasky points out that, as good as Hillary’s speech was, it neglected to close the damaging questions of Obama’s suitability to be Commander-in-Chief, which she left open during the primaries (which McCain’s now exploiting to the hilt):
she didn’t say anything about Obama’s ability as Commander-in-Chief. I’d argue she was under a special obligation to do this, at the very moment when McCain is running an ad using her famous quote from February in which she said that she and McCain brought a lifetime of experience to the job of leading America in the world, while Obama had a speech he gave in 2002. I honestly thought that she would reference that ad specifically and say something like, “Well, I’m Hillary Clinton, and I do not approve that message.”
Well she has said just that in the last days, but interestingly only in response to the McCain attack ad which tried to poach those supporters of hers who were aggrieved at her not having been vetted for the VP role.
I remain convinced however that the aggrieved Clinton voters are so disprate in their reasons for objecting to Obama, yet at the same time so eager to get rid of the Republican stranglehold on the White House, that this issue really isn’t going to be key in getting enough votes for Obama in November. I simply don’t believe that so many millions of people will actually prove to be outright stupid – I suspect most of them are merely bitching to pollsters, but time will tell. Instead the chief risk remains McCain’s false image as a ‘maverick’ (read: liberal when he feels like it) remaining intact, with enough doubt getting painted about Obama’s character and suitability to be President. It’s largely the same game as 2004, and the risk is enormous:
As in 2004, a smear campaign is being led by a conservative Texas billionaire, Harold Simmons, who has paid for a campaign that seeks to link Obama to the Weather Underground, which was behind riots and bombings in the 60s and 70s.
One of its co-founders, Bill Ayers, now a university professor in Chicago, was an early supporter of Obama.
Simmons spent close to $3m (£1.5m) in 2004 on adverts which cast doubt on Kerry’s record while serving in Vietnam with the US navy.
The solution is simple on paper: go on the attack, as Thurston advocates earlier in this post, whilst being mindful of the hidden dangers of doing so. There is every indication that Biden should be very effective as Obama’s Cheney-esque ‘attack dog’. But at the same time Jonathan Freedland is right when he suggests the Democrats use the narrative Obama himself used so effectively in 2004 to characterise the campaign decisively and positively:
Democrats can simply refuse to fight on these Republican terms. That is what Obama did when he burst into the national consciousness at the 2004 convention, declaring that the culture war of red states and blue states had gone on too long. “We coach little league in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states,” he declared, so insisting on the legitimacy of all Americans. Restating that message is surely part of his task when he accepts his nomination before a stadium crowd of 70,000 tomorrow. He needs to change the terms of trade in this election, to reframe it so that he’s no longer answering, “Is he one of us?” – but persuading his fellow Americans that it’s time, at long last, to put that question behind them.