Monday, August 25, 2008

Krugman: no more knives in gunfights, please

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, both in national polls and in electoral college projections based on state-level polls, 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 claiming to support the troops would shy away from attacking a war hero’s military record — but back in 2004 the Swift-boat lies were enthusiastically embraced by Republican activists, and helped neutralize the advantage John Kerry was supposed to get from his biography.

And you might think 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.... 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 squealing from the usual suspects demonstrates how much the Obama counterattack has the G.O.P. worried.



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