Campaigns/Elections

Is Obama Hamstrung?

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At The Next Right, a couple of smart posts look at why it will be difficult for Obama to respond to McCain's attacks with attacks of his own.

I'm not sure I buy this one, though:

If Obama goes negative, he tears down his carefully cultivated "new kind of politics" facade and reveals the typical politician behind it. And if Obama is perceived as a typical politician, the central story of his campaign is decimated. Voters, particularly independents, would be disillusioned and alienated.

McCain has spent most of his career building up the same sort of not-your-typical-politician facade. Indeed, upon winning the nomination he promised both an "honorable" campaign, and to never question his opponent's patriotism. He has since broken both promises, repeatedly.  (What is and isn't "honorable" in a campaign is obviously subjective, but it's hard to see the honor in this, to give one example.)

And his poll numbers have only gone up.

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  1. For what it’s worth, the one thing that has kept me liking Obama is that he has (or has, at least appeared to have) taken the high road. It’s certainly not his policies (to the extent that he has ennunciated any).

  2. McCain’s attack ads, along with the whisper campaign will work. And that’s just more evidence that democracy is a bad idea.*

    *I don’t mean McCain’s all-but-inevitable victory, although I don’t like that. I’m referring to the fact that people’s minds can be swayed by 30 second attack ads.

  3. The answer seems obvious: The *supporters* of the respective candidates can attack the other candidate, while the candidates disavow the statements of their supporters. The candidates stay clean, and the dirt gets injected into the campaign anyway, just like with [note: the remainder of this post has been deleted because it would cause the Internet to exceed its quote of Sarah Palin-related comments].

  4. Obama’s done. When you resort to “the ol’ codger doesn’t know how to use a computer,” you’re officially done.

  5. Remind me again, how many times has Obama been declared “dead”?

  6. Two rules that are true every election:

    1)Attacks always work at eroding support for the other guy; and
    2)Very rarely backfire or even reflect poorly on the attacker.

  7. quota, not quote.

  8. For what it’s worth, the one thing that has kept me liking Obama is that he has (or has, at least appeared to have) taken the high road.

    Isaac B.,

    I don’t think you’re alone here. The people I know who support him feel the same way, and if he goes on the offensive in any real way, he’ll be letting a lot of people down. He’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t now.

    McCain may have made similar claims, but his campaign never had the Ivory Tower effect quite like Obama’s did, so Obama has a lot farther to fall.

  9. “I don’t think you’re alone here. The people I know who support him feel the same way, and if he goes on the offensive in any real way, he’ll be letting a lot of people down.”

    That’s why he’s turning the 527s loose.

  10. Obama broke his promise to accept public financing (Hey, he isn’t all bad!)

    Negative ads work by reinforcing what voters already know,or think they know, about a candidate.

  11. (Speaking in generalities here and analytically, not with any implied support for either politician) People like Obama for being “not a typical politician”. People like McCain for the “leadership” and “experience” attributes.

    If McCain goes negative, it doesn’t detract from his perceived strengths. If Obama goes negative, it does detract from his perceived strengths.

    The equivalent for McCain would be attempting to downplay military/foreign policy experience and make his campaign about domestic policy issues. It may be responsive to Obama’s perceived strength, but it detracts from McCain’s perceived strength.

    Separately, the Democrats have launched just as many unfactual, ridiculous, dishonorable attacks on McCain as Republicans have on Obama. So far, though, the Democrats have been smart enough to run those through the DNC or surrogates, instead of directly from Obama.

  12. He has since broken both promises, repeatedly.

    McCain may have made similar claims, but his campaign never had the Ivory Tower effect quite like Obama’s did, so Obama has a lot farther to fall.

    McCain is the Teflon Don when it comes to his media image. I do not understand it but nothing sticks to the fucking guy. He exudes an air of integrity which is just not actually present.

    This is why I predicted his win months ago and still stick to my prediction. If he wins, I am a genius, and if he loses, I don’t mention it any more and pretend I never actually said anything.

  13. Negative ads work by reinforcing what voters already know,or think they know, about a candidate.

    Also, people relate to them more because they know they’re voting for the lesser of two evils.

  14. Reads like wishful thinking to me.

    Sorta like Slate saying something like, “A governor from Alaska will be an instant flop for a VP choice.”

  15. Must be why they’re crucifying her this week.

  16. Oh for the good ole days, when people cared about Iraq, government intrusion, torture, guantanamo, habeus corpus, warrantless wiretapping, etc…

    Obama’s lost his edge because the debate has shifted to how attractive and inexperienced you are, and McNutty has found someone who beats him on both counts.

  17. If McCain’s strategy works, he will prove there is zero political downside to telling straight up lies.

  18. That’s why he’s turning the 527s loose.

    Hence, my “appear[s] to have” disclaimer.

    BO does seem to have plenty of surrogates ready and willing to sling mud.

    Then BO gets to chastise them and threaten to fire staffers violating his code and he gets to look like he’s taking the high road.

    I must confess that I see an uncommon decency in him though. I could very well be completely wrogn too.

  19. He exudes an air of integrity which is just not actually present…
    This is why I predicted his win months ago and still stick to my prediction.

    I don’t understand it either. Very little about McCain is appealing to me, but we’re apparently in the minority.

    If he wins, I am a genius, and if he loses, I don’t mention it any more and pretend I never actually said anything.

    Heads you win, tails you don’t lose? That’s how the saying goes, right? πŸ˜‰

  20. The “new kind of politics” point is key to understanding the entire general election campaign to date.

    Look at the graph of the RCP average, focusing on the part that shows the gap between the two candidates.

    Absent the convention, Obama has been largely trending downward since late June — which is when he: rejected public financing; shifted positions on FISA, Iraq, etc.; did the World Tour (highlighting weaknesses, per Henke above — and done after McCain told him to go, vaidating the critique); the safe VP pick of Biden (again highlighting weakneses); the boilerplate convention speech, etc.

    Once Obama became the de facto nominee, he went into a defensive mode dictated by SwiftBoat Syndrome (which Ruffini describes in an earlier post at The Next Right). It has been destroying his brand.

  21. Americans much prefer a dodgy old fuck and a bimboish creationist to a Harvard-educated African American who makes them feel inferior. McCain will win handily.

  22. the safe VP pick of Biden

    Except for the fact that it was the complete opposite of disowning “old-school” Washington that his campaign was riding on.

  23. Heads you win, tails you don’t lose? That’s how the saying goes, right? πŸ˜‰

    It does now. Thanks, Obama.

    If McCain’s strategy works, he will prove there is zero political downside to telling straight up lies.

    There is a political downside to telling certain lies. If you make sure you just tell the OK lies there is no downside and there is in fact an upside.

    I guess McCain is a really good liar.

  24. Uh, Bush was Harvard-educated wasn’t he?

  25. If McCain’s strategy works, he will prove there is zero political downside to telling straight up lies.

    The McCain campaign “message” about Obama is that he is an out-of-touch elitist with no substance.It is up to Obama’s campaign to counter that, although they will have a hard time convincing the majority of voters.

  26. the safe VP pick of Biden

    Yeah, the one who told a wheelchair bound parapelegic state official to “stand up and be recognized.”

    “Damn, dude, you got some scrawny legs. Those look like chicken legs that someone threw to a dog. Anyway, get on up here!”

  27. No, SIV, I mean actual real lies.

    “Sarah Palin was against earmarks”.

    That’s a lie.

  28. At least he tried to recover from that statement, sage. Unlike the Indians owning 7-11’s in Delaware and Obama being a clean-cut articulate African American.

  29. Brian,

    Yes, that only magnifies the point; Biden is Old Politics and picking him for balance is Old Politics. It was a defensive, reactive pick that erodes his brand.

  30. Yeah, but c’mon.

    Joe Biden: October Surprise in a pant-suit.

  31. As sage is also focused on “safe,” would everyone feel better if I has written “traditional, ticket-balancing” pick? Because that’s what I mean about safe. As for Biden’s many gaffes, I know them also, but they aren’t widely reported. The MSM likes Biden (and for all of his gaffes, I rather enjoy an unfiltered pol), so it’s not going to be a factor unless he makes a major gaffe in a debate. And even then, it won’t matter much. The VP pick is ultimately not a deal-breaker with voters. Here, it was just one of many Old Politics things Obama has done that erode his brand.

  32. I think the window may have closed on dumping Biden; it will look too panicky now. Dems could get away with it in NJ, but this is a national campaign.

  33. Well, if he breaks both legs he better not come running to me.

  34. Obama’s done. When you resort to “the ol’ codger doesn’t know how to use a computer,” you’re officially done.

    Yeah, remember when the Democrats made fun of Bush 41 for not knowing that grocery stores had bar code scanners? Cost Clinton the election that year.

  35. Unless, of course, Biden all of the sudden develops a medical condition. I still say the Clintons ran Obama as a failsafe. Hugh Rodham taught Hillary well in the use of Chicago dirt. If Biden can’t get it done, Hillary may think she has to join the ticket to close the deal.

  36. If McCain’s strategy works, he will prove there is zero political downside to telling straight up lies.

    FDR already proved that.

  37. People in FDR’s day didn’t have investigative journalism, YouTube, or factcheck.org.

  38. @Jon Henke

    the Democrats have launched just as many unfactual, ridiculous, dishonorable attacks on McCain as Republicans have on Obama

    Care to supply some links? That statement is not supported by PolitiFact.com, among others. (Obama, McCain, Biden, Palin)

  39. You know what is wrong with this analysis and post?

    The fact that it buys into the idea that “negative” campaigning and “dirty” campaigning are the same things.

    I don’t see any conflict whatsoever between campaigning with a promise for a “new kind of politics” and the use of negative ads – as long as the ads are scrupulously true.

    If I started the Fluffy Campaign for President 2008, it would absolutely constitute a new kind of politics, but it would also be absolutely filled with some of the most negative ads imaginable.

    It would be absolutely “clean”, fair campaigning for me to attack John McCain as having thrown in his lot with men who disgraced the arms of the United States when he brokered a compromise to pass the Military Commissions Act, for example.

    John McCain’s negative ads are bad because the ones that aren’t flimsy, superficial and idiotic crap [“Barack Obama is Britney Spears!] are filled with lies. My negative ads would be GOOD because they would be filled with the truth.

    If “independents would be disillusioned” by ads featuring the truth, they can go fuck themselves.

  40. Otherwise, though, I do agree with your assessment. My “hope” was for a different kind of campaign that stressed issues. But McCain’s dragging it right down the shitter. It disgusts and depresses me. Might be time to move to Alaska … once Palin moves to Washington.

  41. People in FDR’s day didn’t have investigative journalism, YouTube, or factcheck.org.

    Those sure are doing a great job of dismantling the perceptions and institutions of the New Deal.

    Just look at how gullible people like you are for thinking what Obama calls change is something more then New Deal light.

  42. Joshua-

    I found out about what bunch of B.S. the New Deal was pretty easily.

    Just as easily I can find out that Palin was a Pork Queen, not “against earmarks”.

  43. I mean we’re not even talking about Clintonian or Nixonian double-speak half-truths which sort of look like lies.

    I’m talking about them saying things that aren’t true, period.

  44. John McCain’s negative ads are bad because the ones that aren’t flimsy, superficial and idiotic crap [“Barack Obama is Britney Spears!] are filled with lies.

    No….McCain’s ads are not bad because they are lies, they are not Obama is Britney Spears, or because they are negative and dirty, to be honest i like negative and dirty ads, they are bad because they are insubstantial.

  45. Governor Palin took that federal money in the spirit of bipartisanship. Obama and Biden voted to give it to her.

  46. Just look at how gullible people like you are for thinking what Obama calls change is something more then New Deal light.

    Corning, that’s kind of funny considering the fact that you don’t seem to be able to avoid being gullible enough to think that the GOP is offering you anything other than the New Deal on steroids, PLUS torture, the gutting of the rule of law, and endless war.

    Get back to me when the GOP doesn’t stand for those things, and we can talk about who’s gullible.

  47. Yeah, remember when the Democrats made fun of Bush 41 for not knowing that grocery stores had bar code scanners? Cost Clinton the election that year.

    I wasn’t insinuating the computer thing was costing Obama the election, I was saying he is apparently grasping at straws. He’s lost a lot of favor in the past couple weeks….

    Clinton had a bad economy and “no new taxes” going for him in 1992, it wasn’t all about bar code scanners.

  48. SIV, she lobbied for earmarks.

    Then she said she was against earmarks. Since she lobbied for them, that’s a lie. It doesn’t matter what Obama or Biden did, since they never said “I’m against all earmarks”.

    Then McCain said she didn’t take any earmarks as governor (lie).

    The she fired the state chef (lie, he still works for her)

    That she sold the state plane on ebay (lie).

  49. If Obama said, “I never got any earmarks for Illinois” even though he obviously has, that would be a lie on the same level.

  50. nothing sticks to the fucking guy

    No kidding.

  51. steroids, PLUS torture, the gutting of the rule of law, and endless war.

    Get back to me when the GOP doesn’t stand for those things,

    The GOP doesn’t stand for any of those things.

  52. SIV, she lobbied for earmarks.

    To be precise, she used taxpayer money to hire lobbyists to lobby for earmarks.

    There’s a difference between negative and dirty. Obama can go negative on McCain all he wants. He just can’t get into the gutter.

    Bill Clinton was negative as hell against George Bush in 1992, but he wasn’t dirty.

    Or, what Fluffy said.

  53. Rhywun,

    I don’t know, if I was tortured I think I might be forgiven for using a derogatory term when referring to them.

  54. I just would like to know when someone in the MSM will actually call the lies, you know, lies.

  55. Actually, BDB, they’ve started doing that this week.

  56. I look at it this way: The press likes to talk about Obama more than McCain, so when McCain goes negative, the story is about how Obama will respond to the charges, but when Obama goes negative it will be about his decision to do so. The flip side of this is that Obama has a much easier time getting friendly coverage than McCain does – when he gives a speech or engages in some other self-promoting event, it stays in the news cycle for much longer. In light of this, it made sense for McCain to go negative but Obama spend as much effort as possible puffing himself up.

    Palin has changed this dynamic a bit since she’s also a favorite media topic. If the press stays obsessed with her, Obama will have more leeway. I think it benefits McCain since Obama’s an effective self-promoter and the negative stuff from McCain has been pretty ham-handed so far.

  57. It’s sad that it started on “The View” of all places. Really sad.

  58. And certainly Sen. Obama hasn’t shied away from questioning patriotism himself, usually in a protectionist way. Such as:

    “Just ask the machinists in Pennsylvania who build Harley-Davidsons,” Obama said of McCain’s record. “Because John McCain didn’t just oppose the requirement that the government buy American-made motorcycles, he called Buy American provisions ‘disgraceful.’ Just ask the workers across this country who have seen their jobs outsourced. The very companies that shipped their jobs overseas have been rewarded with billions of dollars in tax breaks that John McCain supports and plans to continue.

    “So, when American workers hear John McCain talking about putting ‘Country First,'” Obama said, “it’s fair to ask — which country?”

    Ugh.

  59. “If McCain’s strategy works, he will prove there is zero political downside to telling straight up lies.”

    I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman.

  60. “Uh, Bush was Harvard-educated wasn’t he?”

    Yes. In an affirmative action context.

  61. “Bill Clinton was negative as hell against George Bush in 1992, but he wasn’t dirty.”

    I beg to differ.

  62. I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman.

    That’s a great point, because the press totally didn’t call Bill Clinton on that.

  63. if I was tortured I think I might be forgiven for using a derogatory term when referring to them

    Sorry, the torture card doesn’t work with me. In the heat of the moment one might be forgiven, but to proudly wear one’s bigotry like a badge of honor is disgraceful in a presidential candidate.

  64. “joe | September 12, 2008, 10:18pm | #

    I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman.

    That’s a great point, because the press totally didn’t call Bill Clinton on that.”

    Thanks joe. No one else here will talk with me. Thanks.

  65. But then maybe you were unaware that I was doing my WJC impression.

  66. I have to say that quantifying this sort of thing through politifact.com gave me a good chuckle. Haven’t had a lot of those since they replaced my testicle with a ball-bearing, so thanks ;). If you give me your address I’ll mail you the ball bearing as a memento, when they replace my left nut. Which, by the way, you can suck.

  67. I won’t be voting for Obama, but I think I could run better ads against McCain than Obama has.

    If Americans think John McCain is some great and noble free-thinking “maverick”, why not run ads of John McCain “fer it before he was agin’ it”?

    Clip 1: I oppose overturning Roe.
    Clip 2: I favor overturning Roe.
    Clip 3: I oppose these tax cuts.
    Clip 4: I favor these tax cuts.
    Clip 5: I oppose gun laws.
    Clip 6: I favor gun laws.

    “John McCain… he’ll say anything.”

    Wouldn’t a tag line like that be easy to remember and repeat to your friends and neighbors?

  68. Counter-ad: “Why does John McCain support sexual predators who want to molest your kindergarteners? John McCain … wrong for your family, wrong for America.”

  69. Obama’s biggest problem isn’t anything he has directly done himself (well beyond minor gaffes like the ‘bitter’ remark). Now that he is the nominee of the Democratic party, he is operating in the context of that party. To a lot of independents, the party comes across as representing the interest of people like the guy who said this:

    Americans much prefer a dodgy old fuck and a bimboish creationist to a Harvard-educated African American who makes them feel inferior. McCain will win handily.

    This sort of defensive self righteousness annoys the hell out of those who are not really that partisan as does the ad that snidely ridicules McCain for not using computers (and for that matter, I thought the celebrity ad was grossly stupid).

    Unfortunately, there was no perceived need to run against the party for the Democrats (despite incredibly low poll numbers for the congress) in the primary campaign as Republicans like McCain and Paul did in their run up, and I’m not sure that Obama is the sort of guy who could have pulled a Harry Truman, though ‘Give’em Hell, Barry’ has a certain ring to it;)

    Not an expert here, but I believe Obama should do more one on one interviews. He is damn effective at these as he showed earlier in the week with Stephenopolous and B’O. I was even tempted to pull the lever for the guy after his frank admission of glibness on a previous matter. He should also avoid stadiums and Whole Foods.

  70. Ironically, Obama might be personally more conservative than McCain–less likely to take big gambles, less likely to say unpopular things, less likely to leave his wife for a much younger woman.

    I’d feel more secure in the coming years with a less-impulsive leader.

    I have been wondering how Obama could run to the right of McCain on one issue–the budget deficit might be the only one he could sell convincingly…

    I doubt Obama has the stones to attack McCain’s right flank. It doesn’t seem there are many votes to gain there, but forcing McCain to talk about something other than “country”, “service”, and “a greater cause”, might change a game that McCain’s campaign is playing better right now.

  71. “I have been wondering how Obama could run to the right of McCain on one issue–the budget deficit might be the only one he could sell convincingly…”

    Only if you don’t look closely at how much new spending Obama wants to add the existing budget. The only ways that Dems want to make up budget deficits are higher taxes and defense cuts. They scream like stuck pigs if one suggests smaller budget increase than what’s expected in evry other area.

  72. Don’t forget the multitrillion-dollar carbon taxes or “permit fees” or whatever. I expect that program will work out perfectly.

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