If the Bush-McCain party wishes to convince Nevadans, and other citizens of the U.S. that it can run a campaign that isn’t merely a rehash of Lee Atwater-ism, then it might take advantage of the gaffe by Senator McCain about the number of houses he owns by ducking for cover and renouncing the 1988 style “elitist” attacks on Senator Obama. However, the label itself didn’t magically appear in the Grand Oil Party lexicon of political slurs as Reagan sought to characterize Governor Dukakis as an effete liberal who would support gun control and sympathize with African Americans. Ridding itself of this vestige of GOP campaigning may be difficult since, as Thom Hartmann correctly points out, the charge has been a staple of modern campaigning since at least the 1952 election season during which Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson was caricatured as a “pointy-headed liberal.” [BzFlsh]
Stevenson, McGovern, Mondale, and now Obama, were and are the targets of this Nixon-Atwater-Rove line of attack simply by virtue of the fact that they are Democrats, and it has been a singular feature of the GOP to immediately label its opponents as “out of touch,” or “insufficiently common” to speak to and for the American people; much less independent minded westerners. Unfortunately for the Grand Oil Party, its candidate this round fulfills the elitist role in ways that keep seeping out into the public consciousness.
Inside-the-beltway pundits and commentators may sniff dismissively that the average American voter may not “buy” the notion that Senator McCain is a member of the privileged elite because that doesn’t fit into their corporate media narrative [TP] but the Arizona Senator keeps opening the door and allowing the message to leak out.
McCain’s top economic adviser openly stated that Americans who were complaining about their economic woes were merely “whiners,” and if “they” (likely meaning the Great Unwashed) were really astute observers of all things economic they would see that the economy was fundamentally sound. Gramm’s words betrayed the economic elitism intrinsic in Republican economics. For the elite investor class of which Gramm is a charter member the economy is fine; however, for those who have adjustable rate mortgages on starter homes in an economy that is hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs – not so much.
McCain can’t define “rich” in any way the average American can comprehend. He tried desperately to argue that his tax plan wasn’t a benefit package for the rich; he wanted to keep everyone’s taxes low. So, where is the line between rich and middle class? McCain offered a “joke” saying “How about $5 million?” [TP] Things only got worse as Senator McCain tried to walk back the effect. The candidate was asked by Politico what he meant. His response was as ingenuous as it was vague: “I define rich in other ways besides income.” [TP] This response, while perhaps Biblically correct, doesn’t go anywhere near offering proof that he understands what it means to be middle class in any meaningful way.
McCain responded to a simple question “How many homes do you own?” with the worst possible answer for a candidate trying to sound like a man of the people, “I think – I’ll have my staff get to you…it’s condominiums where – I’ll have them get to you.” [Politico]
The Obama campaign seized the moment, producing a “Houses” commercial. [NYT] The GOP response was fast, but hardly drawing from a position of strength – “Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses? Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people “cling” to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who’s in touch with regular Americans?” “The reality is that Barack Obama’s plans to raise taxes and opposition to producing more energy here at home as gas prices skyrocket show he’s completely out of touch with the concerns of average Americans.” [NYT] This reply merits some parsing.
The first line is simply an ad hominem attack, which doesn’t address the issue of McCain’s sensitivity to the economic lives of middle class Americans. At best the sentence is a play on the old “pot calls kettle black” assertion. The insertion of the Rezco reference is pure Atwaterian slur by association. Notice the “arugula” reference? And, note that Senator Obama can’t be a Good Old Boy because he might be anti-gun, a resurrection of ’88 motif. The third sentence is pure distraction and diversion: “raise taxes, opposes drilling, responsible for high gas prices” talking points intended not to describe Senator McCain’s connection to the affairs of average Americans but to divert their attention from his lack thereof. If nothing more, this response illustrates that the McCain campaign doesn’t intend to defend McCain or his positions, but to go on the offensive each time he or his policy proposals are criticized – the classic Nixon-Atwater-Rove strategy. “Never apologize, never explain, just stay on the offensive.”
Therefore we can expect more Nixon-Atwater-Rove style campaigning from McCain. There will be more attempts to tie Senator Obama to so-called radicals, the Reverend Wright story having played itself out, the next round is said to tie Obama to Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground. The Pinkston Group, which worked for the Swift Boaters, will be running ads in conjunction with an astroturf outfit calling itself The American Issues Project on the subject. One of the founders of The American Issues Project is Ed Failor, Jr. who worked for Senator McCain’s Iowa campaign in 2007, earning some $50,000 for services rendered to the campaign before McCain “pared back operations.” [NYT] The bad news is that the Swift-boating continues; the good news is that members of the corporate media are now more likely to look into the backgrounds of the groups running these ads than during the 2004 election.
Senator McCain’s promise to conduct a new, clearer, cleaner, and more civil campaign quite simply can’t be considered a serious premise for his operations given his adoption of the Nixon-Atwater-Rove underpinnings as illustrated by the reply to the ‘houses’ issue. Perhaps there is little else that could so adequately explain why the Bush-Cheney campaign strategy and tactics merge so easily into the McCain campaign strategy and tactics. They not only share a cadre of associated advisers, but a philosophical camaraderie as well.