With only a few days to go until the election,the Republicans have failed to learn the lessons of Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Barack Obama. Instead of presenting positive arguments to vote for John McCain they have concentrated on a succession of smears which have only backfired against them. After the 2004 election, when John Kerry was defeated by the false claims of the Swift Boat Liars and other dishonest smears, Mark Halperin and John Harris predicted in The Way to Win that the winner of the 2008 election would be the candidate who could best take advantage of what they described as the freak show. This year McCain has tried to take advantage of the freak show to smear Obama, and in each case Obama was able to take the narrative beyond such attacks and come out ahead.
Like Clinton, Republicans tried to demonize Obama by distorting his associations with others. The result was to reduce their own support by resorting to such McCarthyist tactics as most realized that these attacks represent a direct assault on a free society. An objective look at the associations of McCain and Obama would show far more examples of McCain associating with extremists (such as here, here, here,and here). Obama wisely avoided this line of attack and stuck with more meaningful issues.
Republicans distorted Obama’s comments on wealth to falsely claim he supported redistribution of wealth, but most Americans backed Obama’s desire to reduce income disparity and Republican policies which unfairly benefit the ultra-wealthy. Obama also reduced the effect of this attack by heavily advertising on this issue, allowing most voters to hear that Obama would spread the wealth around by reducing taxes on the middle class and small business, and by growing the economy for all, as opposed to any socialistic ideas.
Today there is yet another weak line of attack coming from the right wing noise machine regarding Barack Obama’s aunt who is living in the country illegally. Zachary Roth tracked the story noting, “First the Murdoch-owned Times of London reported Thursday that Obama’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango, is living in a Boston public-housing complex. It’s unclear how the paper learned of the woman’s presence in the U.S.” From there he described how it was picked up by other portions of the media and blogosphere in the right wing echo chamber.
Once the right wing noise machine spread this sufficiently it was picked up by the mainstream media, beginning with AP, along with an interesting note regarding how the information was obtained:
Information about the deportation case was disclosed and confirmed by two separate sources, one of them a federal law enforcement official. The information they made available is known to officials in the federal government, but the AP could not establish whether anyone at a political level in the Bush administration or in the McCain campaign had been involved in its release.
Josh Marshall adds:
That’s about as transparent a red flag as an outfit like the AP is usually willing to give. And there you have it. Quite likely working in concert with the McCain campaign, a Bush administration official is leaking details on an immigration case to try to help McCain three days before the election. It’s shades of Bush I’s riffling through Bill Clinton’s passport files just before the 1992 election in a desperate last minute gambit as they were swirling down the drain.
It is tactics such as this, along with the McCarthyist attacks on Obama’s past associations and claims of supporting socialism, which provide the primary reason why I would vote for Obama regardless of disagreements on some issues. Unlike the majority of plumbers and others the Republicans are trying to scare, I’m in the small minority who will wind up paying more in taxes under Obama’s tax plan than McCain’s. Paying even an extra $1000 a year, which what the difference would amount to under their current plans except for the ultra-wealthy, is worth paying if this means removing people from government who behave as if they running a banana republic, and who openly disparage freedom of speech and association.
Current Republican tactics are not only unethical (and in this case possibly illegal) but are not even very likely to help them. Marc Ambinder points out:
Barack Obama’s long-lost aunt, who is living in poverty, might be deported for being in the country illegally…and this is supposed to make people not want to vote for Barack Obama?
Republicans think anti-immigrant forces are going to be rallied by attacking a middle aged woman in her fifties? This is what’s going to swing independents back to McCain? Reminding people (a) of an actual human face on the receiving end of anti-immigration policies and (b) that the Democratic candidate is personally affected by a complicated issue facing many American families?
And assuming voters _are_ motivated by the connection, they’re going to turn to McCain as their anti-immigrant savior?