Let’s see, at the beginning of this week, the talk about the Obama presidential campaign was… oh, yes, the "palpable lack of any consistent lines of attack" against John McCain.
That problem seems to have resolved itself somewhat quickly, hasn’t it? (Although the assist from McCain himself was, admittedly, quite unexpected.)
It seems like a foregone conclusion already that Mr. Double-Talk Express has locked up this election year’s "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it" prize for reinforcing his opponent’s narrative with his clumsy attempt to avoid admitting how many homes he and his wife own (and thus, by implication, how jaw-droppingly wealthy they are).
But the problems McCain has created for himself go beyond inadvertently handing the "country club economics" theme to Obama for the next three months. For one thing, living up to the party-of-the-rich stereotype of Republicans damages his efforts to (re)paint himself as a maverick and makes it far easier for Democrats to tie him to the generic unfavorable image of the GOP.
Even worse, his evasion of the number-of-homes question comes across as clueless and dishonest at the the same time, a deadly combination. When Dems chastise McCain as "out of touch" for his response, it resonates not just in terms of his lack of empathy for ordinary Americans’ financial situations, but also as having a faulty moral compass.
McCain’s slipperiness in answering such a straightforward inquiry, combined with the wealth he was trying to hide, makes him hard for casual voters to identify with, in the sense expressed so vividly by Montana governor Brian Schweitzer three years ago:
They’ve got to know you; they’ve got to know that you believe in what you’re saying. And that’s probably more important when people vote than your policies. . . . They [need to] look up there and say, "That guy’s a straight shooter. If I wasn’t so busy bowling and working and fishing, and if I had time to spend on these issues, I bet I’d come to the same conclusions that that guy would."
That’s why "… is out of touch" and "… just doesn’t get it" can be such devastating political attacks. Keeping Democratic candidates from achieving this kind of identification with voters is why Republicans invariably launch such blistering personal assaults, with negative ads seeking to make them figures of ridicule and portray them as weird, morally suspect freaks. All of a sudden, though, now it’s McCain who seems abnormal and inauthentic. (That reporters and pundits are starting to recognize the McCain team’s "But he was a POW!" defense as canned shtick doesn’t help.)
And the hits may keep coming. Via Attackerman (who’s been blogging up a storm all day today on the subject), the reports of a potential U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement has given the Obama campaign the opportunity to open a second front on this subject:
Senator McCain has stubbornly focused on maintaining an indefinite U.S presence in Iraq, but events have made his bluster and record increasingly out of touch with reality.
I’ve been pleading for years to have Democrats to connect on this gut level with low-information voters by ignoring the GOP’s pet frame of "strong versus weak" in favor of contrasting common sense and being reality-based with Republicans’ empty bluster. To John McCain’s regret, that moment may have come.