Why McCain’s personal attacks on Obama may not work

I’ve been talking with Chris about whether we should be worried or not about McCain’s ongoing personal attacks on Obama. (McCain’s latest is an ad comparing Obama to the Messiah, which might cause some problems with Christians who don’t appreciate McCain using God in a TV ad). And there are a few significant differences between the Swift Boating of John Kerry and McCain’s sleazy attacks the past week or so.

George Bush had nothing to do with the Swift Boaters (at least putatively) – they were an outside group he was able to disavow any connection to. John McCain, on the other hand, has heartily endorsed the ongoing attacks against Obama, and is actually coordinating them – they’re McCain’s own statements and McCain’s own ads. I think this matters for a number of reasons.

First, the degree to which the media, and the public, reject the ads and attacks as too negative and inappropriate, while the Swift Boaters’ tactics wouldn’t necessarily taint George Bush, John McCain will take full blame or credit for his attacks.

Second, the media has been far more critical of McCain’s recent attacks than they were the Swift Boaters. The media treated the Swift Boat attacks as quite possibly true and worthy of further, and never-ending discussion. And while the media is still rebroadcasting McCain’s sleazy attacks against Obama, they’re making clear that the attacks are desperate, inaccurate, and kind of sleazy.

Third, George Bush’s forté wasn’t his status as a “maverick” who was above politics, someone who would never embrace the nasty, sleazy politics that seems to have engulfed Washington. McCain isn’t just risking some bad press, he’s risking his signature definition of self as someone different and better than traditional politicians and politics.

Finally, the country isn’t in the same place it was four years ago. In 2004, we were still suffering from the September 11th effect – people were willing to forgive a lot because they were scared to death. Now people are just pissed. While McCain may still be able to tar Obama with whatever desperate absurdity he comes up with next, I think there’s a reason that Karl Rove and his minions – that George Bush himself – are no longer the stars they once were. People have changed, the country has moved on. And while negative campaigning will never lose its potential punch, I just don’t get the sense that McCain is handling this very well. It seems to be blowing up in his face. And that was not the impression any of us had during the Swift Boating of John Kerry.


CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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