I’m beginning to get a bad feeling about Campaign ’08. A nasty, sinking feeling that we’re a’fixin’ to spend the next three months obliterating ever record for dirty, dishonest, unethical, immoral electioneering in the history of American politics.
I don’t say this casually. I remember the Bush I “Willie Horton” ad. I lived through multiple Jesse Helms campaigns in North Carolina, including the one with the epic “Hands” ad. And the shit that Karl Rove’s pack of soulless jackals pulled in 2004 amazed even my cynical sensibilities.
As bad as Bush’s campaign four years ago was, though, McCain looks determined to beat it. After initially pledging to run a clean, respectful campaign, he’s now hired some key members of the Bush team and the early results suggest that we’re in for some seriously interesting commercial breaks between now and Election Day.
- Who’s to blame for rising gas prices? Obama! (I guess I should be a little relived that for the first time since the early ’90s the answer isn’t “The Clintons.)
- Obama’s a tax-raising, foreign-oil-mongering celebrity, just like Britney and Paris!
- His “Troops” ad is a tour de force of misdirection – to the point where there’s some controversy over whether McCain had an alternate attack ready to go if Obama had visited the troops.
- In an ad entitled “The One,” McCain dog-whistles the End Times crowd in ways that make me wish he’d just gone ahead and quoted Revelation, superimposed a flashing 666 on Barack’s forehead and digitally turned the Valley of Megiddo into a river of blood.
Sweet fancy square-dancing Jesus. Never mind that McCain himself knows that drilling anywhere and everywhere will have no impact on oil prices. Never mind that his Britney/Paris cheap shot is insanely stupid on its face, McCain has taken campaign contributions from … wait for it … the Hiltons. And so on. Never mind, bitches. This is going to be a results-oriented campaign, by god, and ethics exist so losers can feel better as they cry themselves to sleep at night.
I first called out the Bob Dolization of John McCain over two years ago, but I’m afraid I underestimated the degree to which the man was willing to whore himself. It’s now clear that there’s just about nothing he won’t do or say to win, and while some polls show him dead even with Obama, the desperation of his lies seem fated to catch up to him. Maybe that’s the triumph of hope over experience – we’ll know in November – but the lengths to which he’s reaching at present seem so artless and transparent that it’s hard to imagine anyone with an IQ in excess of about 80 being able to watch these ads without giggling.
When the Bushies swiftboated Kerry, it came off as the underhanded meanness of a hired thug who enjoys his job just a little too much. It was dirty, it was vile, it was as dishonest as the night was long, but it was professional and it was likely to work if it wasn’t handled perfectly. With the McCain campaign, though, the same strategy comes off as a limp and unsophisticated me-too gambit, like the not-cool kid on the playground trying to imitate the cool bully. He’s inauthentic. He’s fake. He’s one of those insecure types who compensates by trying too hard to tell everybody what they want to hear.
Put another way, Bush succeeded because he knew people were stupid. McCain is going to fail because he doesn’t know that they aren’t that stupid.
Or maybe he won’t fail because, well, maybe they are that stupid. PT Barnum said nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public, and just recently I noted that nobody ever got elected by pandering to smart people. A lot depends (did I say a lot? Everything depends) on Obama’s response. So far he’s stayed above the silliness, deftly laughing off the “same old politics” and doing so in a way that emphasizes the general geezerness of crusty old Grampa Johnny. At times when I watch Obama playing this game I can’t help but imagine McCain standing on the porch and impotently shaking his cane at all those damned kids Twittering on his lawn.
Of course, this is just me, and it’s been a long time since I was dumb enough to think my take reflected the perceptions of the average voter. There are multiple traps here and the Bush/McCain strategists know it.
- The swiftboating is gonna keep on coming and one of the attacks might hit paydirt.
- If Obama engages too deeply he gets sucked into the mud, which is one place he can’t win.
- If he doesn’t engage deeply enough, he risks getting Kerryed.
- If he goes negative himself, he becomes just another mud-slinger, and it won’t matter if every word of every ad is gospel fact because the public mind, such as it is, can’t distinguish on veracity, only the “balanced” media coverage that will play the story out as “Obama goes negative.”
And the hardcore racist stuff hasn’t even started to fly yet. It will, though. A good number of Americans aren’t comfortable with the idea of a nigra in the White House, and we should understand that many of them will tell the pollsters that they’re voting for Obama because they don’t want to look racist. We’ll have to check back after the election to see what the Jesse Helms Memorial Kloset Klansman Kwotient winds up being, but let’s call it 5% for the moment.
In short, there’s plenty of time left and a lot can still go wrong for the Gentleman from Illinois Barack HITLER Obama. The only thing that’s for certain is this: no matter how great your tolerance for dishonesty is, it’s not high enough.