Gergen: McCain Using Code Words To Attack Obama As "Uppity"

08/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

On Sunday, longtime Washington hand David Gergen took umbrage with John McCain's recent attack ads, charging that the Senator was using coded messaging to paint Barack Obama as "outside the mainstream" and "uppity."

"There has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other, 'he's not one of us,'" said Gergen, who has worked with White Houses, both Republican and Democrat, from Nixon to Clinton. "I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it, but it's the subtext of this campaign. Everybody knows that. There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you, when you see this Charlton Heston ad, 'The One,' that's code for, 'he's uppity, he ought to stay in his place.' Everybody gets that who is from a southern background. We all understand that. When McCain comes out and starts talking about affirmative action, 'I'm against quotas,' we get what that's about."

At the same time Gergen was calling out the Arizona Republican on ABC's This Week, Mike Murphy, McCain's campaign manager during the 2000 Republican primary, was describing the Senator's recent spot comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton as "clumsy, juvenile, and a mistake."

"I think it was a dumb ad," said Murphy, during an appearance on Meet The Press. "Not because it asked the question, 'is Barack Obama ready for the job?' That's a very legitimate criticism, and I think Barack Obama made it a little bit worse by his stumbling response later. The problem is that McCain -- McCain's strategy has to hinge, in my view, on one thing: how does a Republican survive in October and November a huge anti-Republican vote? Luckily for the party, McCain is a different kind of Republican. So everything in the campaign ought to build toward that case. And when if you get off into the small juvenile stuff about Britney Spears, I think you distract from that."

Gergen and Murphy's criticism of the McCain ad capped off a several day period in which the suitability of using Spears and Hilton in a presidential campaign was hotly debated. Surrogates to the Arizona Republican, including Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Lindsay Graham (both appearing on separate Sunday shows) said the advertisement was legitimate as it called into question Obama's readiness for the White House. Earlier in the week, another former McCain campaign manager, John Weaver, described the ad as "childish" and wondered aloud if it diminished his stature.

The Senator's own mother, Roberta McCain, while acknowledging that she had not seen the Britney spot, called the idea "stupid." And Kathy Hilton, Paris' mother, took to the Huffington Post Sunday morning to deride McCain from dragging down the intellectual thrust of the campaign.

"It is a complete waste of the money John McCain's contributors have donated to his campaign. It is a complete waste of the country's time and attention at the very moment when millions of people are losing their homes and their jobs. And it is a completely frivolous way to choose the next President of the United States."