Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dave Winer Headshot

Fear Bombs of 2008

Posted: Updated:

The first time this year I heard Lakoff talk I asked how the Republics would attack Obama. Without hesitation he said three words: Barack Hussein Obama.

From his confidence I gathered that this was like asking if the 49ers would use a passing offense when Joe Montana was the quarterback. Or that the Oakland A's with Canseco and McGwire would depend on home run hitting. There's a certain logic to the Republic machine; Lakoff understands it.

A picture named chicken2.jpgIn 2004, when they ran the Swift Boat ads, claiming that John Kerry, a war hero, lacked integrity and courage and was disloyal (ads run on behalf of a draft dodger and recovering drug addict), the candidate and his campaign said they hated the ads, too, and the loophole in campaign finance laws that allowed them should be closed. But they did nothing to stop the ads or counteract them (they could have run opposing ads, for example, saying they want a campaign on real character issues, not lies). Of course they didn't do that because the Swift Boat ads were central to their strategy for winning.

2004 should have been a referendum on the war in Iraq, instead the focus was on the campaign itself. The swiftboat ads were run over and over, for free, on all the networks. They are so easily manipulated. You think this wasn't in a Republic Party plan from Day 1? If you said no, you need to go back to the school of hard knocks for a refresher course.

A picture named chicken.gifSo now we have the H-bomb, Obama's middle name, and the Republics are starting early. Sure the candidate disavows it, even though the words were introduced at his campaign rally. No one interrupted the speaker. McCain waited to apologize until after the event was over and the audience had left (they might boo him, why take a chance). Karl Rove, meeting with Republic strategists cautions against using Obama's middle name. The national Republic Party slaps the wrist of the Tennesee Republic Party for using Obama's middle name in a press release. This is an exact replay of 2004.

Michelle Obama calls this the "obvious, ultimate fear bomb."

Josh Marshall says it's "channel conflict."

Like 2004, the Republics must be betting that the Democrats won't respond, because, as in 2004, their candidate is more vulnerable to this kind of mischief than Obama is. One could point out that there is a child from a Muslim country, Bangladesh, living in the McCain house, his adopted daughter. It's true isn't it? Obama himself would say he abhors this kind of politics, and no doubt he does. The child is Asian, but she's pretty dark-skinned. I wonder what that means? It's just a question. Can't we ask questions?

What I don't get is people who support Obama, old enough to remember swiftboating, and still willing to wait to "see what happens." There's no waiting. They're using exactly the same play that worked so well in 2004.

It is early, but it is almost too late to stop the escalation.

And it seems the power to stop the escalation belongs to McCain and him alone.

Look, he's the new leader of the Republic Party. Apologies don't cut it. Is that how he's going to deal with foreign leaders? Is he going to apologize at the first sign of trouble, or does he have the courage and will to solve the problem. Either he's the Republican's leader or he's a wimp. There's no in between. He is responsible for what his party does. No amount of double-talk will absolve him from that.

The correct answer, which he did not give, is threefold:

1. Apologize first to Obama and his family, at a personal level, for allowing his podium to be used to imply that he's anything but a patriotic and loyal son of America. You want some extra credit, say you're proud that he has a chance to be president, that it says to the world that the United States is diverse, and we practice our stated philosophy of being open and Democratic. (There's nothing wrong with this. Do what the Dems have been doing, say no matter what the US is going to get an excellent leader this time around. It's time for Americans to unite as the Dems have united.)

2. Apologize to the American electorate, liberal and conservative, on behalf of some very nasty people who call themselves Republics, but don't come close to reflecting the values of the party of Lincoln. They are free to vote for whoever they want, but your campaign, which is an American campaign, will stick to the very real differences between the candidates, not lies or implicit lies, for example, that Obama is a Muslim (he's Christian).

3. The hardest part, but the one that really matters -- take control of your party and commit to us that it won't happen again. Again, if you want extra credit, bring Obama on stage with you, and Hillary Clinton, and all three of you say that this isn't the America you want, and that swiftboating will not be part of this election.

It's rare that history presents one such an opportunity as the one being presented to McCain. He could be a rat and dishonest and might just win the election, but this way of winning is not winning at all. In the end he'll hate himself for what he has become. I believe that McCain is a good enough human being to understand this. He's at a crossroads now, and which way he goes has a lot to do with which way the country goes.

PS: A frequently asked question -- why do you call McCain's party "The Republic Party?" It's my small way to remind members of his party that the correct name of their leading opposition is the Democratic Party. That so many Republicans trash the name of their opponent, esp ones like McCain who claim to be honorable people, says that well, they have no honor. I noticed that McCain started doing it shortly after he became the presumptive nominee. I think Democrats and their supporters (like myself) have to get used to balancing this out, even though it may be embarrassing to appear so illiterate.