11/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Going Negative

The right is now convinced that they will lose on economic issues, lose on social issues, and lose on foreign policy. At best Sarah Palin mobilizes the base. The focus now will be going negative. Not from the 527s, but from McCain and Palin directly. It will be interesting so see how far the McCain camp will go down this path. McCain has been running negative ads, but will he go hard negative in a personal way against Obama on Tuesday?

McCain seems to have immense contempt for Obama, building perhaps upon longstanding animosities.

Sarah Palin appears to relish the role of the attacker, not only in this campaign, but in ever campaign and political job she has held. It's part of her political DNA.

The Republicans' negative attacks on character won't be on Obama's apparently wholesome marriage, an awkward line of attack for McCain, and perhaps for Sarah Palin also. It will focus on Obama associations with three people, Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko and William Ayers. This is pretty much the last McCain Hail Mary.

The Wright matter seems to have been already beaten to death, and I doubt there is much new mileage in that. Who doesn't already know more than they want about the Trinity church? And unless Rezko newly alleges that Obama has promised favors for cash, something that seems unlikely on its face, I don't see that much there either. The Ayers story is the one that is the more transparent smear. There just isn't much of a story, except that the Nobama crowd is making a lot of noise. But since "make something out of nothing" smears probably put Bush 1 in the White House and re-elected Bush 2, it continues to excite the Republican base, and well connected party hacks who will have power if McCain wins. Politics is a contact sport, says the McCain campaign, and we will probably see plenty of contact from here out.

How will or should the Obama camp respond? So far Obama has shown a steady hand in dealing with one crisis after another, but he has gone through some tough patches. With the election now less than a month away, it seems important to get it right. I personally would emphasize the lateness of the attacks, and that it is a character flaw to offer exaggerated and unsupported allegations against your opponent.

Sarah Palin in particular might be reminded that her "aren't I cute" routines and the slashing smears, when put together, have a phony element. Like others I was struck by the way her seemingly genuine and touching "may I call you Joe" was a calculated set-up for "say it ain't so Joe" in the debate. The attack dog can be a snake, and I think someone has to make that point. Ok, she doesn't know much, but she knows enough to know that her own personal fairy tale is based upon exaggerations and lies (the Bridge to Nowhere, reasons for firing the head trooper, taking a cut in pay as Mayor, trade missions with Russia, etc.). Her attacks on Obama are lies and exaggerations and she knows they are lies and exaggerations, but she continues to lie and exaggerate. If she continues to deliver negative attacks on Obama, Biden should step up.

But Obama may have to step up too, and challenge McCain in the debates about the tone of the McCain campaign attacks. I would ask John McCain, do you think you can win this campaign without making exaggerated and untrue attacks on my character? Do you think you can win on the issues? And let him respond. I doubt that McCain is deeply comfortable with his own campaign. He has a short fuse when this topic is raised in interviews.

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