Mock, disparage, ridicule, distort.
Mock, disparage, ridicule, distort.
As election strategy formulas go, this one really isn't complicated or overly sophisticated. Even the candidate can probably remember it, and it doesn't matter if he gets any of the elements out of order. The McCain machine is intent on tearing down Barack Obama and everything he says. New ideas? Fahgeddabouddit. Knowing that they cannot compete in this particular marketplace, the Republicans have effectively conceded the intellectual arena to Obama, secure in the knowledge that they have the moron vote locked up.
You think I'm kidding? I recently was at a party on the New Jersey shore with an acquaintance who admits that he gets all his information from Rush Limbaugh. What passed for a discussion gave me a headache. The economy is heading south? Obama is a Communist. The energy crisis? Obama is a dangerous radical. The Iraq war? Obama is a Moslem. Improve our standing in the world? Obama is nothing but a Paris-Hilton-like celebrity-wannabe. And by the way, an "important" book "with 700 footnotes" is about to be published that will expose Obama as a Communist, radical, Moslem, Paris-Hilton-like celebrity-wannabe.
Somewhere in the babble I recognized familiar noises, even if their source that evening couldn't quite articulate them as eloquently as the McCain spokespersons who promote these very same themes on talk show after talk show. It seems that Limbaugh and the likes of erstwhile Bush White House official Brad Blakeman get the identical talking points from their propaganda central.
That's not surprising. It's obvious that Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Blakeman, et al., are all wired into the Republican message of the day. And just to make sure that the campaign remains mired in the gutter, the very graphomanic reactionary who twisted and distorted John Kerry's military record in 2004 has now spewn out all the tired (and false) GOP canards in the form of a book that accuses Obama of being a Communist, a radical, and a Moslem (my New Jersey acquaintance may be disappointed to discover that the book apparently came out too late to incorporate the GOP's "Paris-Hilton-like celebrity-wannabe" theme.) And by some strange coincidence, the name of this book (which I will not use here so as not to give it or its author any free publicity) is the same as the not very clever term Blakeman keeps using to disparage Senator Obama. "I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"
Let Obama present any complex policy proposal and the Republicans will trivialize it to death. Let Obama show any sign of bipartisanship and the Republicans will scream flip-flop even if the position is one Obama has espoused for months if not years. Swift-boating worked four years ago, so the Republicans, led by John McCain, say over and over again that Obama "would lose a war to win an election," implying at the very least an unpatriotic if not treasonous mindset. Just think of the outrage if any responsible Democrat would have responded with the equally offensive and inappropriate accusation that McCain would be prepared to sacrifice the lives of thousands of GIs to win the presidency. No one would think of challenging the patriotism of a war hero, which gives the war hero and his posse license to question the patriotism of those who do not agree with them and the Bush administration on how to extricate ourselves from Iraq.
A perfect example of the Republican playbook was the McCain camp's blatant exploitation of the Holocaust during Barack Obama's recent visit to Israel. Following his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, Obama in the museum's guest book: "At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man's potential for great evil but also our capacity to rise from tragedy and remake our world. Let our children come here and know this history so they can add their voices to proclaim 'never again.' And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed like us and who have become symbols of the human spirit."
You'd think that no one, but no one, could take issue with these sentiments. But no. Leave it to the McCain PR hacks to again -- I emphasize, again -- exploit the Holocaust in a desperate attempt to score cheap political points. According to the Republican spin doctors, the anti-genocide views Obama expressed at Yad Vashem are somehow inconsistent with his desire to end the Iraq war.
But then, what should we expect from the GOP attack machine who jumped all over Obama less than two months earlier when he misspoke and referred to Auschwitz rather than a sub-camp of Buchenwald as the Nazi concentration camp his great uncle had helped to liberate at the end of World War II.
Please note that no Democrat sought to criticize McCain when he visited Yad Vashem in May, or when he wrote "I am deeply moved. Never again. John McCain" in the same guest book. Specifically, no one suggested that Senator McCain's "Never again" comment in the Yad Vashem guest book should be viewed in the context of the C grade he received from the Genocide Intervention Network for his legislative stance on the Darfur genocide. Barack Obama, meanwhile, received an A from the same group. According to the Genocide Intervention Network, Obama's rating was "for supporting and voting in favor of all significant Darfur legislation" and taking "crucial action to end the genocide in Darfur." McCain's mediocre rating, again according to the Genocide Intervention Network, was due to his "not actively supporting Darfur-related legislation and failing to consistently champion the cause. Co-sponsoring one or two resolutions or providing a few favorable votes is not enough. Elected officials must continually support efforts to end the genocide in Darfur."
I don't believe for a moment that exposing the McCain camp's "mock, disparage, ridicule, distort" tactics will get the Karl Rove clones to rethink their scorched earth agenda. But perhaps this year, unlike 2000 and 2004, they won't get away with it. And perhaps at least once in a while when the Republicans play this card between now and November 4, someone will channel Ronald Reagan, wag a finger at them, and tell them, "There you go again."
Menachem Rosensaft is a lawyer in New York City.