THE BLOG
08/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For Obama, The Latest News Is Not Good

John McCain's current ads and comments on Obama are false, ridiculous and beneath contempt. But they are working. The public is lapping up McCain's garbage. And Obama better do something to change that if he wants to be the next president.

McCain's success in taking the low road is reflected in the two big national tracking polls -- by Gallup and Rasmussen -- that canvass approximately 1,000 people every day and report a three-day moving average of results. Gallup's latest results show that, as of Friday, the race has become a dead heat, with Obama and McCain each with 44 per cent of the vote. Rasmussen's latest surveys show Obama ahead by a single point, 47 to 46. That means Obama has lost virtually the entire lead he gained on his trip abroad.

It was a lead gained from events like his speech in Berlin, which attracted a crowd of 200,000 and, more important, his visit to Iraq which ended with Prime Minister Maliki essentially agreeing with Obama's timetable to get all U.S. combat troops out by 2010 -- something McCain and Bush had found unthinkable. Obama's overseas triumphs were reflected in both tracking polls in their results from July 24-26. Gallup's poll of registered voters showed Obama ahead of McCain by 9 percentage points, 49 to 40. And Rasmussen's sample of likely voters, showed Obama ahead by 6 points, 49 to 43. Both results were beyond the polls' margin of error of plus or minus two points. Now that lead is all but gone. Gone because of a smear campaign.

In case you need reminding, McCain, the proprietor of the "Straight Talk Express," had promised something very different -- a civil campaign. Instead we're getting little but negatives, lies and distortions. John Heileman offers an excellent summary of the McCain's campaign's tactics in the current New York magazine:

First, its new slogan: "Country first," with its inverse insinuation that Obama puts something else (i.e., his own ambition) ahead of the nation. Second, McCain's accusation that Obama "would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign." Third, the McCain ad "Troops," which claims that Obama, while in Germany, "made time to go the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops--seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." And, finally, the ad "Celeb," with its intercut images of Obama in Berlin, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears.

That last is especially ridiculous. In recent days, Obama has met with such foreign leaders as France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Jordan's King Abdullah and half a dozen others. But McCain's ad associates him instead with Paris and Britney. And McCain's campaign is spending $140,000 a day continuing to run it.

After the changes in the polls, the next most disturbing thing for Obama's supporters is Rasmussen's finding that 19 per cent of white Democrats say they'll vote for McCain. That's just one of the latest pieces of evidence that race is a big, big factor in this election. Obama may have wished it otherwise. But he gave McCain an opening when he predicted that Republicans would try to scare people by reminding them he "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills." Obama's campaign has now acknowledged what it earlier denied, that the candidate was talking about race when he said that. Even before that acknowledgment, the McCain campaign accused Obama of playing "the race card." Others charge it is McCain who's playing that card. Not including Obama, who accuses McCain's campaign of cynicism but not racism. But Heileman sees racism in the McCain ad that accuses Obama of selfish motives in failing to visit wounded troops overseas. That ad:

... features footage of Obama sinking a three-pointer in Kuwait, despite the fact that the shot took place at a military base, which undermines the ad's argument. But the spot's deeper aim is to foster an unconscious simile: Obama as a blinged-up, camera-hungry, NBA shooting guard, Allen Iverson with a Harvard Law degree. Am I reaching? Consider this: Would the ad have featured footage of Obama on a golf course draining a hole-in-one? "No, it wouldn't," laughs a GOP media savant. "The racial angle is the first thing I thought of when I saw that ad. It fits into the celebrity stuff, too."

I'm not as sure as Heileman that the picture of Obama shooting a basket proves the McCain campaign's racism, but the story it tells is a lie. Furthermore, David Kiley, a senior correspondent for Business Week writes that, according to a Republican campaign strategist, McCain had "an ad script ready to go if Obama had visited the wounded troops" saying that Obama was using them "as campaign props. So no matter which way Obama turned, McCain had an Obama bashing ad ready to launch."

Obama has his work cut out for him. He must find a way to combat McCain's so far successful campaign of character assassination or risk losing the election. This is a year the Democrats should win everything, after eight years of the disasters Republicans have foisted on this country and the world. But remember what happened to John Kerry, a war hero who earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, smeared and beaten by a candidate who used political pull to duck that war and then disappeared for a year instead of putting in his required reserve time; with a runningmate who got five deferments, the last one by hiding in his wife's bed and getting her pregnant. In politics as elsewhere in life, truth, justice and virtue too often don't triumph. Neither will Obama if he doesn't figure out how to combat McCain's gutter campaign.

Update: I've just learned that I'm among the victims of still another McCain lie: that Obama injected race into the campaign by predicting that Republicans would try to scare people by reminding them that he "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills." In fact, that turns out to be a fact rather than a forecast. As Ben Smith reported in Politico on Aug. 1, a McCain ad back in June showed Obama's face replacing Ben Franklin's on a hundred dollar bill.