The Republicans' line of attack against Barack Obama is obvious today: taxes.
But exactly what kind of attack they mean to mount against the Illinois Democrat on the issue is less clear. Is he a shifty poll-watcher who moderates his positions in order to reflect the public's will, or a radical bent on taxing poor families into the dirt no matter what?
Reporters could see evidence of each attack, which taken in tandem appear contradictory, in their inboxes Friday morning.
First, Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant sent reporters a few press clippings with the subject line "Obama's Shifting Tax Rhetoric." The "shifts" in question were all moderate in nature. Conant's email quoted U.S News and World Report's analysis that Obama is "changing his plan because the polls are close and the issue was hurting him." The email goes on to cite several claims that Obama's new details on tax policy are studiously arranged so as not to affect investment earnings or payroll taxes for middle class Americans.
Conant also cited the Tax Foundation's Robert Carroll, who says that Obama's proposed 20 percent rate on capital gains and dividends "is below the 25 percent and 28 percent that have previously been reported." (Those previous reports may have been faulty, since Obama's camp merely said that 28 percent was the highest they would ever consider going.)
The Tax Policy Center also hit Obama for electing to delay enactment of his proposed Social Security plan (which involves raising the payroll cap on high earners) for ten years, another lower-tax move in the short run. Finally, a strategist at BMO Capital reacted to yesterday's Wall Street Journal op-ed by two Obama advisers as representing "a path that Obama's taking which takes him back more towards the middle," and closer to McCain.
All of which is fair enough, as far as it goes. Obama did make news by coming out with a less aggressive tax plan than earlier hints may have led experts to expect. But then how to explain the latest ad to come out of McCain's media shop, which was announced approximately 45 minutes after Conant's email went out? Entitled "Taxman," it portrays Obama as a ruthless tax-raiser who endangers a pair of middle class parents, crunching numbers while grasping their children.
The McCain campaign's "fact sheet" for the ad cites mainly months-old media reports examining Obama's thinking on taxes at the time, some of which are in direct contradiction with the news made yesterday -- that is to say, Obama's less-sweeping "moderate" or "centrist" moves.
McCain wants it both ways on Obama's tax plan. Let's see if the press lets him have his way, or if they demand that Republicans choose an intellectually consistent line of attack.
Script For "Taxman" (TV :30)
ANNCR: Celebrity? Yes. Ready to lead? No.
Obama's new taxes could break your family budget.
The press warns the "taxman cometh".
Obama's taxes mean "higher prices at the pump".
Obama's taxes a "recipe for economic disaster".
Higher taxes. Higher gas prices. Economic disaster.
That's the real Obama.
JOHN MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approved this message.
UPDATE: The Obama campaign has issued a response to "Taxman" with a response and a new web video.
"This ad is just more of the same old false and discredited attacks that Senator McCain knows aren't true. Senator McCain will say or do anything to hide the truth: while Obama will cut taxes for the middle class, McCain will give a billion dollars in new tax breaks to America's eight largest corporations, while his plan provides no direct relief for more than 100 million American Families. And despite his rhetoric, he's refusing to support the bipartisan Senate proposal to expand production and invest in renewable energy because he wants to protect tax breaks for oil companies. We've seen what happens when we put the oil companies and their lobbyists ahead of working families, and that's exactly what Americans want to change in this election," said Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan.
Here's the "fact check" web video: