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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Biden needs to attack McCain's character

Pundits at the Democratic National Convention have been criticizing the Obama campaign all this week for failing to counter John McCain's character attacks against Obama.

James Carville and Paul Begala, who were President Clinton's top consultants, keep saying attack, attack, attack. Carville and Begala are jumping the gun. The real test of the tickets' ability to counter McCain's negative campaigning comes tonight, when Joe Biden gives his acceptance speech for the vice presidential nomination.

Attacking wasn't an appropriate theme for Monday, the opening night of the convention. As Andrew Feiler writes in his diary from the convention on Fresh Loaf, turning Michelle Obama into the "attack-dog-in-chief" would have been a mistake. In her speech Monday, she came across as a warm, bright and impressive mother and professional with her own inspiring all-American story. That may help to inoculate her from further the borderline racist characterizations of her by Fox and others as an angry black woman.

Last night, a lot the Dem speakers — people like Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland — did hammer McCain. I don't know about you, but I found their criticisms both shrill and boring. They focused on policy differences and on repeatedly labeling McCain (however fairly) a Bush clone without really making a convincing case of it.

To have an impact, the attacks on McCain have to get personal: They need to focus on breaking down the reputation he's built for years as a hero-maverick. Otherwise any attack against him gets met in the popular mind with, "Yeah, but he was a POW and he bucked his own party."

How does one do this? Just point to so many questionable elements about McCain's character and judgment that stand in direct contradiction of that hero-maverick image. Among them: McCain's very dubious tendency to suggest war at the slightest provocation (look where that's gotten us); his deep involvement in the Keating 5 scandal; and mostly his shameful approach to this campaign, in which he — among other things — has essentially (and personally) accused Obama of treason. If the Obama campaign puts a view chinks in that suit of armor, they can start to do real damage.

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