I think there are genuine issues about age that deserve a thoughtful exploration. Certainly Reagan seemed to me, by his second term, to have signs of memory problems, and it’s very much worth asking whether that’s a risk we ought to run. That said, I think that a Presidential campaign is just not going to produce any such thoughtful exploration of the issues. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that Obama raises them in the most thoughtful, nuanced way possible, that would be wholly lost.
What would not be lost is the thought: Obama is beating up on McCain. Also, the thought: this is a new kind of politics?
At Lawyers, Guns, and Money, something very similar:
Anyone who thought that Obama’s promise to bring a new kind of politics to the 2008 campaign meant a passive, ‘sweetness and light’ approach received a rude awakening as he repeatedly laid into McCain’s inconsistent positions and ill-thought out campaign promises, particularly on the economy…
In fairness, Hilzoy was discussing the age issue (and comments here– AMAZING! Say her name and she appears!), something the Obama campaign has not brought up, and should not, as there is no need to raise that as an issue. The age issue will raise itself, as it already has in the past few days with McCain’s inability to remember what he has said in a speech and his inability to remember who leads Germany. Again, the age issue will raise itself every time the public sees John McCain standing next to Barack Obama and listens to their contrasting speeches. In the Simpsons, the writers do not need to put the words “Old and out of touch” in cartoon graphics with an arrow pointing at Abe Simpson for viewers to get the message. In Grumpy Old Men, Burgess Meredith’s character was not perceived as old because he wore t-shirts that said “I am as old as dirt.” The same will be the case in the general election. Democrats do not need to point out John McCain is old- he will do that plenty well himself. Democrats would be wise to remember that, as it would be the “same old” kind of politics that Hilzoy is warning us about.
Having said that, I certainly hope that liberals and Democrats do not try to rein in the Obama campaign, because what happened yesterday in North Carolina was a masterpiece of political theater, and it was a devastating critique of not only the Bush administration but the potential third Bush administration as carried out by John McCain. As to it being a “new” kind of politics, let me highlight one section of the speech, the most “full-throated” portion, if you will:
As I’ve said before, John McCain is an American hero whose military service we honor. He can also legitimately tout moments of independents from his party, and on some issues, such as earmark reform and climate change, he and I share goals, even if we may differ on how to get there.
But when it comes to the economy, John McCain and I have a fundamentally different vision of where to take the country. Because for all his talk of independence, the centerpiece of his economic plan amounts to a full-throated endorsement of George Bush’s policies. He says we’ve made “great progress” in our economy these past eight years. He calls himself a fiscal conservative and on the campaign trail he’s passionate critic of government spending, and yet he has no problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for big corporations and a permanent occupation of Iraq – policies that have left our children with a mountain of debt.
George Bush’s policies have taken us from a projected $5.6 trillion dollar surplus at the end of the Clinton Administration to massive deficits and nearly four trillion dollars in new debt today. We were promised a fiscal conservative. Instead, we got the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history. And now John McCain wants to give us another. Well we’ve been there once, and we’re not going back. It’s time to move this country forward.
That is not a personal attack. That is not the same old Washington blame game. That is a laying out of facts from the Democratic perspective, a necessary contrast and much needed attempt to define the John McCain economic policy. Another snippet:
John McCain takes great pride in saying that he’s a fiscal conservative, and he’s already signaled that he will try to define me with the same old tax-and-spend label that his side has been throwing around for decades. But let’s look at the facts.
John McCain once said that he couldn’t vote for the Bush tax breaks in good conscience because they were too skewed to the wealthiest Americans. Later, he said it was irresponsible to cut taxes during a time of war because we simply couldn’t afford them. Well, nothing’s changed about the war, but something’s certainly changed about John McCain, because these same Bush tax cuts are now his central economic policy. Not only that, but he is now calling for a new round of tax giveaways that are twice as expensive as the original Bush plan and nearly twice as regressive. His policy will spend nearly $2 trillion on tax breaks for corporations, including $1.2 billion for Exxon alone, a company that just recorded the highest profits in history.
Again, that is not a personal attack. That is simply a recitation of facts, and a framing that does not endear the Republican party with the average voter. One more piece:
Now, contrary to what John McCain may say, every single proposal that I’ve made in this campaign is paid for – because I believe in pay-as-you-go. Senator McCain is right that there’s waste in government, and I intend to root it out as President. But his suggestion that the earmark reforms that we’re both interested in implementing will somehow make up for his enormous tax giveaway indicates that John McCain was right when he said that he doesn’t understand the economy as well as he should. Either that or he’s hoping you just won’t notice. Whatever it is, it’s not the kind of change we need in Washington right now.
Even as someone who does not agree with every Obama campaign economic policy (windfall taxes, for example), this is a new kind of politics, at least for Democrats. A Democrat forcefully engaging the Republican party, rather than mincing words, cowering in the corner and allowing the fringe to define him, is a new kind of politics.
And it is one you should embrace. Forcefully and confidently defining yourself and what you believe in, while defining your opponent and his ideas is not “dirty politics,” it is politics. Obama did not launch into numerous attacks on John McCain the person, he didn’t raise questions as to whether McCain is in league with the terrorists, he attacked McCain on the issues, over his ideas and his policies. Again, that is not dirty politics, although it is a “new kind” of politics for a party that too often has let the opponent frame the debate with the esoteric hope that “the people are smarter than that” and “will see through the Republican attacks.” Rather than worrying about the Obama campaign, Democrats should be cheering what happened yesterday. It was the first time I remember a Democrat forcefully engaging Republican ideas, explaining why they are wrong, and providing an alternate vision.