Monday, June 30, 2008

What is the Obama camp thinking?

I think we learned something pretty important about the Obama camp today, but I can't tell if it's that they're petrified of John McCain or they think he doesn't have a chance.

So Wesley Clark said something insufficiently reverential about John McCain's military record: namely that his experiences as a pilot and POW don't hew especially closely to the responsibilities of the presidency.

As could have been expected, both the right wing outrage machine and mainstream press are going bananas. The "Swift Boat" comparison is being made all over the place despite the fact that what Clark said wasn't even really disparaging of John McCain let alone a catalog of blatant lies about him.

What does Team Obama do? It rejects, denounces, and otherwise disassociates himself from those remarks.

First let's dispense with the unfairness to Clark, who must have missed the memo that he was supposed to fawn over Obama's opponent when being interviewed on TV. That's obviously not factoring in one way or th'other.

But why is Obama so unwilling to take even the slightest poke at the balloon of McCain hero worship? I'll stipulate that it would be stupid to try to make the "McCain's not really a war hero" case... even though the Republicans executed the strategy successfully in 2004 (the common argument is that because the strategy worked for Bush, and Bush sucked, it won't work in 2008). But surely he could argue that while McCain served heroically, that doesn't automatically qualify him to be president, right? Well it's too mean for the McCain fluffers like Joe Klein, who clearly wish to partake of his warrior-hood by defending it from any who dare question its significance. But I don't think it's necessarily too mean for the voting public, and would be worth making.

One obvious explanation for their decision not to is that they don't want to make an issue of McCain's war record at all. The problem with this is by denouncing Clark's statement, they're admitting that it was disrespectful of McCain's war record, when it really wasn't at all. This is a perfect example of not taking your own side in a fight.

I see two potential explanations for their decision not to do so:
  1. They think that their side of the fight would be doomed. McCain is obviously a living god, and if Obama so much as tries to put his status as a tortured POW in perspective he will lose the election.

  2. They think their side of the fight is so good there's no percentage in having it. People don't need to be given "permission" to vote against John McCain. They're going to do so anyway in huge numbers. In order to win his hoped-for blowout, Obama needs to do it while bowing and scraping before the much beloved but dottering war hero who was unfortunate enough to be caught standing on the electoral train tracks.
The press is going to report this as if Option 1 drove the decision, but I think Option 2 is more likely. There remains the issue of fairness to Gen. Clark, but I suppose he's tough and will get over it. He may have moved off the Gang of 500's VP lists, but he moved up several notches on mine.

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