When the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attempted to torpedo his presidential campaign in 2004, John Kerry made sense, on one level anyway, by following his initial instinct to ignore them. To acknowledge them might not only legitimize them, but encourage a flood of like-minded charges: He fathered a Vietnamese child; he sold American weapons on the black market.
But the Kerry campaign failed to foresee that the American public would seize the opportunity to once again demonstrate the truth of Barnum's Law: "You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Questioning a military record seemed foolhardy, but most humans, not just Americans, seem to have holes in their head just waiting to be filled with seeds of doubt.
The upshot was that Kerry's refusal to dignify charges that defied logic was interpreted by the public as a sign that he was too lily-livered to spearhead national defense. There's such a thing as thinking that's too linear.
Now the hard right is subjecting Barack Obama to swiftboating, the political equivalent of a cut-back block in football. Some of it, like comparisons to Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton, comes from as far out of left-field (or in this case, right) as the Swift Boat charges. Meanwhile, author Jerome Corsi (Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry) is trying to capture smear-magic in a bottle again with his new book, The Obama Nation.
While the Obama camp is quick to respond and has even launched attack ads of its own against McCain (well, his houses, anyway), there's little doubt the candidate is out of his element mixing it up in the mud. Fighting dirty strikes any thoughtful observer as unpresidential. If it's the most important qualification for a president, the position might as well be filled by any thug capable of delivering a beat-down on demand.
Maybe the time has finally come for a politician to turn the tables on John Q. Pavlov and challenge him to stop reacting to every smear and lie. Obama would have been the logical choice to perform this public service. But it's too late in this election cycle to ask Americans to grow up. God forbid we should extend themselves and attempt to comprehend that, whether or not one thinks Europeans are girly-men, their acclaim for Obama on his recent trip bodes well for us as a nation.
One day, though, politicians will grow tired of the corner into which they've painted themselves. By pandering to voters as consumers -- treating them as if they're always right; asking nothing of them -- politicians have restricted the range of their discourse to the equivalent of a couple of radio stations on the entire broadcast spectrum.
Still, while Biden can pick up some of the slack when it can comes to mud-slinging, Obama needs to find another avenue. It's too late to re-open the one he cut off by moving rightward and taking the wind out of the sails of his base. But another avenue remains open to him.
For those of you who haven't seen it, the draft of the Democratic party's platform, "Renewing America's Promise," was recently issued. It's chock full of statements of intent to benefit the American people, or promises, if you will.
Granted, much of the public is. . .
If the public fails to get on board with Obama's program and refrains from voting for him, it's no sweat off his brow. He still comes up smelling like roses. But what about us?
- mistrustful of the government by nature
- likely skeptical that, considering our national debt, Obama can fund his programs
- blissfully unaware that taxes don't exist just for resenting, but to provide return on the tax dollar
- suspicious that benefits will go to the lazy disadvantaged rather than to the hard-working middle class
- uncomfortable with programs that might benefit the middle-class itself because deep down we don't really feel like we deserve it.
Obama is far from the ideal candidate, but at least he's a step in the right direction. In other words, one has the sense that he's not only in it for himself but for the American people.
If that's the case, Obama should be shouting passages, however feasible, of "Renewing America's Promise" such as the following from the rooftops:
We will provide an immediate energy rebate to American families. . . . We will devote $50 billion to jumpstarting the economy, helping economic growth, and preventing another 1 million jobs from being lost.
Once exposed to Obama's platform, we the public will at least be forced to face, however fleeting, whatever complexes that prevent us from thinking, "Maybe we should give him a chance."
We will quickly implement the housing bill recently passed by Congress. . . . We support investments in infrastructure to replenish the highway trust fund; invest in road and bridge maintenance and fund new, fast-tracked projects to repair schools.
As Americans struggle with increasing health care costs, we believe a strengthened, uniquely American system should provide the highest quality, most cost-effective care. . . . which will save the typical family up to $2,500 per year.
We will automatically enroll every worker in a workplace pension plan that can be carried from job to job and we will match savings for working families who need the help. We will make sure that CEOs can't dump workers' pensions. . . . we will eliminate all income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 per year.
We will. . . enable workers to take leave to care for an elderly parent, address domestic violence and sexual assault, or attend a parent-teacher conference.
We will expand the childcare tax credit, provide every child access to quality, affordable early childhood education, and double funding for after-school and summer learning opportunities for children.
We . . . Democrats commit to fast-track investment of billions of dollars over the next ten years to establish a green energy sector that will create up to five million jobs.
To lower the price of gasoline, we will crack down on speculators who are driving up prices beyond the natural market rate.
[We] will invest in short-term accelerated training and technical certifications for the unemployed and under-employed.
We will make college affordable for all Americans by [ensuring] that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans. . . . We will enable families to apply for financial aid simply by checking a box on their tax form.