Obama Begins To Fight Back

[ Posted Tuesday, August 19th, 2008 – 14:16 UTC ]

Many people have been saying for the past few weeks (myself included) that Barack Obama needs to stand up for himself a little bit more, and strongly counter the negative attacks coming from John McCain. I have also suggested (and I'm not alone in this one either) that Obama needs to start actually taking the fight to McCain, by painting a picture of McCain for America to see -- to counteract who the McCain campaign would like you to believe John McCain is.

Because I have been beating this drum myself, I have to give credit where credit is due for the changes in campaign style Obama (and his supporters) have shown in the past few days (pretty much since Obama got back from vacation). The media hasn't quite caught up to this change, but they'll have a hard time ignoring it during the upcoming convention. Because from what I've seen this week, Obama's convention is going to go after John McCain with some gusto.

This is crucial, because of the mistake John Kerry made the last time around. During the 2004 Democratic convention, Kerry apparently told all the speakers to tone down their anti-Bush rhetoric, so as to not be seen attacking a sitting president in a time of war. Which gave us the past four years of President Bush.

Fears have been voiced that Obama was setting himself up to make the same mistake. His whole "high-road" style campaign seemed to suggest that the same "positive-only" filter Kerry used would also be applied to speakers this year. But I think Obama got the message while on vacation. The gloves may be coming off. And not a moment too soon, in my opinion.

Of course, Obama has not completely abandoned his high-road strategy. He still tries to be positive, even when drawing comparisons between himself and John McCain. But soon he will have a vice presidential candidate at his side on the campaign trail, who will assumably not be as constrained.

Here are some excerpts from Obama's recent speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW):

Yesterday, Senator McCain came before you. He is a man who has served this nation honorably, and he correctly stated that one of the chief criteria for the American people in this election is going to be who can exercise the best judgment as Commander in Chief. But instead of just offering policy answers, he turned to a typical laundry list of political attacks. He said that I have changed my position on Iraq when I have not. He said that I am for a path of "retreat and failure." And he declared, "Behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president" -- suggesting, as he has so many times, that I put personal ambition before my country.

That is John McCain's prerogative. He can run that kind of campaign, and -- frankly -- that's how political campaigns have been run in recent years. But I believe the American people are better than that. I believe that this defining moment demands something more of us.

If we think that we can secure our country by just talking tough without acting tough and smart, then we will misunderstand this moment and miss its opportunities. If we think that we can use the same partisan playbook where we just challenge our opponent's patriotism to win an election, then the American people will lose. The times are too serious for this kind of politics. The calamity left behind by the last eight years is too great. So let me begin by offering my judgment about what we've done, where we are, and where we need to go.

He starts kind of slow, with too many backhanded compliments to McCain, but gets much more specific when talking about foreign policy country-by-country later on in his speech, doing a good job of contrasting his positions with McCain's. Here is Obama on Afghanistan:

We must also recognize that we cannot succeed in Afghanistan or secure America as long as there is a terrorist safe-haven in northwest Pakistan. A year ago, I said that we must take action against bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights and Pakistan cannot or will not act. Senator McCain criticized me and claimed that I was for "bombing our ally." So for all of his talk about following Osama bin Laden to the Gates of Hell, Senator McCain refused to join my call to take out bin Laden across the Afghan border. Instead, he spent years backing a dictator in Pakistan who failed to serve the interests of his own people.

But Obama hits his stride right in the middle of the speech, after detailing his positions on various different countries:

These are the judgments I've made and the policies that we have to debate, because we do have differences in this election. But one of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism. I have never suggested that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.

Let me be clear: I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America, so do you, and so does John McCain. When I look out at this audience, I see people of different political views. You are Democrats and Republicans and Independents. But you all served together, and fought together, and bled together under the same proud flag. You did not serve a Red America or a Blue America -- you served the United States of America.

So let's have a serious debate, and let's debate our disagreements on the merits of policy -- not personal attacks. And no matter how heated it gets or what kind of campaign he chooses to run, I will honor Senator McCain's service, just like I honor the service of every veteran in this room, and every American who has worn the uniform of the United States.

This is exactly the right thing to say, and exactly the right group of people to say it in front of. The rest of his speech is devoted to his own family history in the military, how the GI Bill (the original one) helped him be where he is today, and how his support of veterans is superior to McCain's. Here's just one example:

For those who return to civilian life, I will support their American Dream in this 21st century just as we supported generations of veterans in the 20th. That starts with education. Everyone who serves this country should have the same opportunity that my grandfather had under the GI Bill. That's why, unlike my opponent, I was a strong and early supporter of Jim Webb's GI Bill for the 21st Century -- a bill that Senator McCain called too generous. At a time when the skyrocketing cost of tuition is pricing thousands of Americans out of a college education, this bill provides every veteran with a real chance to afford a world-class college education. And that's what I'll continue to stand up for as President.

Anyway, it's a great speech (and worth reading in full, if you've got the time), but the point is it doesn't shy away from pointing out the differences between Obama's position and John McCain's position, on issues that actually matter to the audience. There is a lot of praise for McCain's service, but again, you've got to consider the audience. One assumes this sort of talk will become scarcer, especially at the convention, but considering Obama has no military experience and McCain does, it was probably a good thing to respect that in front of a group of veterans.

The other story worth mentioning is what is happening in the background. Last week, I lauded the AFL/CIO for a flyer they are distributing, and also Brave New Films for their new video, both of which starkly point out the enormous wealth of John and Cindy McCain. I wasn't aware at the time, but the AFL/CIO and SEIU were also involved in the Brave New Films effort, and deserve credit for doing so. All of these are striking a similar theme: John McCain is rich, so how can he call Barack Obama an "elitist" with a straight face?

John McCain just threw some gasoline on this fire, saying that he draws the line between "rich" and "middle class" at making "five million dollars" a year. The Democratic National Committee immediately pounced on this, and whipped up a new ad. Barack Obama also took a shot at it.

This ad, and others like it, should be immediately and prominently featured in battleground states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, and New Hampshire. John McCain is extremely vulnerable on this issue, and the Obama campaign (up until now) has barely scratched the surface of what they could do with it. In fact, "John McCain is a rich, out-of-touch elitist, and doesn't understand the average American" should be one of the main talking points of the Democratic convention.

Of course, any convention is going to be a balancing act between "Our guy is the best!" and "Their guy would doom us all!" It remains to be seen exactly where the balance will be struck this year. But from watching the last few days, I'm getting hopeful that it won't be another "just say nice stuff about Kerry, don't even mention Bush" fiasco. Because we've all seen where that sort of thing leads.


-- Chris Weigant


3 Comments on “Obama Begins To Fight Back”

  1. [1] 
    loslobo wrote:



    No comment on that other Joe? know that prick..
    Sometimes there is justice in the world, too bad this country couldn't be like Pakistan...

    NIST is going to have a "news" conference on WTC7 Thursday. Let's see how that "Act of God" plays out...The only story with more BS than Bruce Ivins(check out Gleen Greenwald's work on Salon).

    Thanks Always

  2. [2] 
    BLaws wrote:

    The only problem I had with the speech was Obama now made it harder to slam McCain on this quote:

    Here's what McCain said during his remarks before the VFW:

    “Behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president."

    And from John McCain's own book in 2002:

    "I didn't decide to run for president to start a national crusade for the political reforms I believed in or to run a campaign as if it were some grand act of patriotism. In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to be president. . . . In truth, I'd had the ambition for a long time."

    It's even on audio form! Keith Olbermann played it last night. It's a radio ad just waiting to be made. Let's see if the MSM picks it up and runs with it like you know they would if it was Obama that said it.

  3. [3] 
    BLaws wrote:


    That ambition led McCain into a moral lapse that appalled him. It involved an ongoing dispute in South Carolina over the tradition of flying the Confederate battle flag atop the state capitol, in Columbia. In a television interview, McCain said the flag was "offensive," and he appeared sympathetic to its critics. His aides were alarmed, fearing the consequences in the upcoming South Carolina primary, and they wrote a damage-control statement that McCain read repeatedly before television cameras. "I understand both sides," McCain said. "Some view the flag as a symbol of slavery. Others view it as a symbol of heritage. Personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage."

    But that, McCain wrote a year later, was "a lie." The flag symbolized both slavery and the South's secession from "the country I love," and "should be lowered forever from the staff atop South Carolina's capitol."

    "I had promised to tell the truth no matter what," McCain wrote in the book. "When I broke it, I had not just been dishonest, I had been a coward, and I had severed my own interests from my country's. That was what made the lie unforgivable."

    By Robert G. Kaiser
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, August 1, 2008; A01

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