Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Daily Gaffe: the Politics of No-Visitgate

This isn't one of McCain's traditional gaffes of knowledge, but one of strategy. It is wrapped in some pretty stinky paper, to boot. The issue is McCain's insistence that the reason Obama didn't visit wounded vets in Germany was because "he wanted to bring media people and cameras and his campaign staffers" and wasn't allowed to. The attack was accompanied by a nasty little commercial McCain has been running for a few days. Although instantly discredited, McCain continued swift-boating.
The attacks are part of a newly aggressive McCain operation whose aim is to portray the Democratic presidential candidate as a craven politician more interested in his image than in ailing soldiers, a senior McCain adviser said. They come despite repeated pledges by the Republican that he will never question his rival's patriotism.
The gaffe, however, is this: McCain is not George W. Bush, and pushing a story he knows is false has begun to backfire. The WaPo has a front page story debunking the McCain spin today (the link above). The NYT has a similar critique. Josh Marshall captures it nicely:
As I alluded to at the top of this post, it is the norm that obvious campaign tactics that are treated as obvious after a campaign is over are nonetheless treated by most reporters as ambiguous or unclear during a campaign. But in this case it would be nice if that were not the case. Because here we have a candidate, John McCain, who is running on a record of straight talk and honorable campaigning running a campaign made up mainly of charges reporters are now more or less acknowledging are lies.
Josh is a little skeptical that the MSM will criticize McCain for the internal contradiction (honorable straight-talker vs. swift-boating liar), but I'd say that horse is already half-way out of the barn. McCain has never known how to modulate his attacks, and at this level, and for this duration, he can't get away with being McNasty and a kindly old war vet simultaneously.

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