October 6, 2008

I'll See Your Ayers and Raise You a Keating Five

The McCain campaign, via surrogate in chief Sarah Palin, is attacking Obama's patriotism, judgement and character by raising back into the public discussion his association with Bill Ayers, a member of the Weather Underground and the Weatherman (why this seemed like a cool name for some radicals, I have no idea).   Everyone is clear about the rationale for these attacks now, which is that the McCain campaign is behind.  They have pulled out of Michigan and appear to be playing defense in a number of states Bush won and which are now considered toss ups.

In what is clearly a pre-planned response, the Obama campaign has replied with guilt by association attacks of their own, raising McCain's prior association and involvement with Charles H. Keating, Jr., chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which was the target of a regulatory investigation by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB).

As I have argued to my fellow readers at Race42008,  carry the logic of McCain's attack all the way out and the question to be asked is what are we selling? That Obama is a terrorist who hates America? The GOP base might be willing to believe that, but moderates and independents who are looking for leadership at a time when the country is engaged in two wars and the economy is melting down are not going to buy that.

McCain in his debate with Obama demonstrated a superior depth of experience in foreign affairs. But the public thought Obama won the debate. Why? In part because of the cognitive dissonance created by a McCain campaign that posited an Obama clueless on foreign affairs, an image belied by his performance during the debate.

Since 9/11, we’re very clear about terrorists as an evil, soulless sub species of human. Obama has been before the American people for two years now, and with a scant 30 days to go, we’re going to try to make the case that he is a terrorist, this species of sub human? That is the end logic of pressing the Ayer’s connection. Independents and moderates are unlikely to buy this premise.

On the other side, Obama may well blunt his own momentum with this heavy duty push to fight smear with smear by trying to counterpunch with the Keating Five scandal that McCain got himself embroiled in many years ago.  The official senate investigation into the mess exonerated McCain and most credible historical recaps seem clear that McCain only remained apart of the investigation because the others under scrutiny were democratic lawmakers. After a lengthy investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, John McCain was cleared of having acted improperly but was criticized for having exercised "poor judgment", something which I think he even admits characterized his what appears to be peripheral involvement.

Robert S. Bennett, a democrat and special outside counsel to the committee tasked with investigating McCain, was on POTUS 08 this very morning and stated clearly that McCain was innocent and that there was little to see here.  So the McCain campaign has the virtue of truth in their defense to the Keating Five smear and this means they can counterpunch and pivot in response to this attack with tremendous energy and ruthlessness.  Obama, enjoying massive favorable treatment in the media, won't get much help in that quarter since McCain's exoneration is well documented and easily researched by press and average joe alike.  So I think the Keating Five attack does not add much value, and if braced about it during the debate (which if I were McCain, I would definitely get in Obama's face on it), Obama won't be able to deflect an accusation that he is engaging in obvious smear tactics.