Saturday, June 21, 2008

Has the spirit gone out of the smear?

Is it possible that the classic rightwing smear tactics just aren't gonna make it this election year? (psst, Barack Obama is--pass it on--Black!) That's the implication in a New York Times story today by Michael Luo, with the amusing title "Ready to Attack Obama, if Some Money Shows Up." Much of the story is about a smearmeister named Floyd Brown, shown in a photo with his son Patrick, both gazing seriously at laptops in the University Place, Washington headquarters of Brown is already in action, producing a television advertisement (see YouTube clip below), playing on some cable stations in Michigan, insinuating that Obama is a Muslim (by the way, what if he were?)

Apparently Obama mentioned Brown and his efforts by name when he announced that he was renouncing public financing. But what if they gave a smear and nobody showed up? That's the gist of the Times article, which predicts that it is going to be much harder this year for professional sleazeballs to scrape up the money needed to spread the sleaze around.

Says the article:

No major independent effort to help Senator John McCain’s campaign has materialized. Although Republican operatives say something will eventually develop, alarm has spread among many, especially after Mr. Obama’s announcement on Thursday on public financing, raising the prospect that he will wield an enormous financial advantage over Mr. McCain in the fall.

Like the good reporter he is, Luo talked to a number of sleazeballs, but things are not looking good:

Several Republican strategists interviewed voiced skepticism about Mr. Brown’s chances of operating at anything other than the periphery of the general election this year, citing the amount of money needed, the difficulty of spreading a message that incites the grass roots and stricter regulation of independent groups.

“There’s a lot of people who are trying to catch lightning in a bottle, but there’s very few people who have,” said Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist who helped organize the Swift Boat effort.

I could be wrong, but is it possible that at least some of the mudslingers just don't have their hearts in it this year? After all, Democratic candidates like Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry made themselves easy targets by their decisive lack of charisma (yes, I am including Al Gore, it doesn't count if you only get your charisma on when it doesn't count anymore.) And Bill Clinton, who did have charisma (note I say did), survived the biggest army of sleazeballs ever assembled (one which would have materialized again had Hillary Clinton won the nomination.) We have seen a number of leading conservatives say positive things about Obama lately, and even Colin Powell was quoted recently saying he wasn't sure who he was going to vote for, McCain or Obama.

At the very least, the mudslingers are going to have to come up with something better than that attack ad suggesting Obama is a Muslim, because the only people who are going to fall for that kind of thing are those who wouldn't be likely to vote for a Democrat anyway. Obama is the kind of candidate who, rightly or wrongly, makes people dream that things could be better--and in their hearts of hearts, a lot of conversatives might be dreamers too.

PSst--Obama is a liberal, pass it on.

PPS--You probably would like some evidence that what I say above is true. Okay: Hillary Clinton ran through the entire rightwing smear playbook during the primaries, and it didn't work.

News Update: My colleague John Bohannon reports today on Science's online news service, ScienceNOW, about a new study concluding that the number of war-related fatalities since 1955 is three times previous estimates. The study is published in the British Medical Journal. John does quote some skeptical comment, however, and as most readers know the casualty rate in Iraq is the subject of long-running controversies. The ScienceNOW link is freely accessible for 30 days before it goes behind the paying wall.

Smear Update (June 25): Joe Conason has a post on Truthdig reporting that the smear brigade is gearing up. We shall see how they fare.


Anonymous said...

Michael: "Obama is the kind of candidate who, rightly or wrongly, makes people dream that things could be better--and in their hearts of hearts, a lot of conversatives might be dreamers too."

Unfortunately Michael, neither Obama or McCain has filled in the blanks of how things will get better. Dreaming is fine, but it will take hard work for everyone to make the dreams come true and I've not seen ANYTHING from either camp that would leave me to believe that their "plans" are anything more than hot air.

Interesting post though and don't forget that Obama continues to aver that McCain wanted to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years (ignoring the rest of the context). By the bye, you are doing good on your blog my friend.

Anne Gilbert said...

I think the most important point here --- whether or not there is any "substance" to Obama's promises to make things bedtter, is that the "sleazemeisters" have finally run out of steam. They are kind of like the boy who cried wolf. Nobody is really listening to them any more. Which IMO is a darn good thing. Because, when push comes to shove, their slease isn't worth listening to, and never has been. The danger here is, we might just become too complacent, while they continue to really, really try.
Anne G

Michael Balter said...

Thanks for your comments, GM. By the way I have seen both of the clips of McCain talking about troops in Iraq that have been under discussion lately, in their full context, both the "100 years" tape and the "that's not important" tape. Both indicate to me a clear callousness towards the sacrifices that US troops and their families are making. Unlike Germany or South Korea, there is no way that US troops can stay in Iraq without being attacked on a daily basis.