After running a brilliant primary battle to defeat Hillary Clinton, the Obama campaign is now in disarray. Why?
Perhaps it’s because Barack Obama has never run a competitive race against a Republican.
Now, facing John McCain’s blistering ads, Obama seems unable to fight fire with fire. The Democratic rank and file are furious (while simultaneously denouncing McCain’s negativity) and scared that Obama doesn’t know how to close the deal.
Hence the Obama campaign’s vow to take the gloves off, once again, and go after McCain hard as an out-of-touch Bush clone.
One flaw with this supposed course correction is that it isn’t one. That’s been Obama’s message for months. Indeed, ABC News’ Jake Tapper wrote on his blog that this is actually the fourth time Team Obama has pledged to strip off the gloves for a bracing round of fisticuffs.
To prove his newfound determination, bare-knuckle Obama unveiled a new TV ad, to air in key states.
It begins with the date “1982,” a picture of a disco ball and footage of McCain in clunky glasses from his first year in Washington. “Things have changed in the last 26 years, but McCain hasn’t,” says the announcer. “He admits he still doesn’t know how to use a computer, can’t send an e-mail, still doesn’t understand the economy and favors $200 billion in new tax cuts for corporations, but almost nothing for the middle class.” All the while it shows ancient computers and a cordless phone that looks like a walkie-talkie from “Ice Station Zebra.”
The tax-cuts and economy barbs are familiar boilerplate. What’s new is the charge of computer illiteracy and the blatant attempt to attack McCain as too old for the job — and that speaks volumes.
First, the ad is dishonest. McCain has been one of the Senate’s leading authorities on telecom and the Internet.
In 2000, Forbes magazine called him the “Senate’s savviest technologist.” That same year, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg gushed that McCain was the most “cybersavvy” of all the presidential candidates, a crop that included none other than Al Gore. Being chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Weisberg explained, “forced him to learn about the Internet early on, and young Web entrepreneurs such as Jerry Yang and Jeff Bezos fascinate him.”
Weisberg, an Obama booster, now disingenuously mocks McCain as “flummoxed by that newfangled doodad, the personal computer.”
One reason McCain is not versed in the mechanical details of sending e-mail and typing on a keyboard is that the North Vietnamese broke his fingers and shattered both of his arms. As Forbes, Slate, and the Boston Globe reported in 2000, McCain’s injuries make using a keyboard painfully laborious. He mostly relies on his wife and staff to show him e-mails and Web sites, though he says he’s getting up to speed.
“It’s extraordinary,” Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said, “that someone who wants to be our president and our commander in chief doesn’t know how to send an e-mail.” For the record, President Clinton sent exactly two e-mails while in office.
Besides, by this logic, Obama is even less qualified to be commander-in-chief because, unlike McCain, Obama has never fired a gun, flown a plane, or led men during wartime.
And if the Obama campaign didn’t intend to mock a disabled veteran, what does it say about his supposedly “cybersavvy” staffers that they don’t know how to conduct a five-minute Google search?
But the most revealing aspect of the ad is its target audience: Obama has a 20- to 30-point advantage over McCain among 18- to 29-year-olds. Indeed, his base (not counting black voters) is upscale college kids and new-economy young voters. They may think being able to send an e-mail is, like, totally crucial.
The only other constituency — other than the press — that will be jazzed by such an attack are the Web-symbiotes of the left-wing netroots, another demographic Obama has locked up.
But older Americans, working-class Americans, veterans, and other voters Obama desperately needs probably won’t care and might even take offense at Obama’s condescension and insensitivity.
There are two explanations for the ad. One is that Obama released it to reassure his base that he’s serious about attacking McCain, not to win over swing voters. That, or the campaign actually thinks it’s an effective ad.
Either way, the lesson is the same: Obama doesn’t know how to get outside his echo chamber. He talks about being bipartisan to hard-core liberals who like the words, but he rejects actual deviation from the liberal line. He talks about new ideas while repackaging old ones.
He is a candidate who has never had to sell himself to voters who weren’t already sold. And it shows.
© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.