Watching the final month of the election unfold makes one thing clear: it’s getting ugly down there.
At this point there's a clear frontrunner, outside of the margin of error. Senator Barack Obama is that frontrunner because of a single dominant issue that has historically favored Democrats as well as hampered incumbents. If the issue were national security rather than a collapsing economy, a foreign threat rather than a domestic one, the candidates would be in the opposite position in the polls.
Regardless of the scenario, the frontrunner would be playing it safe while the other would be trying desperately to change the national dialogue, which is what we’re seeing take place. The strategy being executed by several forces on Republican Senator John McCain’s side, including the campaign, independent groups, and supporters, is that of guilt by association.
Attacking Obama on his connections to questionable characters and organizations has an official purpose of criticizing his judgment and an unofficial purpose of questioning his motives. The desired outcome is to bring a frightened conservative base to the polls and sway the now Obama-leaning swing voters.
So far, it has become painfully obvious that the first desired outcome might be working. At McCain’s rallies, panicked and less-than-articulate supporters are expressing their fears that Obama is an “Arab,” ”terrorist,” “liar,” and “hooligan,” right to John McCain’s face.
In an effort to retain any last vestiges of his original call for a “respectful” campaign, McCain has tried in vain to temper those fears. “I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States," said McCain to a chorus of boos at a rally in Minnesota.
McCain is in a tough spot, and it’s not just because of the inner conflict he’s no doubt feeling right now. If he does not play along with the playbook, McCain risks reminding conservatives that he was never really that popular with them in the first place, due to his maverickness in the Senate. Sarah Palin is out there playing along, and it’s effective, but if McCain decides to essentially be a maverick within his campaign, you could end up with many disillusioned conservatives.
Without the conservative support base, McCain has no chance. But his chances are almost equally diminished if he can’t win independents, and they don’t seem to care about anything other than the economy right now, let alone the questionable associations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign already brought up in the primaries months ago. For Clinton, the attacks may have had some effect on the working class democrats, but they got her nowhere with independents. The attacks should prove to be a zero sum strategy for McCain.
There is only one controversial Obama association that is truly new. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which the Obama campaign paid to register voters in several states during the primaries, has allegedly been trying to register thousands of dead or non-existent voters.
This is relevant because there were plenty of unconfirmed rumors of voter fraud attempted by the Obama campaign during the primaries, including various manipulations of the flawed caucus system.
But as for this election, two things need to be understood. There is no evidence that the Obama campaign had any part in ACORN’s get out the vote efforts during the general election, and surely no evidence that they instructed ACORN to commit voter fraud. Secondly, anyone who knows anything about politics knows that elections are always a dirty battle to the end, and many strategists will likely do almost anything if it means they’ll win. This is not to legitimize the actions of those who hurt democracy, but a reminder that it’s a reality on both sides of the election.
This is only relevant insofar as what it actually says about Obama, which is that he is a politician who wants to win. The same can be said about working on education reform with a certain Chicago professor, joining one of Chicago’s most popular churches where a certain reverend likes to speak his mind, and accepting the help of a certain political fundraiser and real estate developer to start his political career, all of which took place many years ago.
Barack Obama is not a radical, he is a politician who wants to win so he can get in office and take the country in a different direction. It’s not news, it’s reality, and right now Americans who are fluent in reality care about the crumbling economy.
Alex Leduc is a freelance columnist and blogger, as well as a journalism student at Concordia University. All his political columns are available at www.alexleduc.com