Election 2008

McCain's Sneak Attack on Obama

McCain denounced a Republican ad painting Obama as extremist yet continues to perform the live version on the campaign trail.
By now, we can all recall -- visually and lyrically -- Rev. Jeremiah Wright's ideas as to whether or not America should be blessed. Nonetheless, the North Carolina GOP has decided to turn the nauseating sound bite into the centerpiece of an ad, not against Barack Obama they insist, but against the Democratic candidates for North Carolina governor -- State Treasurer Richard Moore and Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue. Because these two gubernatorial hopefuls have endorsed Obama and "should know better" since Obama is "just too extreme for North Carolina," they have also, in doing so, endorsed Rev. Wright. Guilty by association twice removed.

In the last few moments of the ad, Linda Daves, Chairman of the North Carolina GOP, informs that "The North Carolina Republican Party sponsored this ad opposing Bev Perdue and Richard Moore for North Carolina governor." But this is wrong-headed at best, and more likely dishonest. What is the strategic gain by the North Carolina GOP waging this attack against both Democratic candidates in a primary? Do they want voters to choose neither candidate?

The ad is obviously a thinly veiled, fear-invoking assault on Barack Obama -- one that McCain "doesn't like." McCain has called on the North Carolina GOP to not run the advertisement saying, "There is no place for that kind of campaigning," and that "The American people don't want it, period." But the North Carolina GOP is holding their ground firmly, insisting that it's not about the presidential race and therefore not in McCain's domain. On Thursday, speaking vaguely enough to address both the presidential and gubernatorial races, Daves said, "This ad presents a question of patriotism and judgment. It is entirely appropriate for voters to evaluate candidates based on their past associations."

However, McCain undid his conviction that the ad has "no place" by performing the live version of the ad when he spoke to a group of bloggers on Friday. McCain responded to a question regarding the Obama endorsement by Hamas' top political adviser, Ahmed Yousef: "I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States ... I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas' worst nightmare ... If senator Obama is favored by Hamas I think people can make judgments accordingly."

The judgment, of course, is that Obama is "just too extreme" for America. The kind of Obama-Wright extremism that is at work in Daves' ad is the same kind of extremism that McCain invoked by manufacturing an Obama-Hamas relationship -- an entity that he would be the "worst nightmare" of.

Never mind that Obama has repeatedly denounced Wright and criticized Jimmy Carter for his decision to meet with Hamas, telling Jewish leaders Wednesday that "Hamas is a terrorist organization" and that "we should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements."

But McCain has to play this carefully. He denounced the North Carolina GOP ad not because he intends to keep campaigning and debate on the issues. He doesn't dare invoke Wright because, let's not forget (although he did temporarily on Monday), he has his own Rev. Wright in Rev. John Hagee, the Texas-based televangelist who said that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for the city's sins and believes that "those who live by the Quran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews ... it teaches that very clearly."

It takes a savvy Washington lifer like McCain to turn one act into a quadruple play. By "taking the higher road" and not talking about Rev. Wright, McCain simultaneously gets the credit for staying on the issues, while safeguarding (at least for a while) against others bringing Hagee into the mix. At the same time, McCain talks tough about extremists like Hamas, while making sure people know how extreme Obama is as he is the preferred candidate of extremists' -- Hamas and Wright, alike.

And the ad is still running.
Allen McDuffee writes on politics and Middle East affairs and is currently at work on a book, No Child Left Unrecruited. He lives in Brooklyn.
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