Re: Will Wright Matter?

We’re hoping to start including more reader responses in our posts, so here’s a good place to start. One reader, Mike, weighs in on yesterday’s post about McCain’s letter to the North Carolina GOP about its ad invoking Jeremiah Wright:

I think you’ve got it backwards with your interpretation of McCain’s letter.

As the Boston Globe story you linked to with respect to Bush vs. McCain in 2000, it wasn’t the Bush “campaign” that attacked McCain over the alleged out-of-wedlock daughter, it was “anonymous pollsters.” Bush got the best of both worlds, as a result: McCain is damaged but Bush retains plausible deniability, since he could claim that he wasn’t responsible for the attacks.

Obama’s reaction seems on-target. If John McCain and the RNC really wanted the ad taken off the air, it would be. If they didn’t want it aired, it wouldn’t have been. As the party’s presumptive new leader, the NC GOP wouldn’t ignore with McCain said, unless it was said with a wink at the same time. Similarly, the NC GOP isn’t going to want to piss off the RNC, especially since the RNC is the only Republican committee that has significantly outraised its Democratic counterpart (unlike the congressional and senate campaign committees), and the NC GOP will want some of those resources.

Rather, what you’re going to see throughout the election is a replay of this over and over: non-McCain/RNC group uses racist/ xenophobic/ dishonest/ misleading/ fear-mongering ad > McCain and RNC demand that the ad be taken off the air and repudiate it > ad may or may not be taken off the air (really irrelevant at this point) > ad is replayed hundreds of times by Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the Daily Show/Colbert Report, and any other outlet.

McCain then gets to take credit for taking the high route (which you gave in your post), bolsters his reputation as a maverick/”a different kind of Republican” and yet still benefits because the ad is still out there hurting Obama, and the best part is, now Republicans don’t even have to pay for it to be aired, the media does it for them free of charge.

Its the model set by the famous LBJ ad showing a mushroom cloud with the phrase “In your heart, you know he might” referring to Goldwater using nukes in the cold war. It was only aired once by the Johnson campaign, but is the most famous political ad in history because it was so outrageous that even when it was pulled from the air, it was all anyone talked about. With today’s mass media echo chamber, this kind of  a strategy for getting a message out there is even more effective.

I think you’re right, and I probably should have been a little more cautious about giving McCain the benefit of the doubt. Given what we’ve seen, there’s every reason to be skeptical of candidates claiming to run clean campaigns. But I still think McCain could be an improvement. The whole “illegitimate black daughter” smear was so disgusting and hurtful that you’d think McCain would try to avoid sinking to that level. (Or I suppose you could argue he’d feel more justified doing it.) But there are other signs, too: He avoids publicly discussing his son in Iraq , even when it would be perfectly appropriate to do so. His stances on immigration and global warming are pretty nonopportunistic, too. Sure, he’s a politician and will no doubt deliver plenty of low blows. And Obama could well bring out the worst in him, given his well-documented contempt for the junior senator. But on the spectrum of skeeviness, I think McCain leans toward the decent human being side. Of course, he has plenty of time to prove me wrong.

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