Friday, May 09, 2008

The GOP Hit Plan, Smear Obama with the L Word
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The president of a conservative political action outfit with the amorphous name of Citizens United minced no words. David Bossie flatly said that Obama is now their target. The independent committee has nearly a million dollars in the bank and almost certainly much more to come, and will churn out endless hit pieces on Obama. Bossie ticked off Obama’s connection with former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, indicted Chicago financier Tony Rezko, and a revisit of his tie with Jeremiah Wright as fair game to splatter dirt on him.
John McCain and the RNC will disavow the dirty, beneath the belt stuff, that fringe GOP independent committees specialize in. Their hit plan is much simpler. Paint Obama as yet another tax and spend, pro abortion, pro gay rights, and weak on national security Democrat who’s way out of tune with mainstream America.
The L word smear of a Democratic presidential candidate is the oldest, most predictable, and durable page in the GOP playbook. Thomas Dewey slapped it on Democrat Harry Truman. Dwight Eisenhower slapped it on Adlai Stevenson twice. Richard Nixon slapped it on JFK, Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. Ronald Reagan slapped it on Walter Mondale twice. Bush Sr. slapped it on George Dukakis and tried to slap it on Bill Clinton. Bush Jr. slapped it on Al Gore and John Kerry.
The L word smear has been honed, massaged, tweaked and sprinkled with ad-ons over the years. Soft on communism morphed into soft on terrorism, lax on permissiveness and law and order was retooled as lax on crime. The ad-ons are that Democratic presidential candidates flip flop, are wishy washy, and will be weak commander in chiefs. In the case of Obama, the extra add on is he’s an elitist, and hopelessly inexperienced. McCain banks that the L word ploy will once more be the GOP’s keep the White House ticket.
Obama waves this off and says that voters ultimately won’t look at labels, but at whether a candidate can deliver on the gut issues of the economy, the housing crisis, and ending the war. He’s right up to a point. But politically incendiary labels do inflame emotions and passions and stir visceral deep seated fears and beliefs in many voters. The GOP has masterfully turned liberalism into a dread word, and a dread fear for many voters.
Obama’s relatively liberal voting record on core liberal issues does give the GOP an opening to sow that fear. He got a perfect 100 rating from the NAACP, National Organization for Women, National Education Association, the Children's Defense Fund, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, and the Illinois Environmental Council (during his stint in the Illinois legislature), and the ACLU for his votes on labor, education, the environment, choice, civil rights and civil liberties.
Not surprisingly, Obama bombed badly in the ratings he got from the conservative National Taxpayers Union, National Right to Life, the Gun Owners of America, the NRA, the Federation for Immigration Reform, and the American Conservative Union. These are some of the nation's top conservative advocacy groups, and they reflect the interests and views of millions of voters on immigration, spending, guns, abortion, and military prowess. They are the voters who will also scrutinize his record and his views with a laser eye. They are also the voters that gave Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., and Bush Jr., their decisive margin of victory over their Democratic opponents.
In 2004 Kerry tried to parry the L word ploy by trying to out GOP the GOP on their strong point issues of national security and terrorism. It didn’t work. Countless polls showed that the voters repeatedly gave Bush huge percentage margins over Kerry when asked who they thought would do a better job in the anti-terror war. In other words if the election came down solely to a referendum on who best to fight terrorism, Bush would beat him handily. But if it came down to the issue of who would manage the economy better, do better in boosting education, creating more jobs, providing affordable health care, and protecting civil rights and civil liberties, Kerry would have beaten Bush handily.
Nothing has changed. Obama can’t out McCain McCain on the GOP’s trump cards of national security and terrorism. He’s tried to talk and sound tough but it rings hollow against McCain’s tougher and more believable talk on these issues. But if it’s a matter of who does the better job on the economy, and jobs, affordable health care, and a war wind down, voters again consistently say that the Democrats will do it better than the GOP. These issues have been the Democrats trump cards back to the Democrat, Truman, who first beat back the GOP’s L word smear. Obama can do the same but only if he can masterfully play those same cards.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).