By Brigitte L. Nacos
Listening to the pre-debate cable show hosts and pundits,
the overriding question was not what policy
positions John McCain would take in the last presidential debate but rather whether and how the Republican candidate would attack his opponent on so-called
character issues, namely his association with former Weather-Underground leader
William Ayers. It was obvious that the talking heads hoped for a fight—not a
high level policy discourse. In that, they were aligned with the Republican
base and people like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.
Both got part of what they wanted: McCain performed as eager
attack-dog (supposedly in the service of his country) trying to bloody Obama (supposedly a shady character who
associates with terrorists). But while McCain got hot under the collar and repeatedly
seemed to breathe hard to keep from losing his temper, Obama remained composed
and seemingly untouched by his opponent’s punches.
By referring to Republican and Reagan friend Walter
Annenberg and his foundation’s funding of The Chicago Annenberg Challenge Grant,
where he worked with Ayers, Obama took the wind out of McCain’s guilt by
association attempts. Even less effective was McCain’s effort to link Obama to ACORN,
an organization allegedly threatening the fabric of our democracy. Apart from
the political class and the interested public, who in the audience knew what
ACORN is and what the Arizona Senator was talking about?
When everything was said and done, the attack-dog had thrown some read meat in the direction of the herd he has trouble to lead. But the barks sounded tired and old and not at all relevant in the midst of a severe financial, fiscal, and economic crisis that is hitting and preoccupying Wall Street and Main Street. If initial polls and focus group results were right, McCain’s offensive did not win over those he needed to persuade: Independent voters who have not yet made up their minds.
One wonders what tactics the McCain campaign (and like-minded groups) embrace next.