Just like 2004: Democrats hit on Iraq, Republicans emphasize terrorist threat

In a replay of the 2004 election, McCain and Obama's campaigns do not see eye to eye on what the dominant national security issue should be. While Republicans want to frame the conversation in terms of the terrorist threat, Democrats know they would be better of by focusing on the Iraq War. Yet, something has changed in the past four years: Democrats today seem more confident than they were four years ago that they can afford to stand their ground when accused of being weak on terror.

Ever since the Supreme Court issued its decision on Guantanamo detainees last week, the right has been taking increasingly hostile positions against the ruling. After 24 hours of indecision, McCain chose to blast the SCOTUS, lamenting "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country." McCain's motivations were clear: fire up the base on an issue he can ill-afford to distance himself from Republican orthodoxy and prepare his party's general election offensive against Barack Obama.

In an interview with ABC yesterday, Obama weighed in on an issue that is likely to remain at the forefront the next 5 months by declaring that

It is my firm belief that we can track terrorists, we can crack down on threats against the United States, but we can do so within the constraints of our Constitution. And there has been no evidence on their part that we can't. (...) What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks -- for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated.

The McCain campaign wasted no time before blasting Obama for his alleged naivety. McCain aide Randy Scheunemann denounced Obama's suggestion that it was a good idea to prosecute the first bombers of the WTC. "These aren’t just your run of the mill drug dealers that are picked up on the South Side of Chicago," he said, reproaching Obama with "ignor[ing] that we are in a war against terrorism." And in what was the most memorable line of attack (one that had obviously been rehearsed and meant to stick), Scheunemann added that Obama's is the "perfect manifestation of a Sept. 10 mindset."

There was never any doubt that the McCain campaign would go after Obama on national security, seeking to portray him as an unacceptable choice that would endanger the country's security. I am a bit surprised by the rapidity with which McCain's entourage seized on Obama's comments today. They were not particularly controversial or unexpected, after all, and the fact that the GOP attempted such sustained fire suggests this particular offensive had been coordinated and planned out much before Obama said anything to ABC. The McCain campaign seems to know exactly what they want: a clear contrast when it comes to civil liberties and the fight against terrorists.

And if there is any doubt in anyone's mind that there is such a contrast, well, McCain will not hesitate to call on Joe Lieberman to explain why the Democrats' decision to give up on protecting American security is pushing him away from his (old?!) party.

What is surprising, however, is that the Obama campaign does not appear to mind! In fact, they seem very happy to draw a stark contrast, and Obama has not shied away from giving his opinion on Boumediene. This would have been unthinkable four years ago: Democrats accepting to be defined as the protector of civil liberties and to publicly defend law enforcement for terrorist? After all, the party even ended up easily caving on the issue of wiretapping. This goes to show how much the collapse of Bush's approval rating and of the Iraq enterprise has hurt Republicans. Democrats now believe that the clearer the contrasts with John McCain the easier it will be for them to stand for change and to paint McCain as a third term for Bush.

The Democrats' preferred issue when it comes to foreign policy, of course, is the war in Iraq and they have been talking about stepping up their effort to portray McCain as a war-mongering hawk ever since his "100 year" comment spread like wildfire. Unfortunately for Dem hopes to paint McCain early, no third-party group really stepped up all these months to define McCain before he had the chance to raise money and organize his campaign. Now, however, MoveOn and AFSCME are about to start running a brutal ad remarkable for its simplicity that hits McCain on the war and specifically on the effect his professed desire to keep soldiers in Iraq for the next century could have on baby Alex:

The ad will run in the important battleground states of Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin as well as on national cable (CNN and MSNBC). Hotline reports that the ad buy nears $500,000, a sum large enough that this effort can be described as a serious one, not just an attempt to get some free media attention. Better late than never, however. John McCain continues to over-perform his party among independents, suggesting that his moderate image still stands strong. This ad also suggests that Democrats are particularly worried about holding on to the vote of white women (the latest ABC poll shows McCain trouncing Obama in that constituency).

Update: More confirmation that the Obama campaign does not intend to shy away from this one. He personally responded to the McCain campaign's suggestions that he was weak on terror tonight by hitting the GOP right back: "Let's think about this: these are the same guys who helped engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9-11... What they're trying to do us what they've done every election cycle, which is to use terrorism as a club to make the American people afraid," Obama said."

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home