Some thoughts on Obama + attack politics

BDukakis_tank-1ill Moyers was being interviewed on NPR today as I prowled for lunch in the N4N-mobile. He made the point that the uber-controversial Jeremiah Wright's most controversial statements are a relative blip in the scheme of the pastor's ministerial career.

That won't make a whit's worth of difference this fall, of course, assuming that Obama is the Democratic nominee. As Monica Crowley predicted this week on the McLaughlin Group, the GOP will try to portray Obama as being apart from America (scary pastor, periphal link to the Weather Underground, Michelle Obama's less-than-helpful remark about patriotism, etc.) Thin gruel though this is -- particularly in comparison to the litany of woe accrued by George W. Bush, she's probably right.

So the 2008 election could turn in large degree on the Democratic campaign's effectiveness in being on the offense (a la Bill Clinton in 1992), rather than the defense (John Kerry in 2004) or out to lunch (Mike Dukakis in 1988).

I was reminded of the significance of this after taking part in last week's Local 121 screening of The War Room. Although it's easy to forget now, Bill Clinton's presidential campaign faced early threats from a bimbo erruption involving Gennifer Flowers and symbolic political rhetoric about his activities as a student in the then-Soviet Union. Thanks to Clinton's message mastery, not to mention the efforts of James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, Clinton went from almost also-ran to two terms in DC.

Writing in the current Phoenix, Steven Stark makes the point that Obama would be lucky if his Reverend Wright issue has the same staying power of Flowers. 

The election is a mere six months from now, but six months in politics constitutes the proverbial eternity — which is good news for Obama. Plus, the “Feiler faster” thesis, popularized by Slate columnist Mickey Kaus, holds that stories burn themselves out far faster in the Internet age.

But there are two worrisome aspects of this episode that have the potential to continue to spell trouble for Obama. The first, of course, is Wright himself. There may be more tapes of incendiary sermons; he may make more appearances. In his Detroit speech, Wright mentioned that he’s working on a book that, in his words, “will be out later this year.” If it’s before the election (and if he wants to sell any copies, it will be — most likely in October), he will go on a book tour. And the whole controversy will begin again.

Also troubling for the Obama camp, there are many more ways to keep a story like this alive than there were with the Clinton episode. Ultimately, there were only a few people that the media could go to for Flowers stories: the candidate (no luck there), Flowers herself (old news), and maybe a state trooper or two who could have indirectly witnessed something.

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