I think Abe Greenwald’s post over at the Contentions blog of Commentary magazine is fascinating – especially when coupled with the comments.
Mr. Greenwald is writing about Senator John McCain’s new ad and how damned effective it is. The supremely effective theme of the ad is summarized as follows: “What must a president believe about us? About America?” Mr. Greenwald concludes:
Thanks to Jeremiah Wright and Michelle Obama. McCain will be able to stay on this point for as long as he wishes.
A commenter readies to parry the inevitable counter to the ad by asking the obvious question: “How long until the media brands this ad as unfairly questioning Obama’s patriotism?” As Mr. Greenwald points out, if the ad is directed against Mr. Obama – which he believes it is – then this is clearly the point of the ad – to question whether Mr. Obama believes about America what he should. A few comments below this one, someone called CK McLeod explains what the ad is doing:
Barack can swear up and down the street that he loves this country and all the people in it, but the issue joined here isn’t what he or McCain says he is, but who each really is.
Clearly, the people here believes that the ad is questioning Mr. Obama’s patriotism – and they also seem to be preparing to call “Foul!” when the media – or anyone else – point this out.
But my favorite line in this whole mish-mash is Mr. Greenwald’s conclusion:
With the Obama hysteria having been exposed for what it is (to a degree), it’s hard to imagine what kind of second wave the Illinois senator will be able to marshal against this McCain attack.
Reading that – and most of the comments – I realize that these “conservatives” have no idea what an Obama candidacy would mean.
There are many plausible scenarios in which Mr. McCain might win the election – but if it is “hard to imagine” how Mr. Obama would respond to this ad, Mr. Greenwald and his readers have not been paying attention. It is precisely on this type of question, in response to this type of attack, that you will find Mr. Obama’s strength.
The problem with most politicians is that the public can sense a certain tension between their public persona and their inner selves. Ms. Clinton, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Gore all have been skewered on this issue – as their stodgy, careful, parsing outward personality seemed inauthentic. Mr. Obama seems comfortable with himself, and unashamed of what he believes. He does not debate from an ideological defensive crouch, but in an open, unapologetic manner.
William Kristol made a similar argument to Mr. Greenwald in his New York Times column several weeks ago – arguing that Mr. Obama, by not apologizing for his wife’s comments (only saying she misspoke), by not apologizing for taking off his American flag pin, and by not being candid about his relationship with Reverend Wright and by choosing instead to explain why he acted as he did – was showing arrogance that was dangerous and would cost him the election.
I think perhaps that Mr. Kristol actually sees precisely what Mr. Greenwald misses – that Mr. Obama’s authenticity is a significant strength. Mr. Kristol is attempting to undermine this strength by painting it as a tragic flaw. While most politicians – when confronted over these issues – would try to apologize, minimize, and move on, hoping the public will forget, Mr. Obama has done the opposite because he believes he is in the right and he has seen, and felt as the rest of us have, how this duck-and-cover strategy has failed, allowing especially Democratic candidates to be painted as weak.
Mr. Greenwald – and quite a number of other conservatives – won’t be able to see what’s hit them come September and October.