Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Panic knows no boundaries

Panic knows no boundaries

 

The guy can't even sign a museum guest book without being smeared by the McCain campaign.

I can understand, up to a point, why the McCain campaign is freaked out by Barack Obama's largely flawless foreign foray. One of the presumptive Republican nominee's few advantages in this race is the public perception that he, not Obama, seems more credible as a commander-in-chief, a judgment that owes much to McCain's war hero profile and his long Washington experience. Indeed, the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, which is conducted jointly by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, finds that, by a margin of 53 to 25 percent, Americans choose McCain over Obama as the guy with the best commander creds.

In other words, if Obama can manage to significantly narrow that margin, McCain will be left with virtually nothing to sell in this race; without his national security advantage, for instance, he might be stuck having to dwell on the subject area that he confesses knowing little about - namely, economics. For instance, he might have to explain how he plans to make permanent the Bush tax cuts, slash corporate taxes, yet somehow  keep his promise to balance the budget by 2012.

This is why the McCain camp appears to be in a state of panic this week, which has clearly been one of its worst. And this brings us to the guest book incident, which epitomizes that panic.

The other day, Obama visited the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. While signing the guest book, he wrote that the museum served as “a reminder of man’s potential for great evil but also our capacity to rise from tragedy and remake our world." He also wrote: “Let our children come here and know this history so they can add their voices to proclaim 'never again'."

Standard stuff, really. Any world leader, or wannabe leader, who treks to Yad Vashem is going to express those sentiments - not out of any desire to pander to the Israelis, but to basically state the obvious. The "never again" avowal is rooted in human decency, and knows no partisan boundaries.

But the McCain camp, apparently, thinks otherwise. Sentiments expressed about the Holocaust are apparently fair game in a political race. Panic knows no boundaries.

Yesterday, McCain's people put out a statement saying in essence that Obama's guest-book sentiments smacked of hypocrisy. Here was Obama deploring the genocide of the Jews, they said, whereas last year, in an interview with the Associated Press, Obama seemed to voice little concern about the potential for genocide in Iraq. (When asked whether the potential for genocide should be a sufficient reason to retain a major military presence in Iraq, Obama told the AP: "Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done.”)

Even on the so-called merits, this McCain argument comes up short. It's hard to read that Obama quote as a wholesale expression of indifference to genocide, much less any contradiction of the sentiments he wrote in the Holocaust museum guest book. Indeed, Obama is also on record (though not in the McCain statement) supporting the option of  international military efforts "to suppress potential genocidal violence in Iraq." And besides, if we're looking to compare Obama and McCain on genocide, it's worth noting that darfurscores.org, a watchdog on the issue of Darfur, gives Obama an "A" grade in each of the last two years; McCain scored a "B" in 2006, and a "C" in 2007.

More generally, it's a tad discomfiting to see apolitical Holocaust sentiment being tossed around as a political football, as if to suggest to Jewish voters back home that Obama's guest-book writings should be dismissed as insincere. In some ways, that seems worse than the predictable attacks on Obama's patriotism (such as McCain's remark the other day that Obama "would rather lose a war than win a political campaign," thus implying that Obama would supposedly betray his country for the sake of personal ambition). Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but it seems to me that self-evident sentiments about the Holocaust should not be grist for domestic partisan attack.

Notably, even the guy who served as Mitt Romney's primary season press secretary suggests that the McCain camp was flailing wildly on this one. Kevin Madden told a cable TV interviewer last night that "it certainly lacks a lot of relevence...it really doesn't make that much sense." The best he could muster was this: "The Obama campaign has set the tone this week...and in the contrast of the two images, (the McCain people) are doing everything they can to compete."

But the way the McCain camp is competing...it's puzzling, in a sense. The latest round of national polls show Obama in the lead by only modest single digits, and new polls in four battleground states (Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan) show McCain and Obama locked in statistical ties. Given all the prevailing winds that favor Obama, that's not so bad. Clearly, however, the McCain camp is focused on the negatives (the landslide perception that he is too tied to President Bush, the grassroots enthusiasm gap) - and the killer possibility that, if Obama gains steady ground on the commander-in-chief question, John McCain will be spending the next four years as a member of the Senate minority. 

 

Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
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Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
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