Via Greg Sargent at Talking Point Memo, I see the McCain campaign (a.k.a. the kinder, gentler lynch mob) is ramping up the volume on its guilt-by-association campaign linking Obama to retired Weatherman Bill Ayers -- and dispensing with its false flag operation in the process.
From McCain spokesperson Brian Rogers:
"The fact that Barack Obama chose to launch his political career at the home of an unrepentant terrorist raises more questions about Senator Obama's judgment than any TV ad ever could . . ." etc. etc.
More of that "civil," "respectful" campaign McCain promised -- respecful as in, "we will respectfully tear that uppity you-know-what's face clean off his head."
But, unlike most of McRove's spitball volleys (like his vapid Obama-is-a-celebrity ads) this one actually interests me, because I'm curious to see if a slur so hopelessly retro still has some juice left in it.
I mean, I doubt if one American in 20 could correctly identify who the Weathermen were and what they did back in the '60s -- an era that, like McCain, is fading fast into the mists of pre-history (prehistory, in an American context, being anything that happened before last Tuesday). Unless the McCaniacs are going to spend a LOT of time filling in the back story, I wouldn't be surprised if voters think the message is that meteorologists, like hot chicks, dig Obama. Which doesn't seem like such a bad thing, even if the meteorologists are white.
What's next? Will some young speechwriter at the RNC come up with the bright idea of dubbing Obama the candidate of "acid, amnesty and abortion"?
To me it's a vivid reminder that the Republican Party is essentially frozen at a moment in time -- roughly, 1972 (or at the latest, 1984). The politics of the culture war are all it knows, and, here in the twilight of its long ideological dominance, all it really wants to know. And maybe all it has left.
The McCain campaign takes these tendencies to the nth degree. His entire political career, not to mention his entire political persona (as he constantly reminds us) is rooted in and saturated with the Vietnam War and its demoralized aftermath -- the resentments, divisions, hatreds, outraged moral proprieties and, most of all, the deep, abiding sense of betrayal that drove (and in many ways still drives) the conservative movement's vociferous hatred of liberals and liberalism.
It's not like McCain has always driven the point home with a rhetorical sledge hammer. He can use a lighter touch when it serves his purposes -- as with his standard gag about not being able to make Woodstock because he was tied up at the time (neatly disassociating himself from the '60s counterculture without appearing cranky and uncool to his Boomer admirers.) However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and so his Rovian brain trust again is aiming straight for the amygdala -- the aggression center of the brain -- in hopes of dragging all that remembered patriotic rage back to the surface.
But the Vietnam War ended (for America) more than 35 years ago -- as far from today's world as the Gulf of Tonkin was from Herbert Hoover's. Outside of McCain's aging conservative base, how many people will remember, or care, that Obama's gray-haired academic acquaintance was once a spectacularly unsuccessful amateur bomb thrower?
I don't know. And even if the answer is "only a few old farts," the McCain camp may see those farts as the keys to victory in states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- where, in many a rusting industrial community, time also stopped somewhere in the 1970s.
They may even be right. Maybe associating Obama -- who was all of seven or eight years old when the Weathermen were play acting at revolution -- with an armchair radical old enough to be his father will be enough to push all these old buttons one more time. Certainly McCain's allies in the corporate media will do what they can to help lean on those buttons.
Nevertheless, I don't think there's much future in this strategy. The '60s culture war is gasping its last gasps, with McCain and his Rovian crew frantically trying to get one last bestial fuck out of the old sow before she lays down in the mud and dies.
There is historical precedent. For two generations after the Civil War, the Republican Party routinely won elections by running against the Confederacy and Jeff Davis (with a healthy dose of anti-Catholicism thrown in for good measure). One particularly inventive GOP candidate even took to carrying the alleged shirt of one of his martyred comrades around to his stump speeches. At the emotional climax of his rant against the treasonous Democrats and their papish ways, he would thrust the soiled, ragged garment over his head for the audience to see -- thus the phrase "waiving the bloody shirt."
It was a powerful bit of theatre. But as the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic aged and died and the wounds left by the war either healed or scarred over, the message gradually lost its kick -- even among the GOP faithful. Finally, around Teddy Roosevelt's time, it fell out of the Republican political arsenal for good.
McCain is no Teddy Roosevelt, despite his ridiculous pretensions. But if we're lucky, very lucky, what happened then may happen again, making this election the last (and hopefully futile) wave for the Vietnam War's version of the bloody flag.
Update 8/26: Quite a few commenters argue that I have fundamentally misread Rovian intent -- that the objective here isn't to jab fingers into unhealed wounds left over from the Vietnam War, but rather to mainstream the Obama-is-a-secret-terrorist fairy tale manufactured by the conservative nightmare machine.
The fact that Ayers is an aging relic of a '60s splinter sect that relatively few now recall (or want to) may actually be a selling point for the scam: The Rovians may have decided this actually allows them to brand Ayers as a dangerous terrorist, which these days is inevitably a synonym for "crazed Muslim fundamentalist."
That would be a neat trick: Cognitively associate Obama with radical Islamic terrorism -- without factually associating him with radical Islamic terrorism.
Well, it's a theory. And maybe the theorists are right -- I often get the feeling I'm not nearly cynical enough, especially when it comes to Rovian propaganda. But, of course, we could both right. Maybe this is a political "twofer": a ploy that allows McCain and the Rovians to wave the old Vietnam bloody shirt and the new 9/11 bloody shirt at the same time.
Boy, that Satan must be one proud parent.