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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Defense wins championships

We had another reminder this week that while the ability to score points attracts a lot of attention, it's solid defense that wins championships. How's that ring fit Kobe?

Barack Obama beefed up his defense this week by forgoing public funds in his race against John McCain.

The political press, emerging from its week of Shiva over the death of high priest Tim Russert, quickly joined McCain in pouncing on Obama for flip-flopping.

But this instance, as with the Russert Overreaction, is only the latest example of a political press corps seriously out of step with the ebb and flow of the campaigns and daily life. After all, weren't we promised a Hillary Clinton-Fred Thompson showdown not so long ago?

No one really seemed to notice the massive influx of young voters -- and small donors who carried Obama to victory and changed the dynamics of 2008.

Well, almost no one.

You remember Floyd Brown, don't you? Maybe not. Roger Ailes got all the credit (or blame) for the cheapshot Willie Horton ad that helped sink Michael Dukakis in 1988. A Swift Boater before his time, Brown first targeted Hillary Clinton before setting his sights on Obama.

I take little comfort in the fact that Brown has not yet found the cash to launch his smear campaign. After all, e-mail is free (or relatively so) and has been used extensively this year to raise false questions about Obama's religion, birthplace and patriotism. The same machinations have been at work to attack Michelle Obama.

Cash would only make it easier to spread the poison. And Obama wisely decided to play defense and prepare for an onslaught that every intelligent political reporter will acknowledge is going to come.

And maybe that's also part of the problem. The wise men and women of the press corps have become relics of another age. Advertising rules -- and have for every election cycle since 1968. Writing about the falsehoods is like whistling into the wind. No one hears it. But if you can somehow hold back the tide, maybe, just maybe...

Obama made a solid political calculation that a short-term hit -- and allegations of flip-flopping -- can be overcome with the very same cash that will enable him to tell his story. Giving up his one very pronounced advantage over McCain would have raised different questions about his campaign team's wisdom.

I continue to believe this will be a very different general election. This country is stuck in an unpopular war and the economy is tanking as the basic costs of daily life skyrocket. Change, in the form of a president who actually listens to everyone and is not beholden to a narrow base, is indeed the heart of this campaign.

The choice is between a man who has changed his position on campaign finance or a man who has changed his position on torture and offshore oil drilling, to name just two. A man who is still relatively new to political life versus a Washington insider of nearly three decades who embraces much of what is wrong today.

That is a real contrast. And one that will survive a kerfuffle over campaign spending that doesn't interest people who are more concerned about spending on food and fuel.

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