I have enormous respect for Karl Rove. So I was disappointed to hear him say, on Fox News Sunday, that it is “stupid” for Republicans to raise questions about Barack Obama’s association with Rev. Wright because “the issue was litigated four years ago by John McCain deciding not to litigate it.”
Litigated by virtue of not being litigated? This is lawyer talk; the language of Barack Obama. It’s not the way to think about elections. In elections, all that should matter is whether a line of attack will be effective and whether it is fair enough. Whether a line of attack could or should have been raised earlier is irrelevant. Doctrines like collateral estoppel and waiver have no place in political campaigns.
It is true that more should have been made of Rev. Wright in 2008. But the question of how much to make of him and other radical associates of Obama in 2012 is an independent one; it should be decided on its own merits. Remember too that what Americans might not have wanted to hear when they were falling in love with Obama, they may be receptive to hearing now that they have fallen out of love.
As to the merits, two main arguments are invoked for shying away from Wright and other radical Obama associates. First, now that Obama has a four year record, the issue is no longer what Obama’s past associations tell us about the kind of president he will be. His record tells us what kind of president he is, and attacks should focus on that record.
Clearly, Obama’s record is the overriding issue in this campaign. But it’s not the only issue. Obama has said that his policies are subject to change once he doesn’t have to worry about being re-elected. At a minimum, his past associations provide good evidence of the direction of such changes.
Moreover, presidential elections aren’t just about issues; they are about the person in whom we are entrusting our highest office. George W. Bush’s military service, raised when he ran for re-election, wasn’t about issues; it was about character. That’s precisely why the issue, as bogusly presented by CBS News, was a threatening one.
The second argument for shying away from Wright is that raising the issue will backfire, as pro-Obama forces accuse Romney of personal attacks and racism. But Romney need not, and should not, make the attacks; nor should the major PACs that back him. If the issue is raised –- after testing it with focus groups — it should be raised by lesser groups, as was the case with ads attacking John Kerry over his military service.
I see no reason, moreover, to fear push back from Team Obama and the MSM. Obama’s associations are personal in a sense, but when it comes to associating with anti-American radicals, the personal is truly the political. In any case, this line of attack is no more personal than those that will be hurled at Romney.
Finally, attempts to paint usage of the Obama-Wright connection as racist might well be dismissed by voters as a whiney and unbecoming evasion. It’s not racist to be disturbed by the fact that Obama chose a rabidly anti-American, who happens to be Black, as his spiritual leader. And, of course, Obama’s associations with white radicals can be invoked as part of the same line of attack.
If Republicans could profit from attacking John Kerry in connection with his service to America in a bloody war, they should not rule out attacking Barack Obama for his close association with anti-American leaders. And if it actually would be counterproductive to attack Obama on this basis because the electorate would deem the attack racist, then America has changed so dramatically that conservatives should consider giving up politics and cultivating their gardens.