In politics, everyone wants to be seen as a mudslinging virgin -- who, like King Lear, is "more sinned against than sinning." Toward that end, Democrats have crafted the conceit that Republicans are attack dogs, while Democratic candidates are not sufficiently ruthless. After years of calling President Bush every name in the book, the left nonetheless manages to see itself as the victim in the smear game.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama knows how to play to that conceit. In a speech before a Veterans of Foreign Wars gathering in Florida on Tuesday, Obama went into woe-is-me mode as he responded to Republican candidate John McCain's criticism of Obama's opposition to the successful U.S. troop surge in Iraq.
"One of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism," said Obama. "I have never suggested that Sen. McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it, because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same."
Poor baby. To hear his lament, you'd never guess that Obama repeatedly has argued that McCain picks his positions out of ambition. Obama recently told a group, "The price (McCain) paid for his party's nomination has been to reverse himself on position after position."
You've read the stories about McCain's ad mocking Obama as a Paris Hilton-like celebrity. But the media have barely reported on the Obama spot that hits McCain for playing the "same old Washington games." And in case you missed the "old" part -- the phrase appears in big letters. NBC Political Director Chuck Todd reported that Team Obama has run a "stealth" negative ad campaign, by placing ads in key markets without first alerting the media.
Oh, and while the Democratic National Committee produced a spot lampooning "Exxon John," ABC reported that Exxon Mobil Corp. execs have donated more money to Obama than McCain.
On a conference call Wednesday, Obama surrogate Richard A. Clarke called McCain "reckless" and "trigger-happy," while surrogate Susan Rice attacked McCain's Karl Rove-style "gutter" politics.
A spate of e-mails linked McCain to an "associate" of convicted uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. So who was this associate? Ralph Reed -- the former Christian Coalition director, who fell from grace after news reports that Abramoff had funneled gambling money to Reed. And how was McCain, who had held hearings to investigate Abramoff, "cozying up" -- as Team Obama wrote -- to Reed? It turns out Reed sent out an e-mail encouraging donors to attend a McCain fundraiser.
Pretty flimsy stuff -- and from the campaign that bristled when others tried to link Obama to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who crafted the phrase that became the title of Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope."
And please, don't bring up the "swiftboating" of 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry -- not after Obama met with billionaire T. Boone Pickens and pooh-poohed the very notion that he should address Pickens' $3 million support for the Swift Boat group. As Obama said, "You know, he's got a longer track record than that."
Hey, I'm game. In the play of politics, campaigns hurl accusations at each other, but only the good stuff sticks, and only then because something about the charge resonates with voters.
So when I hear Democrats complain that McCain did not stay in a "cone of silence" before the Saddleback Church event, it means McCain won the exchange. It couldn't be that McCain won because he does frequent town hall meetings, and he's heard all the questions before -- and he has good answers. No, it has to be because he cheated.
The left then whines that the right plays hardball, and the right excels at slinging mud -- blind to the fact that both sides have able mudslingers, but only one side has champion poor losers.