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Attack, He Said

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Friday, August 01, 2008

What does Barack Obama have to do with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton?

Absolutely nothing, as far as I can tell. A mentally unstable party girl and an heiress/party girl? Did I miss the part where Obama's father was a hotel magnate, where he couldn't be trusted to take care of his children, where he literally partied till he dropped?

Yet that is the connection the McCain campaign is trying to make in its latest attack ad. Sen. McCain says he's "proud" of the ad. With all due respect (if any is left), what is there to be proud of? "I'm John McCain and I approved this ad." Why?

There's no honor in the latest McCain ad. It has nothing to do with issues, legitimate differences, or the strengths or weaknesses of the candidates. It's nothing more than a cheap shot at guilt by association or, worse yet, non-association, playing to people's ignorance instead of their intelligence.

I'd like to believe it won't work. I'd like to believe that people will judge McCain and Obama on their qualifications, their visions, their positions, their experience -- not on the basis of silly attack ads trying to tie them to people they've never met.

If McCain wants to claim he's more experienced, fair enough. If he wants to argue that his policies will be better, that he'll do more to bring gas prices down and home prices up, even better.

But even Obama's most ardent detractors should be willing to admit he is a man of enormous intelligence, a guy with a vision and a gift. I don't know Paris Hilton; she's not a friend of mine. Neither is Britney. But I do know this: Barack Obama is no Paris Hilton. And no Britney Spears.

I'm not naive. I understand that negative ads work. I have no doubt that McCain, walking a tightrope between the conservatives, whose support he needs and who could wreak havoc at his Convention, and the independents he used to appeal to, would rather turn this election into a referendum on Obama than an up-or-down vote on a third Republican term in the White House. I understand that he'd rather focus attention on Obama the celebrity than on McCain the professional politician, the Bush supporter, the Washington insider, the friend of lobbyists.

If he wants to run an ad attacking Obama for the church he attended and the pastor he defended, so it goes. If he wants to claim Obama was too recently a member of the State Senate in Illinois to be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., so be it. But Britney and Paris? Have you no shame, senator? How dumb do you think Americans are?

So why is McCain doing this?

Why is a man who promised to run a "respectful campaign," a guy who was himself the victim of a pretty ugly campaign that left him bruised and angry eight years ago, instead running a ridiculous and shameful one -- and in July, no less, with months to go before Election Day?

Presumably, it's because he thinks it will work, and that's all he cares about. Shame on all of us if he's right.

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