Former Bush adviser Karl Rove launched the latest salvo against Barack Obama in an attempt to define him as unpalatable to the general electorate:
"Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."These remarks may be nothing more than childish name-calling, but they do illustrate a larger problem confronting Republicans as they try to keep the polls close.
Rove is clearly trying to paint Obama as an aloof, wealthy, liberal. However, the problem with this line of attack is that it directly contradicts some of the other caricatures Republicans have been trying to make stick to the Democratic presidential nominee.
For example, earlier this year there was a whisper campaign accentuating Obama's middle name by referring to him as "Barack Hussein Obama." Some thought this was innocuous because they were simply referring to him by his full name, even though nobody refers to John McCain as "John Sidney McCain." Others thought this was identity politics at its worst by trying to subtly frame Obama as a Muslim and therefore potentially disloyal to the United States. Other than appealing to the darkest elements of human nature, there's one other problem with this caricature. How often do you find dark-skinned men named "Hussein" at a country club?
Another enduring caricature is the America-hating black militant Obama with his racist wife Michelle. This is the Obama that spent 20 years in Jeremiah Wright's church--the same church that was later visited by Michael Pflager who invoked White entitlement as he mocked Hillary Clinton. But how does one go from spending 20 years in a Black church preaching Black liberation theology to a country club that is presumably overwhelmingly populated by the very people his pastor was criticizing?
Then there's the young and inexperienced Obama. This is the Obama who has yet to complete his first term in the Senate and was still serving as a state legislator in Springfield, Illinois, at the start of President Bush's term. But if he's so young and inexperienced, how could he be an elitist at a country club? Young people and those who have not built up their network of connections through years of experience are going to have a hard time gaining access to such exclusive resorts. After all, not just anybody can join a private country club to begin with.
This brings up the caricature of Obama as an elitist. This is the Obama who went to Harvard Law and attended an elite academy in Hawaii. Republicans have tried to paint Obama as a "limousine liberal" who looks down on voters who "cling to guns and religion." But that goes back to the identity politics and class warfare question. Obama is less wealthy than the very strategists and party operatives who are accusing him of being a country club liberal. He recently finished paying off his student loans and had the smallest net worth of all of this year's major presidential candidates, including John McCain. And if surrogates want to bring Michelle Obama into this fight as an elitist, that would make Cindy McCain fair game. She's a former beauty queen and a multi-millionaire who inherited a brewery and owns a private jet. So who would be more elitist in that case?
We also have the liberal Obama caricature. This is the guy who makes Ted Kennedy look like a moderate. This is the guy who is the most liberal person in the Senate. But aren't country clubs more typically viewed as havens for the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party than liberals--especially biracial ones named Hussein?
The fact that Republicans have tried to redefine Obama in so many often contradictory ways suggests that 1) none of the previous labels have gained significant traction, 2) the party as a whole is largely bankrupt of new ideas, and 3) Obama has successfully innoculated himself from most of their prior charges. Of course, in addition to being petty, these kinds of attacks play right into Obama's message of "change" because he can point to this name-calling and show that the Republican Party is out of touch and that they care more about political posturing than solving real problems.
These kinds of attacks may gin up the base, but they will likely do little to bring independents and new voters into the fold.