"I would answer back hard. What do you mean he's not one of us? It's John McCain who wears $500 shoes, has six houses, and comes from one of the richest families in his state," Schumer said. "It's Barack Obama who climbed up the hard way, and that's why he wants middle-class tax cuts and better schools for our kids."
I sympathize with Schumer's sentiment, but I also think he's wrong. I could get away with calling McCain out and there are plenty of Democratic candidates who could, not Obama. In fact, you may have noticed I do call out McCain. The thing is I'm not running and I'm not Barack Obama.
The Obama campaign is based on somethings that create certain bars to behavior, the symbolism of a campaign based on "new" politics of hope, change, and optimism can't be refuted by its behavior. There is one other aspect, in a very public endeavor involving public approval of an ambitious black man it would be counter productive to get an image as an angry black man. It is unfortunate that such a double standard exists, Chuck Schumer - for example - could get hopping up and down angry with McCain and get away with it, not Obama. Not in the face of McCain's outright lies and underhanded slander. The really big limit though is the mantra of the campaign.
Barack Obama is a politician and he has shown that he knows how to play, with gloves off. But this time he's on a national stage with a campaign of difference. In order to persuade Americans that a campaign is different it needs to be above the fray, no anger, no cutting remarks, just efficient brush offs of "silliness." The opponent looks foolish if given enough rope and then discarded with a clear logical statement. If the opponent hands you brainlessness on a plate, it's fine to suggest they like to act ignorant. Not to insinuate that bottom of the Naval Academy class doesn't suggest ... um ... competence at figuring things out.
Democrats need to relax some on this issue. Obama has yet to demonstrate weakness in campaigning. The roughneck Clinton campaign was regularly frustrated by Obama without him getting personal and mean. McCain will continue to flail about, he will continue to dog whistle past the race issue, and as he is frustrated it will show. McCain is used to being a star and being over shadowed by Obama will wear on him. His age will wear on him, he has demonstrated a great deal of stamina, but constant traveling and public appearances with mis-steps immediately dissected is extremely tiring. At some point his famous temper is going to come out.
Less connected surrogates can do some dirty work, but the center of the Obama campaign needs to maintain its sunny exterior, rising above the nastiness of Republicanism - pointedly rising above that. Obama may get considerably more press coverage than McCain but it also carries a great deal more negative coverage and under that scrutiny it would be a mistake for Obama to make any moves that looked small or mean or could be misconstrued into such. The Dana Milbank "presumptuous" presumptive candidate theme shows that innocent and self-deprecating statements can be made into something arrogant.
Arrogance is not something Obama can afford as an image. He already has an athletic bearing and physical stance that is easily construed as cocky and his command of speaking venues encourages jealous comparisons. He will be portrayed as elitist and arrogant by the opposition, a pretty, empty suit and that can only be combated by staying above it and outside it. Obama has played it smart up until now and he doesn't need to start listening to the people who know how to lose elections.