It's all negative all the time now in the TV ad wars. For once, Team Obama has stolen a march on Team McCain in the campaign hit parade. And its attack strategy seems to be much more on the axis of decision for this election.
The McCain operation under campaign director Steve Schmidt, who I know well from his management of Arnold Schwarzenegger's landslide 2006 re-election and profiled here on Huffington Post, has been the run-and-gun outfit of this campaign. Especially when it comes to attack ads. The Obama campaign has reflected the candidate's more measured persona, slow and steady, aiming for a sort of inexorability.
But when the O Team realized that McCain -- with his numbers headed south for a long winter and the Sarah Palin and campaign suspension gambits having failed to alter the dynamics with the voters who count most, moderates and independents -- was going all-negative with harsh personal character attacks, they swiftly made ready to jam McCain with the same.
McCain doesn't have much choice but to attack at this point, when you consider the latest battleground state poll leads for Obama -- including longtime red states Virginia and North Carolina -- as you see here on my New West Notes.
So today, Obama went up with a new ad attacking McCain for being "erratic" and "out of touch on the economy." And in a 13-minute video documentary available across the Net, his campaign revived McCain's involvement in the Charles Keating-centered savings and loan collapse.
Meanwhile, Palin had been trotted out over the weekend at fundraisers and in a big rally (which Schwarzenegger did not attend) in Carson, midway between Los Angeles and Orange County, to claim that Obama "pals around with terrorists." In advance of expected advertising linking Obama to '60s domestic terrorist-turned-Chicago education professor Bill Ayers.
Team McCain also rolled out a new ad attacking Obama for saying that US forces are "air-raiding villages and killing civilians" in Afghanistan. Which, as it happens, is part of a much longer sentence which means something quite different.
The revival of McCain's membership in the so-called "Keating Five" -- five US senators who helped McCain's Arizona constituent and pal Charles Keating evade federal regulation until it was too late for his savings & loan company, and the industry itself -- must sting McCain.
He's written movingly of how his experience in the scandal -- he was not charged and his career survived, unlike most of the others -- was a source of deep chagrin as it tarnished his sense of honor.
But he also wrote in his 2002 memoir, Worth the Fighting For: "On several occasions, he invited Cindy and me to his beautiful vacation retreat at Cat Cay in the Bahamas, flying us there, with our infant daughter, Meghan, and her nanny, on his private jet. The place always seemed to have a huge, boisterous crowd in attendance ... We would all crowd on his yacht, off for a day of swimming and snorkeling, and then return for another extravagant party with the best wine, food and entertainment available. They were memorable experiences, and even though our trips there would almost lead to my ruin, I would be lying were I to deny just how much I enjoyed them and how eagerly I awaited invitations to Charlie Keating's Shangri-La.''
It was after this political near-death experience that McCain assumed the reformer mantle. Prior to that, he'd been a fairly standard-issue conservative, though certainly interesting and personable enough to have former Senator and Democratic presidential frontrunner Gary Hart and former moderate Republican Senator and Clinton era Defense Secretary Bill Cohen as the groomsmen in his wedding to Cindy McCain.
Let's be clear. It's true that McCain stopped helping Keating when he realized that Keating was being investigated by the Justice Department.
It's also true that Obama has had a fairly tangential relationship with Bill Ayers.
But what is most true of all is that the Obama attacks are along the axis of decision with regard to the biggest issue in this election,
Are we in the midst of a massive financial crisis? Yes.
Was this crisis brought on in large measure by a hands-off, deregulationist philosophy? Yes.
Is there corruption on a truly grand scale involved? Yes.
As is the case with the Wall Street crisis, so too with the collapse of the savings & loan industry. Of which McCain's old friend Charles Keating, a convicted political corrupter, was the prime example.