James Kirchick does not exactly fit the bill as a right-wing ideologue, although he is more of a centrist than his center-left colleagues at The New Republic. That gives his Politico column on political smears in the presidential race significantly more heft than if similar observations were made by a Robert Novak or a Charles Krauthammer. Kirchick disputes the notion that Republicans have engaged in smear tactics against Barack Obama — and points the finger instead at Obama’s campaign and supporters:
Thus far, no one with any serious affiliation to John McCain’s campaign has resorted to the alleged “scare” tactics in which Republicans — and, apparently, only Republicans — have been perfecting since Richard Nixon was first elected. On the contrary, if the past few months have showed us anything, it’s that the Obama campaign is the one dealing in crude smears. …
It’s curious how anyone could argue that a man with such visceral understanding of the capacity for what America’s enemies will do to our men and women in uniform doesn’t fully appreciate the cost of war. But even more troubling is the unmistakable pattern of these smears, all of them unsubtly alleging that McCain is an unhinged, mentally unstable warmonger who would deploy soldiers capriciously because he hasn’t truly experienced the horrors of ground battle. Indeed, the claims of these four men — and the short period of time in which they were all uttered — are so similar in tone that one would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility they were coordinated by the Obama campaign.
Nevertheless, the fears of Obama supporters that their candidate lies eternally vulnerable to GOP smears exists only in their fevered imaginations. The evidence of dirty Republican tricks has been utterly absent this campaign season. And if anyone has tried to smear Barack Obama in the way that Thomas, Wolfe and other Democratic partisans allege, it was not the Republican National Committee, but rather Hillary Rodham Clinton and her surrogates. In February, the Drudge Report claimed that the Clinton campaign circulated photos of Obama in a traditional East African turban and robe, with the message that the images showed him “dressed.” Asked if there was any truth to the smear that Obama is a Muslim, she infamously replied, “As far as I know,” it wasn’t the case. After the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, she said the results showed that “Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.”
Kirchick emphasizes the series of attacks and smears on McCain’s military record coming from a range of Democrats, most of which AP and I have extensively documented. He sees this as a coordinated effort to paint McCain as temperamentally unsuited for leadership, somehow without getting Obama’s hands dirty in the process.
Barack Obama is the leader of his party, a point he made himself when he imposed new rules on the DNC for fundraising. A leader who didn’t want to have his party take part in such a smear campaign would act to stop one when it got rolling. Obama’s answer? It’s not a priority for him. That makes it pretty clear where the problem lies and where the smear campaign originates.