Themes for the Barackathon

Before this week ends, the Democrats will have convinced themselves that John McCain is a combination of George W. Bush and Barry Goldwater. One of the major themes of the Denver Barackathon was tipped yesterday by the Dems’ think tank, the New York Times.

The Times serves two functions for the Dems. Because they haven’t had a new idea since the night Bobby Kennedy died, the Times does their thinking for them. When the Times doubted the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats’ ability to question Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, it printed a series of questions that the soon-to-be Chief Justice should answer in his confirmation hearing. And, sure enough, Diane Feinstein was soon seen reading those questions to Roberts, who answered them with aplomb.

The funniest proof of the Times’ function was on August 3, 2007 when Congress — about to go out on summer recess — was flailing around on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Times ran an editorial charging that the Bush administration was stampeding Congress to pass what it characterized as dangerous reforms that would have loosed the National Security Agency to ignore the Constitution and listen at will to ordinary Americans’ private conversations. Challenged at a press conference to say whether he believed Congress was being stampeded, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) literally pulled the Times editorial out of his suit coat pocket and held it up for reporters to see, saying the editorial was his answer to the question.

In extremis, when the NYT feels all else will be lost, it simply issues orders. And when it appeared that Samuel Alito Supreme Court nomination wouldn’t be filibustered, the Times issued an editorial demand for one. So Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), his military training asserting itself, jumped on the first plane out of Davos, Switzerland to return to Washington to obey the Times’ orders.

Yesterday the Times set out one of the main themes for the Democratic National Convention this week in two columns.

First, Frank Rich wrote that “McCain’s trigger-happy temperament and reactionary policies offer worse than no change.” Second, the lovely and talented Maureen Dowd wrote of McCain, “Did his captivity inform a search-and-destroy, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, ‘We are all Georgians,’ mentality?”

We already knew the first Barackathon theme, that electing McCain is tantamount to re-electing Bush to a third term. Now we have the second theme: that McCain is a reckless shoot-from-the-hip warmonger. The last time the Dems used this script, it worked.

In the 1964 Goldwater-Johnson race, the Dems hit Goldwater with a well-crafted smear. He was, they said, an extremist, a warmonger, someone who couldn’t be trusted with America’s nuclear arsenal. The brilliant television ad, showing a daisy-picking little girl with a mushroom cloud obliterating her image, was a cheap but effective scare.

To come out of Denver with a big bounce in the polls, the Dems have to fill in the paint-by-the-numbers outline of John McCain that Rich and Dowd have sketched for them. They’ll do that in two ways.

First, as they did in 2004, the Dems will stage a parade of their leaders proclaiming fealty to “the troops,” complete with a long line of veterans and retired generals who will declare their belief that Obama-Biden are their most faithful friends. That snow job melted in 2004 because the parade included so many Dems — including Barbara Boxer and Barney Frank — who have based their careers on contempt for the military.

This time, the Dems will do it better. Look for John Kerry to lead the pack condemning the “swift-boating” of Obama, and others to praise Obama’s promises to rebuild the military. And through the week, no one will try to penetrate the rhetoric.

Last year, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx) offered a resolution condemning the infamous ad — published in the New York Times, of course — accusing Gen. David Petraeus of betraying America. And Barack Obama did what he did so often in the Illinois Senate: he ducked and ran for cover. Early in the day, Obama was present to vote for the empty substitute offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer. Later in the day, he was suddenly missing: he didn’t vote on the Cornyn amendment at all. (The Cornyn amendment condemning the ad passed by a vote of 72-25-3. Not voting were Barack Obama, Maria Cantwell and — you guessed it — Joe Biden.)

One McCain TV ad on that non-vote by both members of the Democrats’ ticket could defeat their claim of “supporting the troops.”

Second, the Dems will do their best to do to McCain what they did to Goldwater. We’ll hear speech after speech about how all our enemies will be glad to talk to Obama because he and Biden know how to negotiate while McCain only knows how to shoot. They may even update the “little girl with a mushroom cloud” ad from the Goldwater days.

By pursuing the “warmonger-hip shooter,” the Democrats will certainly overreach. Here again, Sen. McCain can defeat them easily. In 1998, American embassies in Africa were bombed, and the Clinton administration failed to go after al-Queda. Even when the USS Cole was bombed and almost sunk in October 2000, the Clintons did nothing in response. Less than a year later came 9-11.

Obama — like Clinton — has never had to make a life-or-death decision. John McCain had to make a whole series of them every time he flew a combat mission and many more while suffering torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese.

Shooting from the hip is not necessarily bad, at least when you hit the target. As Robert De Niro says in an upcoming movie, there’s nothing wrong with a little shooting as long as the right people get shot.