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Fighting The Last War?

The Obama team has gotten skittish and possibly confused. Having read all those Mark Penn emails, they are convinced their biggest problem is that Barack Obama is too “foreign.” And that’s what they are going to spend a lot of time focusing on–that he is so American–at the convention. That, at least, is what the New York Times tells us. If true, this strikes me as monumentally silly for several reasons. (It also sounds a heck of a lot like John Kerry’s regrettable “reporting for duty” meme.)

First, it is literally fighting the last campaign against Hillary Clinton (or part of that split-personality campaign). It is backward-looking, entirely defensive, and completely irrelevant. It is a sign of how the Clintons have gotten inside the heads of the Obama team that they are now thinking up defenses to non-issues or second-level problems.

Second, by worrying about all that, they have missed the more serious problems that have become apparent as the summer wore on. National security, experience and gravitas may be back in fashion. Convincing voters that he really is patriotic is a colossal waste of time and a distraction from attending to these much more acute issues.

Third, remember all those pundits fretting that if the election is about Obama he will lose? Well it sounds like the election and the convention will be a lot about Obama. It’s hard to run a convention not about the candidate, but the danger is that the convention devoted to proving the candidate is “American” devolves into a frothy, substance-less broth of empty slogans and mush.

Maybe the Times got it wrong, or exaggerated the degree to which Obama is going to obsess about proving his patriotic bona fides, but this is one story the McCain team is hoping the Grey Lady got right.


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