House Hunting

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 22, 2008 7:03 AM

Four years ago, the Republicans tried to turn John Kerry into a windsurfing elitist, poking fun at Teresa's ketchup fortune and all the fancy houses she owned.

The Democrats thought that was silly and cynical.

Now it's turn-the-tables time. The latest line of attack against John McCain has to do with his real estate holdings, financed by Cindy's beer fortune.

This is the state of presidential politics today. Never mind that some very wealthy presidents--FDR, JFK--did plenty for the downtrodden, as did Nelson Rockefeller in New York. It's kind of a cheap, bogus argument--or at least it feels that way when it's done to your guy.

It's certainly fair for Barack Obama's side to fight back against the whole airhead celebrity rap. And it's true that while Obama was raised by a single mother in modest circumstances, McCain was the son and grandson of admirals. Character is important in a race for the White House. But these races often seem to descend into caricature.

The latest triggering event is the following: "Sen. John McCain said in an interview Wednesday that he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own. 'I think -- I'll have my staff get to you,' McCain told Politico."

Obama rushed out a new ad. Liberals are pumped. Carpetbagger's Steve Benen:

"The exact number isn't especially relevant. The point is a) McCain is so rich he owns a lot of homes; b) McCain is so out of touch he can't even remember the number of homes he owns; and c) despite his extravagant wealth, McCain is anxious to push an agenda that favors the rich even more while screwing over the middle class and working families."

And don't forget the $4.7 million condo in Phoenix--which turns out to be two apartments combined.

At the Political Machine blog, David Knowles takes the high road--for about two seconds:

"I'm not a fan of stoking populist anger by pointing out that a candidate is rich. Wealth in itself doesn't necessarily mean a person won't do great things for those less fortunate. Take Michael Bloomberg as an example of a guy who really does care about the poor.

"That said, the fact that McCain doesn't know how many residences he owns, be they condos or not, will not endear him to the middle class voters who are struggling in today's economy. And the 'I'll have my staff get to you,' reeks of Thurston Howell III like nobody's business. 'Lovey, call up the servants and ask them how many fabulous homes we own!' "

McCain aides feel they've been handed a gift, that they can now draw the press into writing about Tony Rezko, the former Obama fundraiser who is now a convicted felon and who sold the senator from Illinois some land for his own home. Here's the counterattack from McCain spokesman Brian Rogers:

"Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses? Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people 'cling' to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who's in touch with regular Americans?"

You can kiss any hope for a high-minded campaign goodbye. I critique the Obama ad on this subject and the McCain counterattack spot on Rezko here and here.

Time's Mark Halperin: "Two Republicans close to the situation say McCain has apparently settled on Mitt Romney as his running mate." Ironic that this would leak out before we learned who Obama has picked.

I feel comfortable in saying this: Those stories about McCain considering Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman were either a trial balloon or a nod to independents. This New York Times piece sounds like an authorized leak:

"Senator John McCain has narrowed his list of potential running mates to a handful of candidates and appears unlikely to select anyone who supports abortion rights, several advisers close to his campaign said on Thursday.

"Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota are the top candidates as Mr. McCain and his advisers gather over the next several days at Mr. McCain's cabin near Sedona, they said."

Another opening for the Dems, if they want to keep attacking McCain personally, can be found in this Christian Science Monitor piece:

"The McCain campaign had also put out the story that Mother Teresa 'convinced' Cindy to bring home two orphans from Bangladesh in 1991.

"Mrs. McCain, it turns out, never met Mother Teresa on that trip. (Once contacted by the Monitor, the campaign revised the story on its website.)

"Such exaggerations may simply be the product of a faulty memory or a desire to be 'better' than one is in a political culture that requires larger-than-life idols. But with the advent of the fact-checking obsessed blogosphere -- and a media racing to keep up -- such self-aggrandizement doesn't last as long as it once did."

An insta-reaction from Andrew Sullivan:

"This is the pattern:

"A story that shows the McCains' genuine compassion and faith is embellished over the years to make the story a little more perfect, a little more salient, a little better as a narrative. It's especially important to add these embellishments when your goal is to appeal to a fundamentalist base, when your own prickly, personal and private faith isn't very marketable. And when your adopted daughter is Bangladeshi, and when that fact has been disgracefully used against you by the Bush machine in 2000, and when some fringes of your base get queasy about multi-racial families, what better way to describe the adoption than as something Mother Teresa herself 'implored' you to do?"

Yet another line of attack from the Obama camp. TPM's Greg Sargent picks up on a phone call that I didn't see get much attention:

"In an apparent effort to regain the offensive, the Obama campaign launched a broad attack on McCain Wednesday, portraying him as reckless on foreign policy, a hot-head who's too willing to use force and not willing enough to apprise himself of facts on the ground before urging military action.

"On a conference call with reporters just now, senior Obama foreign policy adviser Susan Rice argued that there is 'a pattern here of recklessness' when it comes to McCain's approach to various national security issues. She pointed out that McCain reacted too quickly with 'aggressive and bellicose' rhetoric on the Russia-Georgia crisis, and contrasted that with Obama's measured response to the dust-up.

" 'There's something to be said for letting facts drive judgment,' Rice said, also referring to McCain's desire to target Iraq right after 9/11."

The key here is that this is actually a character attack on McCain, something the Obama campaign has been reluctant to undertake at a time when McCain has shown no such reticence with regard to 'celeb' Obama."

In another part of that Politico sitdown, McCain declines to become a premature lame duck:

"John McCain stated unequivocally in an interview with Politico on Wednesday that he would not pledge to serve only a single four-year term, rejecting a suggestion that some allies believe would allay questions about his age and underscore his nonpartisan message of putting country first. 'No,' McCain said flatly, 'I'm not considering it.' There has been speculation that McCain, 71, could couple a single-term promise with an untraditional running mate such as Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) to make the case that he would shove political interests aside and run a consensus-oriented government with the Democratic-held Congress."

I used to think that would have some appeal, but I now believe it would undercut McCain from Day One if he won the election.

With U.S. and Iraqi officials agreeing on a timetable--that's different than a time horizon, right?--for withdrawal, National Review's Seth Swirsky says Obama (who opposed the surge) should be grateful:

"People in America feel safe, and President Bush -- thanks to his advocacy of tough FISA laws, winning in Iraq, taking on the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc. -- deserves the credit. Therefore, Bush also deserves the credit for making the Obama candidacy palatable.

"Why? Because Americans simply will not elect a liberal when they feel fear. Without Bush's success against terror, a leftist newcomer with little experience -- like Barack Obama -- would never be considered for the presidency. Similarly, Americans could only elect Jimmy Carter because they felt safe. The chill between America and the former Soviet Union had thawed considerably by 1976."

I don't think it's true that they will not elect a "liberal." I do think it's true that they will not elect someone who has scant foreign policy experience and is not a plausible commander-in-chief. As a Texas governor who couldn't name the leader of Pakistan, George W. Bush would have had a hard time getting elected if he'd first run after9/11.

Salon deconstructs one of the nutty e-mails floating around the Net, titled "OBAMA'S MILITANT RACISM REVEALED

" In her senior thesis at Princeton, Michele Obama, the wife of Barack Obama stated that America was a nation founded on 'crime and hatred'. Moreover, she stated that whites in America were 'ineradicably racist'.

"Actually, that's a lie -- she doesn't make either of those statements anywhere in the 64-page thesis or the appendices, which tabulate answers to a survey she conducted of black Princeton alumni and then include the survey form. The thesis, entitled 'Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community,' comes to a conclusion that might not shock most college graduates -- black students identified strongly with other blacks while at Princeton, but after graduating, their attachment to the black community decreased . . .

"But rather than revealing 'MILITANT RACISM' (or even the less threatening lowercase version), the thesis actually shows Obama rejecting stereotypes. 'An individual who is more personally comfortable with Blacks than with Whites on an individual level need not hold political ideologies which support the separation of Blacks and Whites on a community level,' she writes.

"The 1985 thesis, titled 'Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community' was written under her maiden name, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson.

"Like the opening reference to 'Michelle Obama (a/k/a Michelle laVaughn Robinson),' the line about the thesis being 'written under her maiden name' seems designed to imply an attempt by Obama to hide her association with her husband when she wrote the thesis. Of course, in reality, Michelle Obama was 21 years old when the thesis was published, and the Obamas wouldn't marry until seven years later."

The news that Air America's Rachel Maddow is getting her own MSNBC show draws only qualified praise from the New Republic's Sacha Zimmerman:

"I really like Maddow and have found her thoroughly compelling throughout this latest campaign season, but I am not so thrilled about this trend toward partisan networks and news. By all means we should have progressive and conservative commentators and analysts, but is there no room for argument between the two? Where have all the iconoclasts gone?

"With this split in the networks and a near perfect red-blue divide nationwide, it seems that we are more and more retreating to our comfortable trenches and refusing to acknowledge anything but spite, paranoia, and conspiracy theory when it comes to the other side. And, since cable news is not exactly renowned for its nuance or intellectual rigor, knee-jerk reactions can pass for smart commentary. I think Maddow will be a wonderful host (and God knows MSNBC could use a smart woman), but how exciting is it really if she is just preaching to the choir?"

And just for laughs, the Center for Media and Public Affairs study finds that Obama is considered not very funny, at least to Leno, Letterman and Conan:

"Future Democratic nominee Barack Obama has attracted only 169 jokes from late-night TV talk show hosts in 2008, far fewer than his opponent John McCain's 322 jokes, and less than half as many as the 382 jokes aimed at Hillary Clinton, despite her departure from the presidential race on June 7th. George W. Bush tops the list with 428 jokes."

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