Via Glenn Greenwald, I see that Obama has responded to the “Lipstick Pigs” controversy:
I actually find this pretty persuasive, but, as Greenwald notes, it’s not altogether unprecedented. Here’s Michael Dukakis’s response to George H. W. Bush’s attack ads in 1988:
MICHAEL DUKAKIS: I’m fed up with it. Haven’t seen anything like it in 25 years of public life. George Bush’s negative TV ads, distorting my record, full of lies and he knows it. I’m on the record for the very weapons systems his ads say I’m against. I want to build a strong defense. I’m sure he wants to build a strong defense. So this isn’t about defense issues. It’s about dragging the truth into the gutter. And I’m not going to let them do it. This campaign is too important. The stakes are too high for every American family.
Dukakis, of course, was roundly condemned for running a weak-kneed campaign that never effectively responded to Bush’s aggressive tactics. To be perfectly honest, however, the first thing that the Obama clip reminded me of wasn’t the Ghost of Democratic Candidates Past; it was the final speech from “The American President.” To wit:
And here’s the money quote:
Bob’s [Senator Bob Rumson – the President’s Republican rival from the film] problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character.
We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll show up. This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.
Now, I like “The American President,” but the entire film is basically an exercise in liberal wish fulfillment. I think that intellectuals engaged in politics assume that issues of culture, character, and values are just background noise, and that if you scream loudly enough about “the issues” the People will reward your righteousness at the ballot box.
Tragically, the real world doesn’t work that way. Voting is as much about intuition and identification as it is about issues, if not more so. The media – God bless ’em – isn’t going to cut Democrats any slack because our insatiable news cycle provides a structural incentive to gin up controversy at a moment’s notice. Obama may think he can win by appealing to our better angels, but I wouldn’t count on it.