Election 2008: Bush vs. Carter?
John McCain said that while rival Barack Obama is working to paint him as a continuation of Bush
Republican John McCain responded to charges from Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama that he represents a continuation of the unpopular Bush administration by comparing Obama to former president Jimmy Carter. “Senator Obama says that I’m running for a Bush’s third term,” McCain said. “Seems to me he’s running for Jimmy Carter’s second.” (MSNBC)
What the commentators said
McCain has a few “good reasons to tie Obama to Carter,” said Jonathan Martin in Politico. First, he has few other “convenient and resonant Democratic bogeyman”—Ted Kennedy and he are friends, and he’s courting Hillary Clinton’s “disaffected supporters.” And Carter is “recalled by conservatives (and others)” in connection to “high gas prices, weak national security, and a perception of favoring Arabs over Israelis.”
McCain's Carter retort is “pretty cute,” said Alex Koppelman in Salon’s War Room blog, but the problem is that there are lots of voters “who might not get the joke as fully as McCain would like.” Almost half of the electorate was too young to vote in 1980, when Carter lost his reelection bid. In contrast, “Bush’s historic unpopularity” is very current, so, if Obama can successfully link McCain to Bush, it will be “quite damaging.”
That’s why McCain desperately needs a “simple and easy tagline” to counter the charge that he’s “Bush’s clone,” said Jennifer Rubin in Commentary’s Contentions blog. And while “Carter may not be ‘it,’” he “works on some level” for McCain—especially with Jewish voters, with whom Carter is “none too popular” these days.
True, it’s a “nice stilleto stab at Obama’s relative weakness with Jewish voters,” said David Weigel in Reaon’s Hit & Run blog. But it’s hard to see how it works past that. McCain didn’t even bother “rebutting the idea that he’s going to continue unpopular Bush policies”—and those policies have, if anything, helped burnish Carter's image. “It’s harder to keep raging about the [Carter-era] gas shortage when, in the here and now, you’re paying $4 a gallon for gas.”
McCain has to be careful, said Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro in NBC News’ First read blog. His barb at Obama looks an awful lot like a “subtle admittance that Bush has become the Republican’s Carter.” And while Democrats have largely accepted that “Carter was a mediocre-to-bad president,” the Republican “rank-and-file” that McCain desperately needs may not yet be there with Bush.
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