by David Corn
Please, President Bush, please attack me some more.
That must be what Barack Obama is thinking after Bush's speech in Jerusalem, during which the president blasted those who want to talk to America's enemies as appeasers. Forget that the policy substance of Bush's speech was illogical--or idiotic: Bush's own administration talks to North Korea's tyrants; his defense secretary, Bob Gates, has discussed engagement with Iran; his lead military and diplomatic people in Iraq have spoken with Iranians; the government he supports in Baghdad is in close contact with Iran; and significant members of Israel's national security community support talking to Hamas. But just on the politics, the speech was a boneheaded move that ought to make John McCain howl.
Bush is about as unpopular as a president can be. If Barack Obama could run against him, he would probably win by 80 points (or maybe a few points less than that). Consider what happened when the Republicans sent Dick Cheney to Mississippi to campaign for a Republican candidate in a special House election this week. Not only did the GOPer lose in this Republican stronghold, turnout was down in GOP precincts. Bush and Cheney are a pair of lame albatrosses for any Republican candidate in 2008, including McCain. Which is why Obama and the Democrats want to depict McCain as running for Bush's third term.
Casting McCain as the Spawn of Bush is not a slam-dunk. Though McCain has become a Bush clone on Iraq and the economy, he is quite different in character and biography than W. and boasts far more personal appeal. McCain also has that supposed maverick thing to cite (Look - omigod - a Republican talking seriously about global warming!) So a day like yesterday was a boon for Obama. While McCain was giving a speech about what his presidency would look like--that is, if he had a magic wand (victory in Iraq, prosperity at home, lower health care costs for all!)- Bush was stealing the thunder by implicitly bashing Obama as an appeaser before a foreign audience. Such a stunt is toxic and perfect fodder for cable news.
Bush probably thought, "Well, I showed him." But any Bush versus Obama narrative assists Obama tremendously. Most Americans clearly would relish voting against Bush, were they able to. If Bush makes it seem that a vote for Obama is a vote against Bush, McCain is screwed.
You'd think the White House would be aware of this. But recognizing reality has never been this bunch's strong suit. After all, the White House thought it was a good idea to dispatch Cheney to help that faltering Republican in Mississippi. One question is, will McCain ask Bush to knock if off and lay low? Another is, if McCain does, will Bush listen? Whether most Americans like it or not--and they don't - Bush is still the president. And he's probably not eager to leave the White House on all fours or through the back door. Obama ought to try to exploit that, anything to provoke Bush. Obama should be saying to Bush, "Bring 'em on."