Reagan deflates the age issue in a 1984 debate with rival Walter Mondale
Perhaps the most persistent piece of armchair quarterbacking emerge from the liberal peanut gallery--bloggers, commenters, etc.--is the claim that Barack Obama would improve his chances of winning in November if only he could convince the public that his 71-year-old Republican rival John McCain is a disoriented septuagenarian codger. As "CampaignTactician" wrote at Talking Points Memo back in March, "I think we need to show him to be the Grandpa Simpson of American politics: An ornery, forgetful man flummoxed by modern America. In other words, a man quick to both confusion and anger." Since then, left-leaning outlets from Wonkette to the New Republic have repeated the comparison, while on occasion Obama and his surrogates have seemed to indulge in subtle age-baiting themselves, either by repeatedly praising McCain's "half century of service" or characterizing him as "confused" a half-dozen times in the course of a few minutes. All in all, though, the campaign has largely left the age issue alone--probably because it's kind of, you know, awkward.
But now new ad by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has some Obamaniacs thinking that their man could, in fact, broach the topic--provided he gets creative. Airing in North Carolina on behalf of Democratic Senate nominee Kay Hagan as part of a multimillion dollar campaign, the spot features two elderly gentlemen discussing the inadequacies of incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole--who happens to one month older than McCain--as they recline in rocking chairs on the porch of a rural dry goods store. "I’m telling you, Liddy Dole is 93,” says one man, pausing for effect. “She ranks 93rd in
effectiveness... After 40 years in Washington, Dole is... right near the bottom!” The other man disagrees. "I've heard she's 92," he says--because she voted with President Bush 92 percent of the time. The whole thing is a self-consciously transparent effort to mention Dole's age (and tie it to her supposed "ineffectiveness") without actually mentioning her age--like, say, starting a speech with a list of all the things you aren't going to say. And the actors' stilted delivery actually contributes to the effect, making the spot--which exaggerates Dole's longevity by a two whole decades, after all--seem like a delightfully dry SNL spoof.
That said, the interesting question--which I put to you, loyal Stumper readers--is whether or not something like this could actually work for Obama. Here's the video:
(Via Ben Smith)
I imagine that most reactions will fit into one of two categories. Either you'll side with Politico commenters "LOL Central" ("LOL! Gotta love it! GOP fossils goin' DOOOOOOWWWWWNNNN!") and "jgeeting" ("unlike race or gender, advanced age represents a real... physical impairment rather than some insignificant physical trait")--in which case you're probably already voting for Obama. Or you'll agree with "Eileen" that "this ad was obviously cooked up by disrespectful "young" Democrats wishing to smear the opposition"--something that would never happen "in other countries [where] those who have lived long and through many, many life experiences are revered for their wisdom and knowledge." In which case you probably wouldn't call yourself an Obamaniac.
My take: Obama will continue to keep his distance from insinuations about McCain's age--even if they're delivered "creatively." My reasoning--from a pure political perspective--is simple. The Illinois senator doesn't need to win over partisan Democrats--i.e., the voters most likely to find a clever DSCC-style ad appealing. He needs to win over older white moderates. As the Washington Post reported earlier this week, "with polls showing Obama dominating among those under 40 and running even among middle-aged voters, Republican John McCain's lead among those 65 and older is the main reason he remains close overall." Unfortunately, voters 65 and older are also the ones most likely to take exception to the claim, however subtle, that a fellow senior citizen is incompetent--especially if it's coming from a candidate as youthful (and therefore as susceptible to the charge of callowness) as Obama. Which is why I don't expect the Democratic nominee to claim that his rival is 95--that is, someone who sided with President Bush on 95 percent of his 2007 Senate votes--anytime soon.
Thoughts? Is McCain's age an issue? Can Obama make it one? If so, how? And what about McCain--should he borrow a line from Reagan and promise not "to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience"? The comments are all yours.