Carville's Short Memory

A reader notes:

There's rich irony in listening to Carville and Begala assert that the convention ought to be devoted to tearing McCain down. After all, if there's a model for the convention that Obama is running this year, it's the 1992 gathering overseen by, well, Carville and Begala.

Then, as now, a candidate new to the national stage was seen by many as an elitist, identified with privilege, and regarded with suspicion as a radical.

Conventions present a unique opportunity to define a candidate, share his biography, and ground his policy message in a personal narrative. Candidates who are already well-defined - incumbents and prominent pols - tend to use their conventions instead to redefine their opponents in negative terms. I suspect that's what Carville and Begala remember - the 1996 convention, when instead of passing the torch, Ted Kennedy used his nominating speech to inveigh against the "Republican trio of reaction," repeating "Dole, Kemp and Gingrich" five times.

There's also a regrettable tendency at work here to define politics in gendered terms, as if an election were merely an exercise in assertive masculinity. That's a losing proposition. If strength is recast as bellicosity, how can Obama hope to measure up against McCain, a man perfectly willing to fight any war, at any time, for any reason? If the fitness of a candidate is measured by the viciousness of his attacks, how can Obama win a race to the bottom against McCain?

It's as if the pundits learned nothing from watching the primary campaign. Obama wins on the strength of his judgment, his maturity, and the strength of his conviction that our best days lie ahead. And his most effective attacks have been those that tie his opponents to the past, and which point to their faulty judgment. Obama won't win this fall because he's more manly than John McCain; this is a campaign, not a pissing contest. He'll win because McCain is embracing the past, and Americans always look to the future.