Remember that time the Republican ticket accused Obama of being a lightweight celebrity who pals around with terrorists as part of a secret plot — revealed on camera! — to spread the wealth around?
No, not 2008. That other time: September 2012, where the president’s opponents are recycling many of the same epithets they threw at him in the home stretch of his first election.
It might be a troubling trend for the GOP, considering that John McCain lost badly. But circumstances are very different, it’s a (relatively) close race, and there’s always the possibility the themes will work better with age. To review:
Palling Around With Terrorists
McCain and especially Sarah Palin spent October 2008 tagging Obama for, as Palin put it, “palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” The reference was to Chicago professor and former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, but those subtleties didn’t always carry into the crowd at rallies, where supporters shouted that Obama himself was a terrorist. McCain at one point had to rebuke a town hall questioner who called the Democratic nominee an “Arab.”
Rommey took the same script to the international stage recently, accusing the president of siding with Islamic militants who murdered American diplomats in Libya.
“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” Romney said the night of the anti-American riots. That charge, which was inaccurate on several levels, didn’t fare well, drawing widespread condemnation. Several polls this week suggest that Romney’s standing may have suffered from the fallout.
Spreading The Wealth Around
In October 2008, McCain’s standing in the polls sank amid an economic crisis and Democratic charges that his personal wealth prevented him from connecting with struggling Americans. His response? A video of Obama talking to Samuel Wurzelbacher, soon known as “Joe The Plumber,” about how “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” McCain cited it over and over as evidence of Obama’s hidden Marxist leanings.
“At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are up front about their objectives,” McCain said. “They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Sen. Obama.”
On Tuesday, fending off charges that he had dismissed half of America as incurably “dependent” on government and unable to “take personal responsibility for their lives,” Romney brought out a videotape of his own. With the help of Drudge Report and the RNC, he touted a newly unearthed clip of Obama in 1998 telling a university conference how to “structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody’s got a shot.”
“The president’s view is one of a larger government,’” Romney said on FOX News. “There is a tape that came out where the president is saying he likes redistribution. I disagree.”
The Biggest Celebrity In The World
McCain’s most memorable ad accused Obama of being a celebrity not up to the task of running the nation.
This time around, Republicans have trotted the old line out here and there, including in a Crossroads ad targeting younger voters, but it’s never quite taken off.
Now, however, there are signs of a comeback. Michele Bachmann demanded on Friday that Obama cancel an appearance on “Late Show with David Letterman” Tuesday and a scheduled fundraiser with Jay-Z and Beyonce in order to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu instead. On Tuesday, the RNC took up the charge as well.
“Tonight President Obama will be hobnobbing with Jay-Z, Beyonce and Letterman, but from finding a plan to decrease the number of Americans on food stamps to meeting with Netanyahu and giving us specifics on his plan to create jobs, here are the top 10 things he should be doing instead,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a press release accusing Obama of shirking various presidential duties. It’s a press release 2008 McCain would have loved.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.