Thursday, September 18, 2008

Obama boxes McCain into a corner: The Spanish language air wars

After spending most of the campaign season trying their damnedest to stay as far away from the thorny issue of immigration reform as possible, both presidential candidates have now picked it as their weapon of choice in some key battleground states….but only in the Spanish language media.

With polls numbers showing McCain's support amongst Latinos somewhere in the Bob Dole range, and crucial swing states like Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Florida starting to slip out of range, the McCain camp decided earlier this week to go on the offensive and try to cash in on his long abandoned credentials as an immigration reformer….but it may turn out to be the biggest mistake of his campaign.

Taking an ad buy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, McCain launched a Spanish language ad entitled "Which Side Are They On?" depicting a revisionist history of the failed attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. The ad claims that Democrats in general and Obama specifically, sabotaged his efforts to enact reform through the use of "poison pill" amendments and asks Latinos if Obama is really on their side .

Translation: Announcer: "Obama and his allies in Congress say they're on the side of immigrants. But are they? News reports say their efforts were like 'poison pills' that caused immigration reform to fail. The result: No to the guest worker program, to the road to citizenship, to secure borders. No reforms passed. Is that being on our side? Obama and his allies in Congress: Ready to block immigration reform but not ready to govern." McCain (speaking in English): "I'm John McCain and I approved this message."

Of course anyone who followed the issue even casually knows that anti-immigrant forces within the Republican Party and right-wing media worked tooth and nail to kill the legislation. … but truth is not a crucial component in campaign ads….if it was we would have never seen the first Bush, let alone the second.

After a day or so of attempting to refute McCain's false claims, Obama fired back with his own truth-challenged ad… and managed to box McCain into a corner from which he may not be able to effectively extricate himself.

Translation: Obama: "I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message." Announcer: "They want us to forget the insults we've put up with, the intolerance. They made us feel marginalized in a country we love so much. John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces. One tells lies just to get our vote, and the other, even worse, continues the failed policies of George Bush, putting the interests of powerful groups above working families. John McCain, more of the same Republican deceptions."

Admittedly, tying McCain to Limbaugh is beyond a stretch and leaves Obama open to accusations of being no better than his opponent in the truth department ….But, in a pure political sense, the ad is strategically brilliant.

Up until now, McCain has been totally unwilling to define his current position on immigration. Having run as rapidly as possible from his previous record on reform during the primaries, he has lately managed play both sides of the field according to who he's pandering to at the moment without firmly taking a stance.

He talks to his base about enforcement first and governors certifying the borders hermetically sealed before there can be any talk of reform (knowing, as they do, that that will never happen), while telling Latinos not to worry, Tio Johnny will take care of everything (wink, wink).

It's reached the point that earlier this week during the conference call sponsored by the leading Latino and immigrant-rights advocates, NCLR, MALDEF, and Americas Voice to discuss McCain's bogus ad, the majority of time was spent not on the ad, but rather trying to figure out just where McCain stands at the present time. ...and in the end, no one could definitively answer the question.

It appears that Obama has done us all a favor.

He has forced McCain into a corner where he must make a choice between two very unpleasant options.

He must either defend his previous record, reminding those who nearly denied him the nomination why they hated him in the first place, negating all the Palin picking, ass-kissing, and soul-selling he's done over the last year to win over the base …or …. Leave the ad unanswered and give up any hope whatsoever of getting the 40% Latino vote he has to have to even stand a chance at getting elected. …Tough times for Tio Johnny Huh?

Of course he could just tell the truth, and let everyone know where he actually stands on the issue and argue his position on the merits …..but then again, that's not how elections are really won, is it?

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