The editors of The New Republic have a post scolding Senator Obama for his reluctance to use the word “Republican.” Here’s the gist:
If voters thought McCain was just another Republican, they would run away screaming. That is why McCain is desperate to shed the label–and Barack Obama is desperate to make it stick.
Except, um, that’s not what Obama is doing. On the day before McCain released his ad, Obama gave a major speech on economics. It was a hard-hitting address, in which Obama proclaimed, “It’s time to put an end to a broken system in Washington that is breaking the American economy.” But the word “Republican” never came up. The next day, Obama released a somber ad in which he addressed the camera for two minutes. It included plenty of smart ideas (something he has never lacked, notwithstanding the bogus charge that he’s “all talk”). But its message was all about Obama the non-ideological reformer–that is, the guy positioned to clean up Washington. “Partisan fights and outworn ideas of the left and right won’t solve the problems we face today,” he said. Republicans? They didn’t make cameos here, either. Neither did Bush.
It is a consequential decision, but not necessarilly such an easy call. I tend to agree with the TNR editors that Obama has to use the label to make it stick. Surrogates’ sound bites just don’t get the necessary buzz. Yet Obama is making some inroads with “Obamacons” and seniors (see new CNN poll), many of whom are Republicans. And his campaign’s internal polling may show a potential for many more in light of the deepening financial crisis. Not all conservatives are gung ho in favor of bailing out failed businesses, elective war and nation-building in other countries. He has to be a little careful, not to be perceived as engaging in name-calling that would alienate potential supporters.
That said, the Republicans are directly responsible for the deregulation mania that lead to the financial meltdown, and you can’t hold them responsible without saying so at some point. The challenge is artfully making the distinction between Republican office-holders “who have betrayed their conservative heritage” and fed-up Republican voters who may be considering a Nov.4 cross-over. It’s about simultaneously holding the GOP responsible, while at the same time expressing welcoming respect for potential converts.