It’s been a long while since one of the Democratic presidential candidates when after the Republican presidential candidate, so this was a very wel
March 15, 2008

It’s been a long while since one of the Democratic presidential candidates when after the Republican presidential candidate, so this was a very welcome development.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama said Thursday that Sen. John McCain reversed his position on President Bush’s deep tax cuts in order to win the Republican presidential nomination, one of his sharpest criticisms yet of the Arizona senator he hopes to face this fall.

Criticizing GOP efforts to extend major tax cuts from Bush’s first term and to eliminate the estate tax, Obama said: “These are all steps that John McCain rightly said were irresponsible when they first came up.”

“He made a decision to reverse himself on that,” Obama told reporters as he flew from Chicago to Washington for a series of Senate votes on budget issues.

“That was how, I guess, you got your ticket punched to be the Republican nominee,” he said of McCain. “But he was right then, and he’s wrong now.”

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said in a statement that if Obama is nominated, “the American people will have a clear choice: John McCain will cut taxes while Senator Obama will raise them, hurting our economy and costing jobs for hardworking Americans.” Of course that’s what McCain’s spokesman said. We probably could have written the quote before it was uttered.

The point is, Obama didn’t go after Hillary Clinton; in the midst of a heated Democratic primary, he went after John McCain.

Can we have more of this please? Say, every day for the foreseeable future?

I’m increasingly of the opinion that this prolonged Democratic primary process is going to seriously undermine the party’s chances of winning in November, but I’ll concede that there are some clear advantages — most notably, we can watch two Democratic heavyweights go after the Republican candidate at the same time, while the GOP has two moving targets.

This benefit disappears, of course, when the Dems go after each other, which is all the more reason for them to target McCain. It might even help them make the case to superdelegates: “Look at how effectively I’m going after John McCain now. If you’d like to see more of this in the fall, I’m your candidate.”

Frankly, I’m almost indifferent to which issue(s) Dems pick to go after McCain — I’m more interested that they go after McCain — but taxes is as good as any. The Arizona senator is clearly vulnerable on the issue — he’s flip-flopped, he’s offering tax cuts that his campaign admits he can’t pay for, he’s embracing the policies of a wildly unpopular president, and he’s advocating more irresponsible cuts that most Americans realize won’t help them anyway. Indeed, gone are the days that a Republican can just shout “tax and spend!” and hope voters will recoil. Americans have heard all the tax-cut rhetoric from McCain’s mentor (George W. Bush), and they realize the policies don’t actually help them in any way.

So, Clinton and Obama, by all means, go after McCain on taxes. And foreign policy. And health care. And energy, education, poverty, homeland security, and everything else. Just don’t destroy each other.

In one of my favorite movies, “Office Space,” Bill Lumbergh puts up a soul-crushing banner in the workplace that reads, “Is this good for the company?” and encourages every employee to ponder this question with “every decision you make.” I’d like the Clinton and Obama campaigns to consider a similar banner for their headquarters: “Is this going to help Democrats win in 2008?” If you’re repeating Republican talking points, you’re not helping. If you’re praising Republican candidates, you’re not helping. If you’re intentionally dividing the Democratic electorate with ugly attacks based on race or gender, you’re really not helping.

If you’re challenging John McCain on an important policy matter, you’re helping.

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