Dems haven’t felt the need to go after McCain’s age as a campaign issue, but Republicans are awfully sensitive — to the point of paranoia — ab
June 19, 2008

Dems haven’t felt the need to go after McCain’s age as a campaign issue, but Republicans are awfully sensitive — to the point of paranoia — about any criticism that might kinda sorta sound like a reference to his age.

As some Republicans see it, Democrats are deliberately talking in code about the presumptive 71-year-old GOP nominee as part of an attempt to highlight his age.

“It is code; there is no question it is,” Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who helped lead President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, said when age surfaced as an issue. “They are trying to raise doubts.”

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough repeatedly argued on his show last week that the Obama campaign was portraying McCain as a “doddering, old, confused fool. He needs to go to Miami Beach and play checkers.”

Pressed for evidence, conservatives point to ... nothing in particular. There was Obama’s comment about McCain “losing his bearings” (a nautical term about being lost), and there was last week’s talk about McCain being “confused” about Iraq policy (”confused” is age-neutral, and McCain really was befuddled by some key details).

All of this, Republicans insist, is “code.” On the one hand, the accusations are ridiculous. On the other, the whining is actually counter-productive.

By constantly carping, “Dems are talking about McCain being old!” Republicans are, inadvertently, talking about McCain being old. Given this, it’s the GOP, ironically, that’s reminding the political world of the fact they’d like to see downplayed as much as possible.

I suspect this is part of the broader effort to control language. Dems aren’t supposed to talk about McCain’s “100 years” in Iraq comments. Dems, apparently, also aren’t supposed to criticize McCain with any words that might somehow be creatively construed as a reference to him turning 72. If Republicans can get Dems to second guess themselves — “We need to go after McCain, but we have to be careful about which words we use” — they’ll feel like they’ve succeeded.

But the whole endeavor is likely to backfire. First, Dems don’t seem to care. Second, Republicans come across as whiney. And third, the more the GOP talks about this, the more voters are reminded that McCain is running to be the oldest president in American history. It’s almost as if Republicans are doing Dems’ job for them.

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