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McCain Shouldn't Have Picked a Fight With The North Carolina GOP

April 27, 2008

by Aaron Goldstein

As a conservative who has written in strong support of John McCain and who will cast a ballot for him on November 4th, I think the GOP nominee has erred in picking a fight with the North Carolina Republican Party. 

McCain has taken the GOP in North Carolina to task for putting out an anti-Barack Obama ad ahead of the North Carolina Democratic Primary on May 6th. (  The ad opens with the widely seen video of Reverend Jeremiah Wright saying, “No, no, no.  Not God Bless America.  God Damn America!”  An announcer reminds viewers that for twenty years Obama sat in Wright’s church listening to his sermons.   From there, the ad points out that Richard Moore and Bev Perdue, the two Democrats competing for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, have both endorsed Obama and are admonished for endorsing him by saying “they should know better.”   The commercial concludes that Barack Obama is “too extreme” for North Carolina.

While stumping in Kentucky on April 24th, McCain told reporters “there’s no place for that kind of campaigning, and the American people don’t want it.”  On April 25th, while appearing on NBC’s The Today Show McCain said the ad “will harm the Republicans’ cause.”   He went on to say the North Carolina Republican Party was “out of touch with reality” on the grounds that Obama’s patriotism was being called into question.

I don’t doubt McCain’s sincerity.  He genuinely dislikes the ad.  But I have viewed the spot several times and cannot find anything objectionable about it.  Actually, I do have one objection to the ad.  It bleeped out Wright’s use of the word “damn” in God Damn America.  Why bleep it out?   The ad is more effective when you actually hear Wright utter the words.  I am sure there are those in North Carolina who are offended by the word damn but the bleep is frankly damn distracting. 

But I digress.

If the North Carolina Republican Party had said anything they knew to be untrue about Obama then McCain would have an obligation to set the record straight.  But as far as I am concerned, the North Carolina Republican Party didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright said, “God D*mn America” and meant it.

Barack Obama sat in the Trinity United Church for two decades.   One of Reverend Wright’s sermons served as the inspiration for his book, The Audacity of Hope.  Even if Obama didn’t hear that particular sermon he had to know both Wright’s style and, more importantly, his substance from the pulpit.

North Carolina is a conservative state and I think it is fair to say that a majority of North Carolinians, Democrat or Republican, would find Reverend Wright’s sermons both offensive and extreme.  Consequently, this might give these same North Carolinians pause about Obama given his close association with Wright. 

Needless to say, the North Carolina GOP is certainly not out of touch with reality in producing an ad such as this one.  Nor do I think the ad calls Obama’s patriotism into question but rather his judgment about the people with whom he chooses to associate.

In politics, as in life, one has to choose one’s battles carefully.  In publicly criticizing the North Carolina GOP’s ad and in calling them “out of touch with reality” I believe McCain has picked a fight that could cost him dearly should there be a close race in November.

Although John McCain has already clinched the Republican nomination, there will still be a North Carolina Republican Primary on May 6th.  I suspect that many Republicans who were planning to vote for Hillary in the Democratic Primary might turn out instead for the GOP Primary to lodge a protest vote against McCain.  At a time when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are fighting hammer and tong for every vote, the last thing John McCain should be doing is grabbing a mallet and using it to pick a fight with the conservative base and with Republican voters. 

That isn’t to say McCain can’t criticize conservatives and Republicans if it is warranted.  I have no problem with McCain criticizing the Bush Administration concerning its handling of Hurricane Katrina as he did when he campaigned in New Orleans this past week.  It’s a public policy matter and McCain isn’t obliged to support a set of policies that did not serve the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast well. 

But for McCain to make a point of publicly attacking a political advertisement from his own party that hasn’t asserted anything false draws unnecessary and unwanted attention to him.  If the ad did genuinely present a problem for McCain it was a matter he should have handled privately.  But for McCain to then personally and publicly attack the people who produced the ad as “out of touch with reality” is to kick a sleeping dog.  I suspect that many of these sleeping dogs will be jolted out of their slumber and motivated to go to the polls on May 6th to vote against McCain.  After they’ve done that they’ll resume their rest and not bother to get back up on November 4th. 
Aaron Goldstein writes about the things that pique his insatiable curiosity.  In addition to politics, he is an aficionado of baseball, poetry, music and ketchup flavored potato chips.  Aaron satiates his various appetites in Boston. 


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