Column: How To Attack Barack Obama

This story was written by Katherine Miller, Vanderbilt Hustler

The economy has tanked, and John McCain has failed.

On the election's central issue, McCain cannot articulate an overarching economic strategy that fundamentally differs from Barack Obama's -- offering tax cuts while insisting the federal government buy all bad mortgages does not constitute a governing philosophy, or even common sense. And when you cannot offer an ideological alternative in the two-party system, you turn to personal attacks. McCain's not even doing that right.

As a product of Obama's cool exterior, the public and punditry debate for his soul remains ongoing -- you never feel like you know the guy for certain -- and rife with possibility. The McCain campaign, however, mistakes entirely how to approach character attacks on Obama.

Having isolated the tenuous connection to Bill Ayers in hopes of a Willie Horton moment, the McCain campaign myopically forgot the larger picture, in which, as Victor Davis Hanson puts it, "There are simply too many ACORNs, Ayers, Khalidis, Pflegers, Wrights, et al. not to suggest a pattern unbecoming of a future president of the United States."

To instill doubt in the American voter, a pattern of reckless or questionable behavior must be established -- and it cannot only pertain to one instance. Distinguished professor of political science John Geer reiterated in a Washington Post column over the weekend, "Attacks need evidence to work. Could Obama attack McCain as unprepared to serve as commander-in-chief? Not in this lifetime ... When ads lack the evidence to support their claims, they tend to work against the candidate who aired them." Casually associating with the radical Ayers, who the Chicago political machine mainstreamed eons before Obama, is not enough for an effective attack ad. In a Fox News poll, only 32 percent of respondents said Ayers makes them less likely to vote for Obama and, as National Review's Jim Gheraghty notes, "The real question is, Would you change your support of Obama over it?'"

Not all McCain campaign associates have failed, however.

Upon her selection, Sarah Palin was isolated as a mighty fortress for social conservatives, particularly regarding abortion -- she lives as an illustration of the pro-life movement. Saturday, in a departure from the top of her ticket, Palin delivered a pro-life attack speech, almost flawless in execution, with a four-pronged approach: relate, attack, contextualize and inspire.

After introducing the issue by way of discussing her young son, Palin shifted to Obama's record of "unconditional support for unlimited abortions." Almost echoing Geer's column, Palin continued, "He said that a woman shouldn't have to be -- quote -- punished with a baby.' He said that ... punished with a baby' - and it's about time we called him on it ... Americans need to see his record for what it is. It's not negative or mean-spirited to talk to about his record. Whatever party you belong to, there are facts you need to know."

She followed these words by detailing Obama's major abortion policy moments: voting against outlawing partial-birth abortion andvoting against an Illinois iteration of the Born Alive Act, which grants medical care to infants who survive the abortion procedure and which passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate.

She placed these votes -- the latter of which, in particular, goes far beyond the mainstream pro-choice movement -- within the critical context of judicial nominations. Palin then concluded the speech with allusions to the late Pennsylvania governor and pro-life Democrat, Bob Casey Sr., as a model for compassion, proposing, as Mike Huckabee has, that the social conservative movement must stand on something beyond rhetorical flourish.

A red meat exravaganza grounded in history, with a nod to the future: That's how you attack your opponent, John.