Column: McCain Slings 'socialist' Charges At Obama To Spark Comeback

This story was written by Neal Riley, The Daily Free Press

What have we learned after three presidential debates? For starters, John McCain would probably have been better served running for president before these new-fangled television boxes were invented. Standing uncomfortably close and lurching at voters during the town hall debate wasnt exactly telegenic. His angry facial expressions that appeared throughout the third debate made for some hilarious Facebook bumper stickers. Meanwhile, cool as a cucumber Barack Obama didnt always answer the moderators questions, but he sure looked and sounded smooth while doing so.

And of course, everyone in America was introduced to Joe the Plumber. We found out that Obama recently paid a visit to Joes neighborhood where Joe asked the Illinois senator if he was going to raise his taxes once Joe bought his plumbing company that made more than $250,000 per year. The answer to his question was yes, but in the coming days we learned that Joe isnt all that he was cracked up to be. (I promise thats the only plumber joke.) He doesnt have a plumbers license, the business he wants to buy wouldnt make anything close to $250,000 and on top of all that, he owes a bunch of tax money. Say it aint so, Joe! Regardless of his credentials and personal history, Joe symbolizes something much bigger and could finally be the game-changer that McCain has been searching for.

Until last weeks debate, Obama was in the drivers seat when it came to the economy. Poll after poll confirmed that voters likely preferred Obamas economic plan over McCains. But during the debate, McCain was able to characterize Obamas plan in a different light: wealth distribution. This was in response to Obama telling Joe the Plumber, When we spread the wealth around, its good for everybody.

Its true that unrestrained capitalism isnt as popular as it used to be in the United States these days. Even McCain supported the bailout, which involved massive government intervention on Wall Street. But when the phrase wealth distribution enters the fray, it becomes all-too easy for the McCain campaign to drop the S bomb: socialism.

In our post Sept. 11 world, if Sarah Palin says Obama pals around with Socialists, it probably wont cause the same uproar as her now infamous claim that Obama pals around with terrorists. But socialism is still a dirty word in American politics, and if McCain can successfully convince Americans that Obamanomics is synonymous with socialism, then he could very well pull off this unlikely comeback.

But are Obamas policies really socialist? He does want to give the middle class a tax break while bringing the tax rate on the wealthy back to where it was in the 1990s. It seems a little extreme to suggest that this would necessarily lead to class warfare. If thats socialist, wouldnt that mean Bill Clintons administration was socialist as well?

Perhaps it wasnt in Obamas best interest to make a comment that advocated the redistribution of wealth. If he had to do it over again, Im sure he would phrase his answer differently. But Obama should know better; in this day and age the cameras are always rolling, and youre not allowed to have any do-overs.

While many decry this form of gotcha journalism, it does have some overlooked benefits. For one thing, it can act as a prevention tool against politicians who consistently pander to different interest groups. Even if you are talking to an individual voter, you now have to consider how everyone in the country will interpret what youre saying. When Sarah Palin says that she likes to campaign only in pro-American states, the hard-core Republicans at her rallies in rural America may like how that sounds. But she has to remember that there are scores of people who will watch this comment replayed on the news that may be offendedby this divisive rhetoric.

Obama may find it reasonable to tell a group of liberal elites in San Francisco that rural voters in Pennsylvania cling to their religion and their guns, but he failed to think about the consequences that would result when those rural voters finally heard these snobbish comments.

So will McCain be able to shift the conversation from his own weaknesses on the economy to whether or not Obama wants to keep Joe the Plumber from being successful? Or will McCain flush this approach and bring back Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright? Are there any septic details about the candidates that have yet to leak to the press? When will I stop making plumbing puns? Unless McCain can figure out a way to clog up Obamas momentum, Im afraid his chances of winning the 2008 presidential election are going down the drain.