When McCain’s campaign started attacking Obama with jokes about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, the Obama folks got all indignant. McCain was taking the “low road,” they said, “the same old politics.” Obama wasn’t about that kind of political combat, they argued, because he doesn’t just want to change the occupant in the White House, he wants to change the tone and tenor of the political debate. Obama wants to change the practice of politics itself.
Now consider this exchange from Fox News, which Ben Smith flags over at Politico:
CHRIS WALLACE: So he’s running for president, to talk about how many houses John McCain has?
[Obama Communications Director] ROBERT GIBBS: Well, somebody’s got to talk about how many houses John McCain has, because he either forgot how many he has, misplaced the keys to those houses, or he just wasn’t being truthful with those reporters. That answer illuminates whether or not you’re in touch with that family in Youngstown, Ohio or Scranton that’s struggling to make that mortgage payment just this month. And I think you’re out of touch if you have seven houses and don’t even remember it or can’t even admit it.
“Misplaced the keys” might be funny on late night television, but old-age jokes come across differently when spoken as a political attack from an opponent. Perhaps it could be seen as fair play. McCain’s people call Obama a dumb blond. Obama’s people call McCain a senile old man. But I wonder how that storyline will play in the condo communities of South Florida. And I wonder how much longer Obama gets to keep saying with a straight face that he is rejecting “the same old politics.”