Is That a Swiftboat I Hear?

Barack Obama lately has been accused, both by his fellow Democratic candidates and by his Republican opponents, of being long on rhetoric and short on policy. (He used to be criticized for being too wonky, so go figure.) His campaign speeches have done what those of no candidate in my lifetime have ever done. Namely, they’ve inspired voters and instilled a sense of hope and optimism in these most negative of times. Because these more recent speeches are meant to inspire rather than simply rattle off a litany of policy statements, he’s been perceived as not having fleshed-out positions on matters of importance.

The most recent criticism came last night from Republican frontrunner John McCain’s “victory” speech in Wisconsin:

“I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change.”

I refer Senator McCain to a 64-page document, entitled “The Blueprint for Change: Barack Obama’s Plan for America,” which describes in detail Barack Obama’s positions and plans for his Presidency. If anyone (including the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media) would care to look at that document (along with the Issues section of Obama’s website), they might be surprised at how empty it isn’t.

I find it particularly ironic that McCain is attacking Obama for his oratory. Is it because that’s one of his own many weaknesses? The grammar cop in me likes to point out how often McCain fails even to match subject and verb, so how can he be expected to energize the electorate? McCain may have silver hair but he sure doesn’t have a silver tongue. Frankly, I find it unlikely that he could inspire a good bowel movement in his demographically challenged base.

Here’s the extent to which McCain inspires. The total of all Republican primary voters in Wisconsin is less than the total cast for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama on the Democratic side. This is in a state that is usually pretty evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. (The numbers, according to the Associated Press, are adjacent.)

This kind of criticism of a candidate may be new to Democratic rivals, but the Republicans are quite familiar with such tactics. It was the same kind of approach the Bush campaign used against John Kerry in almost identical circumstances. Kerry’s positions also were very clearly defined and posted on his website. That document was available for anyone who cared to view it, but few cared to, including the press.

The next step in the Republican’s attack on John Kerry was the now-legendary swiftboat ads. If the right-wing attack machine is on schedule — and we have no reason to believe it isn’t — there’s some severe nastiness in store.

Watch your back, Barack.