Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.
A year ago, President Obama’s political advisers set out to copy President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. They would mobilize their base. They would pummel and discredit the challenger. And they would exploit patriotism and national security to compensate for the president’s weak economic record.
The strategy is working. In fact, it’s working too well. Obama’s campaign is embracing Bush’s worst tactics. It’s attacking the opposition as un-American.
The 2004 Republican National Convention was a McCarthyite orgy. Its speakers impugned the loyalty of anyone who dared criticize Bush. Rudy Giuliani branded Democratic nominee John Kerry “the anti-war candidate” and accused him of claiming "that certain foreign leaders who opposed our removal of Saddam Hussein prefer" Kerry to Bush. John McCain brushed aside concerns about Bush’s domestic policies, insisting, “We are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy. ... Stand up with our president and fight." The convention’s keynoter, Zell Miller, charged, “While young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief.”
Republicans in 2012 have partially replicated these tactics. Mitt Romney has repeatedly called Obama’s ideas “foreign.” Romney and his surrogates said Obama doesn’t understand America. Democrats countered these attacks with economic nationalism. They blasted Romney for outsourcing jobs and mocked his rendition of “America the Beautiful.” But last night, they turned up the heat, ruthlessly challenging Romney’s patriotism.
The offensive began at 6 p.m. in remarks by Newark Mayor Cory Booker: “When your country is in a costly war, with our soldiers sacrificing abroad and our nation facing a debt crisis at home, being asked to pay your fair share isn’t class warfare. It’s patriotism.” Booker’s statement seemed benign. But it signaled the Democrats’ line of attack, casting a shadow of dishonor over anyone who opposed tax increases.
An hour later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid escalated the assault. He alleged that Romney “chose Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island tax shelters over American institutions. And we can only imagine what new secrets would be revealed if he showed the American people a dozen years of tax returns, like his father did.”