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Obama Vs. The Swift Boaters

Obama has run a pretty great campaign overall, but here's a reminder of a potential trouble to come:

For Obama, the challenge will be to respond quickly and surely—but without overreacting or inviting an endless cycle of recriminations. Team Obama has been a model of tight, highly efficient organization, certainly in contrast to most presidential campaigns. The few tensions that have emerged have been between those who want to stick to the high ground and those who want to fight a little dirtier. (Such debates could intensify in a hard-hitting general campaign.) The campaign has at times been a little slow to fight back. Some of this deliberation is a measure of the candidate's personality. Obama disdains cable-TV talk-show shoutfests as trivial sideshows, and he tends to discount the seriousness of campaign gaffes and flaps. As a result, he was slow to denounce the most recent round of tirades by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. By failing to alert Obama to the gravity of the Wright fiasco, "I don't think we served him well," admits his chief strategist, David Axelrod. [Emphasis added]

TV shoutfests often are trivial sideshows, and gaffes and flaps are major distractions from the things that matter. But those are points for media critics to make. Obama, and the people around him, can't afford to take that attitude.

I vividly recall interviewing John Kerry in the spring of 2002, and he insisted he would never let Republicans tear him down the way they did Michael Dukakis. But then the Kerry campaign wound up trying to dismiss the Swift Boat attacks as a trivial sideshow*, and look what happened....

--Michael Crowley