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Get Carter

We'll see whether it's a line of attack he sticks with, but John McCain's effort to tie Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter in an interview with Brian Williams last night seems like an awfully weak political gambit. McCain quipped:

Sen. Obama says that I'm running for a Bush's third term. It seems to me he's running for Jimmy Carter's second.

Where to begin? McCain raises the idea that he might represent Bush's third term (which he'd probably do better not to bring up at all), and then, without pausing even a moment to debunk this notion, claims, well, Obama will represent Carter's second. Essentially he requires listeners to perform a calculation over which is worse, between the dimly remembered Carter presidency and the emotionally immediate Bush one. Even if you follow McCain's premise, I'm not sure it's a calculation that comes out in his favor--especially when you take into account that, as Jonathan Martin has noted, many voters will have little or no memory of the Carter years.

More importantly, it's hard to see how the tack fails to reinforce the overarching message that Obama is trying to get across, that he's the candidate of "the future" and McCain's the candidate of "the past." When the only insult you can think of to toss at your political opponent is to compare him to a politician who left office more than a quarter-century ago, it tends to date you a bit.

Finally, McCain himself doesn't seem particularly convinced of his thesis. When Williams asks him why he thinks Obama is like Carter, there's a brief pause, as if the question has taken McCain by surprise. His subsequent answer: "Because. Spend, spend, tax, spend" might have worked okay against Walter Mondale in 1984, but it doesn't seem particularly well suited to Obama or 2007. And, of course, it doesn't help that McCain fumbles his very next comment, charging that Obama would raise taxes by $1.4 trillion*, before backtracking and allowing that he meant $1.4 trillion in spending.

You can watch the whole thing here

* fixed (duh). 

 --Christopher Orr