All politics is guilt by association

I think I can put my finger on why politics has become so depressing for me recently. It has to do with a phase the campaign has entered, a phase in which the underlying dynamic is that Obama's opponents are attempting to define him, and he's seeking to resist the frame. It's a moment in the campaign that's anything but unexpected, and yet I'm finding it utterly deflating.

Maybe part of the reason is just the bad taste left over from the Kerry campaign. As best I can recall, that campaign entered this phase around the time of the Democratic convention. The Swift Boat stuff was transparently false and vicious, but it was politically effective partly because Kerry's reaction to it reinforced the underlying frame that the GOP was working to impose. Obama is a better politician than Kerry, and maybe he'll figure it out, but it's not pleasant too watch.

Relatedly, I found this exchange fascinating:
WALLACE: Let me ask you one other question in this regard, which some will call a distraction, some will call values.

In the last debate, you were asked about your relationship with William Ayers, the former '60s radical, and you said that you were no more responsible for what he did back in the 1960s than for your friendship with Tom Coburn, senator from Oklahoma, pediatrician, who has made comments about possibly taking the death penalty for cases of abortion.

Do you really see a moral equivalency between what Ayers did and what Tom Coburn said?

OBAMA: No, of course not. The point I was making — and I actually called Tom Coburn afterwards, because I thought that people were suggesting that I had drawn a moral equivalent, so that's what I was — wasn't what I was doing.

All I was saying was — is that the fact that I know somebody, worked with them, have interactions with them, doesn't mean that I'm endorsing what they say.

And, Chris, I'm sure you've got people who you serve on a board with or have dinner with who, you know, you would never expect to somehow have that seen as an endorsement of their views.

Now, you know, Mr. Ayers is a 60-plus-year-old individual who lives in my neighborhood, who did something that I deplore 40 years ago when I was 6 or 7 years old. By the time I met him, he is a professor of education at the University of Illinois.

We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education. He worked for Mayor Daley, the same Mayor Daley, by the way, who, when he was a state's attorney, prosecuted Mr. Ayers' wife for those activities in the '60s.

So the point is that to somehow suggest that in any way I endorse his deplorable acts 40 years ago because I serve on a board with him...

WALLACE: Now, I'm just surprised that you brought Coburn in, because it seems to me it's so apples and oranges.

I wish I could find this exchange on YouTube. Obama has just utterly flattened Wallace's argument, and knows that Wallace can't help but understand that. And yet, Wallace just bulls through and presses the attack. They do a close up on Obama and his eyes are jumping around -- panic? confusion? frustration? -- while he tries to come up with an answer.

The segment continues:
OBAMA: No, no, no, no, no. The point I was making was that I've got a lot of — nobody is saying, "You know what? Barack — he's got a bunch of Republican friends," or, "He's got a bunch of people who are considered on the religious right who he gets along with, who he shares stories with, who he does work with."

The focus is on this one individual whose relations — with whom I have a relationship that is far more tangential than it is with somebody like a Tom Coburn, who I'm working with all the time, and who I consider a close friend, and yet that's the relationship that gets the focus.

WALLACE: Senator Obama, we have to step aside for a moment. But when we come back, we will ask Barack Obama about his plan to change the way Washington works. Back in a moment.

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