Opinion: Barack Obama tethers John McCain to his own history

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For some reason, we’re having trouble shaking the image of a toreador, el toro and a little pas de deux.

While John McCain was focusing on businesswomen in Wisconsin today, Barack Obama made energy the theme in a talk before about 1,300 people at the Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton, Ohio, with our colleague Louise Roug in attendance.

There wasn’t much new in Obama’s rhetoric on the subject, but there was one moment that jumped out, and reminded us of earlier speeches in which Obama used the same tactic. It points up a problem facing McCain, who has nurtured an image as a maverick despite spending the last quarter-century -- longer than his military service -- in Congress, first in the House and now in the Senate.

Obama’s tactic is to wait for McCain to throw a rock at how Washington works, and the failed policies, and then chain McCain to his own political history. This is how it played out this morning:

‘Now, a few days ago, Sen. McCain said, and I’m quoting, ‘Our dangerous dependence on foreign oil has been 30 years in the making, and was caused by the failure of politicians in Washington to think long-term about the future of the country.’ I couldn’t agree more. John McCain is exactly right. The only problem is that out of those 30 years of inaction, John McCain was one of the most powerful [men] in Washington for twenty-six of them. And in that time he has achieved little to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He voted against raising our fuel mileage standards when it could have made such a difference over the last decades and joined George Bush in opposing legislation twice in the last year that included tax credits for more efficient cars.’


McCain, Obama said, also ‘voted against alternative sources of energy. Against clean biofuels. Against solar power. Against wind power. Against an energy bill that represented the largest investment in renewable sources of energy in the history of this country.’

You get the idea. Obama slides into the rhythm that sets him up for the insertion of the rhetorical blade (which may be what got us conjuring up images of a bullfight): ‘When John McCain talks about the failure of politicians in Washington to do anything about our energy crisis, understand that John McCain should look in the mirror because he has been a part of that failure.’

As we’ve pointed out before, having a relatively limited voting record can be a good thing in the presidential bullring.

(UPDATE: No campaign utterance comes without pushback, in this case somewhat tangential to the point of the post, Obama’s tactic of using McCain’s statements to propel a counter-offensive. From McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds: ‘Barack Obama is the quintessential definition of what’s wrong with Washington. Today Barack Obama claimed to be for change, while touting his own vote for the Bush-Cheney energy bill, that’s just the type of Washington-style spin and empty rhetoric that John McCain has fought against his whole career.’)

-- Scott Martelle