McCain has a new, stupid, false ad out about Obama where he claims that Obama has passed a law to mandate sex education for kindergarten. However, just because it is stupid and false doesn't mean it won't be effective. In fact, it might demonstrate a truism about contemporary American politics: if you are explaining, then you are losing.
The point, unfortunately, isn't that the ad is false. The problem will come in when the media repeats the charge without disputing it. The headlines will be something like "McCain Campaign Accuses Obama Of Sex-Ed For Tots," because I guess the attack itself is news. Then, more stories are written about how "Obama Denies Kindergarten Sex Charges." So the charge gets repeated over and over again, and never really debunked.
The campaign that is on the defensive, the one that is making explanations about charges sent your way, is invariably the campaign that is losing ground. One way to measure the effectiveness of Obama's attacks on McCain, or of Obama's response to McCain's attacks, is to see if they are explaining or forcing the other side to explain. For example, will Obama's response to this ad put McCain on the defensive?
"It is shameful and downright perverse for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls - a position that his friend Mitt Romney also holds. Last week, John McCain told Time magazine he couldn't define what honor was. Now we know why."
Seems doubtful. Obama is the one explaining here, and McCain won't need to respond. How about Obama's latest ad, the one everyone online seems to like so much?
Again, probably not. Hard for me to imagine McCain saying "no, I really am a maverick," and getting all defensive about that charge.
One aspect of the ad does seem promising, however: the bridge to nowhere lie. This is something that I bet the Obama campaign, and progressive media, can keep pushing on until it becomes a wider media narrative. It seems to have real potential to force McCain into explaining mode, since he has repeated the lie himself, on several occasions.
Still, even then, it might not be effective. The McCain campaign just declared at one point that it wouldn't take any more questions about the Palin selection process. Right on cue, the questions just stopped, the McCain campaign didn't have to do any more explaining, and McCain-Palin climbed out of the crater they had dug in the polls. They weren't explaining anymore, and they stopped losing.
I think a good rule of thumb for an effective attack, or a good response to an attack, is to try and figure out if it will force your opponent into explaining mode. If it will, then it is a good attack. If it won't, it is probably time to either stay positive, or to think of a different attack.