The strident Republican backlash to Obama’s new fact-checking site, AttackWatch.com — a follow up to “Fight the Smears!” from 2008 — feels like nothing so much as the playground bully falling back in raucous laughter as he watches the class nerd ineffectually strike some semblance of a “fighting” stance. Take this as as much an indictment of the bully as the target because, at the end of the day, we still just don’t know how to fight back. And by now, we really, really should.
For all the merit to the general idea, AttackWatch somehow manages to appear unstatesmanlike, petty, ineffective, timid, and overly aggressive — all at once. For one, this type of political warblogging should never be done under the direct auspices of the party, the campaign, or the president. Though Fox News and the Republican Party do, for all intents and purposes, merge into a single partisan entity, Republicans correctly maintain some semblance of formal separation.
Democrats should too, perhaps especially so. Our (putative) advantage with some swing voters is our even-tempered, statesmanly presentation of ideas — even at its worst, this White House never engages in the kind of histrionics you see on the right. We don’t screech about socialism or stoop to the historic depths plumbed by Palin during the “death panel” fracas. And we compromise. Perhaps we need a party platform to attempt to set the world straight about what Obama’s policies are — and what they aren’t. AttackWatch accomplishes that goal rather well, but an even-keeled site addressed to rumors as positive points — not “Obama does not hate Israel,” but “Obama supports the unique U.S./Israel relationship” — would accomplish it better. Especially if the grisly, alarmist black-and-red scheme could be traded instead for something hopeful and inspiring — something we expect of the American president, addressed to preserving (and rebuilding) our moderate image.
This is not to say we shouldn’t treat the Republican Party’s continued and false attacks on Obama as creating the state of total war that they, in fact, have. But an aggressive, full-throated partisan defense of the President’s agenda is what party functionaries and surrogates are for. What we need from the President is measured calm; what we need elsewhere is a unified, partisan and unofficial messaging system — a talking points memo, but one read by middle America, not a site by and for college-educated young liberals — and a platform from which to read it. Not a fact-check site that those being fed rumors will, after all, be disinclined to believe.