First he refuted McCain’s attacks against him yesterday, “Yesterday, Senator McCain came before you. He is a man who has served this nation honorably, and he correctly stated that one of the chief criteria for the American people in this election is going to be who can exercise the best judgment as Commander in Chief. But instead of just offering policy answers, he turned to a typical laundry list of political attacks. He said that I have changed my position on Iraq when I have not. He said that I am for a path of “retreat and failure.” And he declared, “Behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president” – suggesting, as he has so many times, that I put personal ambition before my country.”
Obama continued, “That is John McCain’s prerogative. He can run that kind of campaign, and – frankly – that’s how political campaigns have been run in recent years. But I believe the American people are better than that. I believe that this defining moment demands something more of us.”
The Democrat called on McCain to stop challenging his patriotism, “These are the judgments I’ve made and the policies that we have to debate, because we do have differences in this election. But one of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can’t disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism. I have never suggested that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America’s national interest. Now, it’s time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.”
“Let me be clear: I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America, so do you, and so does John McCain. When I look out at this audience, I see people of different political views. You are Democrats and Republicans and Independents. But you all served together, and fought together, and bled together under the same proud flag. You did not serve a Red America or a Blue America – you served the United States of America,” Obama said.
He called for a debate on the merits of policy not personal attacks, “So let’s have a serious debate, and let’s debate our disagreements on the merits of policy not personal attacks. And no matter how heated it gets or what kind of campaign he chooses to run, I will honor Senator McCain’s service, just like I honor the service of every veteran in this room, and every American who has worn the uniform of the United States.”
Most of Obama’s remarks were the same standard foreign policy and vets speech. He talked about Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, more GI benefits, and his personal back story. Policy wise the interesting news is that he mentioned Joe Biden by name in the speech, and backed Biden’s proposal of $1 billion in emergency aid for Georgia.
McCain’s personal attacks are a slippery slope for Obama. He needs to answer the attacks without being taken too far off message, and distracted from the issues. This balancing act is one that Obama will have to perform throughout the campaign, because if the election is just about issues, then the Democrat will win, but McCain’s best hope of winning is to persuade voters that Obama’s judgment and character can’t be trusted. This is the underlying battle of this entire campaign.