But I also have to admit that people on the left have never been very good at the fine art of mixing personal and political criticism.
During the 2000 election campaign, there was a drumbeat of liberal sneering about George W. Bush being "stupid." All that sneering did was make liberals look like snobs while ignoring Bush's long history as a party animal and the fact that he had driven two businesses into the ground. Bush isn't stupid, but he's always been immature, reckless, and lazy. The left should have done a better job of bringing that into focus.
Now, there are some on the left who are attacking John McCain's war record. Wesley Clark does raise a valid point that serving as a fighter pilot doesn't qualifiy anybody to be president. But the good folks at America.blog are also reminding people that McCain cracked under torture and made a propoganda video. According to the Politico, others are suggesting that McCain "must have killed civilians" during his 23 sorties over North Vietnam.
"I wouldn't characterize anybody who fought in Vietnam as a war hero," said Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the theatrical anti-war group Code Pink. "In 23 bombing sorties, there must have been civilians that were killed and there's no heroism to that.""Must have?" Ms. Benjamin is implying that McCain killed civilians (and is thus a kind of war criminal) without any evidence. Talk about stupid! And ineffective. If people actually want to hear those kinds of smears, they'll dial up Karl Rove or Grover Norquist instead of a Democrat.
What progressive activists and liberal bloggers need to do is to be tough with McCain in a way that raises doubts McCain's ability to govern effectively.
Let me give a couple of illustrations of how John McCain could be effectively attacked.
McCain proposes to lower taxes on corporations like Cindy McCain's $100 million beer distribution business. Given that Cindy McCain already owns seven houses, it's more than fair to point out that she doesn't really need another tax break. Lowering corporate taxes is an incredibly bad idea and John McCain's personal affairs can be used legitimately to illustrate the point.
McCain also advertises his ability to work "across the aisle." However, McCain actually does very poorly at working the Republican side of the aisle and a number of his colleagues think of McCain as a preening narcissist who blows his top if his doesn't get his way. Thad Cochran of Mississippi is one of the more emphatic Republian critics: "The thought of [McCain's] being president sends a cold chill down my spine . . . He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."
How does John McCain propose to govern as president if he can't any support from his fellow Republicans? If his proposals get filibustered by Senate Republicans?
These are the kinds of tough questions that need to be asked about John McCain. But people on the left need to start being as smart as we think we are.