I remember late in 1992 when George Bush the First was running against Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDolly Parton remembers Ginsburg: 'Her voice was soft but her message rang loud' Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Calls grow for Biden to expand election map in final sprint MORE. I worked for House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.) at the time.

The Michel team was trying to help the Bush campaign any way it could. I helped to draft speeches attacking Clinton. I did some research into Clinton’s very strange to trip to Moscow during the Vietnam war. We thought he was some stooge for the KGB.

Clinton had quite clearly dodged the draft. For conservative Republicans, that was disqualification enough to be president. Clinton had extramarital affairs galore, which we thought would turn voters against him. Clinton had all kinds of strange associations, many with people who didn’t like America very much.

George Bush, on the other hand, was a bona fide war hero. He was a brilliant foreign policy leader. He was a political moderate who should have appealed to independent voters. He came from a great family, he was a devoted father, he played baseball for Yale. He represented all the best about America.

But in 1992, we were in a tough economy. Unemployment was pretty high. Economic uncertainty was palpable. A lot of middle managers were losing their jobs. Because of the savings and loan crisis, banks and thrifts were failing.

While the Bush campaign kept hammering at the so-called character issues, the Clinton campaign focused on the slowing economy. The famous slogan of Team Clinton was “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Clinton promised a middle way. He promised to attack the deficit. He promised middle-class tax relief. He promised healthcare for everybody. He promised to fix the economy.

The Bush team didn’t take Clinton seriously enough. They refused to come up with a plan on healthcare. They were compromised on the tax issue, because Bush broke his “No new taxes” pledge earlier in his presidency. And they never believed that the American people would elect a draft-dodging hippie philanderer to be president.

They were wrong.

There are some parallels, obviously, between then and now.

The economy is in trouble today, as it was then. A war hero is running against a war protester. McCain has about the same amount of respect for Obama that Bush had for Clinton. And McCain is trying to change the subject from the economy to character.

But McCain can’t change the subject. His campaign must focus like a laser beam on the struggling economy because that is the only game in town. Unlike Bush, McCain didn’t break his “No new taxes” pledge. And unlike Clinton, Obama actually has a plan to sharply raise taxes on small-business owners and investment.

For conservatives, talking about Bill Ayers is a good strategy. But for the rest of the country, it is a complete waste of time. McCain needs to let every American know that if Barack Obama is president, he will raise taxes on job creation and investment. The Obama plan will kill economic growth, hurt the retirement nest eggs of all baby boomers and slow job creation. That should be the message for the rest of this campaign.


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