I'm all for pundits and reporters pointing out the gap in Obama's idealistic rhetoric and his less idealistic campaign tactics (John Dickerson's been all over that for months), but two points are worth mentioning: first, there is a difference between campaigns and governance. A dirty campaigner may be more likely to inject partisanship into his government (see Bush, George W), but that doesn't mean that Obama can't apply a new post-partisan paradigm to governing after several months of hammering McCain. In any event, aggressively pointing out where McCain has changed his opinions over the last few years and why the maverick image is something of a sham is not one the same level as the Swift Boaters.
At the core, Obama’s best message has always been this: He is unconnected with the tired old fights that constrict our politics. He is in tune with a new era. He has very little experience but a lot of potential. He does not have big achievements, but he is authentically the sort of person who emerges in a multicultural, globalized age. He is therefore naturally in step with the problems that will confront us in the years to come.
So as I’m trying to measure the effectiveness of this convention, I’ll be jotting down a little minus mark every time I hear a theme that muddies that image. I’ll jot down a minus every time I hear the old class conflict, and the old culture war themes. I’ll jot down a minus when I see the old Bush obsession rearing its head, which is not part of his natural persona. I’ll write a demerit every time I hear the rich played off against the poor, undercutting Obama’s One America dream.
I’ll put a plus down every time a speaker says that McCain is a good man who happens to be out of step with the times. I’ll put a plus down every time a speaker says that a multipolar world demands a softer international touch. I’ll put a plus down when a speaker says the old free market policies worked fine in the 20th century, but no longer seem to be working today. These are arguments that reinforce Obama’s identity as a 21st-century man.
Second, holding Democrats to a standard that Republicans dynamited a generation ago is a bit unfair, and a recipe for Democrats losing races that they should win. Obama's invited a lot of that with his persona, but anyone who takes him to task for not holding as firmly as perhaps he should to his new-politics promise should also recognize that Republicans have made it very hard to win the presidency without periodic trips to the gutter.