The liberal media just can't get over the way Democrat Michael Dukakis lost to George H. W. Bush. The Times proved it in Sunday's Page One "Political Memo," an analysis by Robin Toner, "In '88, a Lesson on Using Symbols as Bludgeons."
Toner portrayed Democrats as victims of Republicans challenging their patriotism (without showing any actual examples of such) from Dukakis in 1988 to Obama now. In '88 the unfair attack aimed at Dukakis's position on the Pledge of Allegiance in schools; in 2008, the target is Obama's flag pin.
Sometimes, as Senator Barack Obama seemed to argue earlier this year, a flag pin is just a flag pin.
But it can never be that simple for anyone with direct experience of the 1988 presidential campaign. That year, the Republicans used the symbols of nationhood (notably, whether schoolchildren should be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance) to bludgeon the Democrats, challenge their patriotism and utterly redefine their nominee, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts.
The memory of that campaign -- reinforced, for many, by the attacks on Senator John Kerry's Vietnam war record in the 2004 election -- haunts Democrats of a certain generation.
The 1988 campaign was, in many ways, the crucible that helped create Bill Clinton's centrist philosophy and his fierce commitment to attack and counterattack, which drove the politics of the 1990s.
Senator Barack Obama has promised a different politics, one that rises above the fray and the distractions of wedge issues. As Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for Salon, recently put it, "The entire Obama campaign is predicated on the belief that it is no longer 1988."
But is that true?
Even with so many big issues at stake this time around, the race between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton has often been focused on questions of values, background and character -- witness the recent fixation on Mr. Obama's ties to the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., or the continued unfounded rumors that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.
Like Mr. Dukakis in 1988, Mr. Obama is relatively new to the national scene, and thus vulnerable to being defined by Republican attacks. And like Mr. Dukakis, Mr. Obama lacks experience with the politics of wedge issues on a national stage.
For "wedge issues," you can read "any issue that benefits the GOP." Toner again defensively insisted without evidence that attacks on Obama equated to attacks on his patriotism.
Attacks on a presidential candidate's patriotism, are hard for many politicians to take seriously. "Unless you're talking about the Manchurian candidate, the idea that someone who put their heart and soul into running for president didn't care deeply for their country is kind of ridiculous," said Drew Westen, a psychologist and political consultant.
"The GOP is attacking our patriotism!" is a running talking point among poor-me Democrats around election time, one reliably amplified by the party-helpers at the Times. Rarely is any actual evidence offered to accompany the accusation.
Toner even engaged in some post-post-mortem defense of Dukakis - his liberal take on schoolchildren saying the Pledge of Allegiance was based on advice from his crack team of Harvard lawyers, you see. Yet that invited a "contemptuous question" from George H.W. Bush:
Michelle Obama has already drawn conservative fire for declaring that, because of her husband's success and the voters' hunger for change, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country." And Mr. Obama has been questioned about why he does not wear a flag pin every day.
In 1988, one of the central attacks revolved around the Pledge of Allegiance. Mr. Dukakis, as governor, had vetoed state legislation in 1977 that required teachers to lead their students in the pledge. He did so on the basis of an advisory opinion from the state court, which said the legislation was unconstitutional.
Mr. Dukakis, a Harvard lawyer surrounded by other Harvard lawyers, believed himself on very firm ground. But by August 1988, his Republican opponent, Vice President George H.W. Bush, was rousing huge crowds with a contemptuous question: "What is it about the Pledge of Allegiance that upsets him so much?"
Mr. Dukakis, Mr. Bush said, was "out in deep left field on these issues." He was also "a card-carrying member of the A.C.L.U.," more concerned with giving furloughs to criminals -- like Willie Horton -- than upholding national values, the vice president asserted.