Political strategists think alike, and their Machiavellian mindset leads them without fail to the low road of branding their opponent as unpatriotic, un-American, and vaguely French. That's the takeaway from leaked emails by Mark Penn, former top strategist of the Clinton campaign, who it turns out suggested an uber-patriotic approach to Clinton that the McCain camp has taken up, with gusto, in the last several weeks of the presidential campaign.

The New York Times has an excerpt from a soon-to-be-published article in The Atlantic, which includes hundreds of leaked emails from the Clinton campaign. Here is one choice bit of Penn advice:

All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light.

Save it for 2050. … Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America American to the middle class in the middle of the last century. And talk about the basic bargain as about the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child and that drive you today. Values of fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back …

Let’s explicitly own "American" in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t. Make this a new American Century, the American Strategic Energy Fund. Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.

McCain's campaign seems to be following this script line by line. His campaign has adopted a new slogan, "Country First," and his campaign ads and statements in recent weeks — especially since Obama's Berlin speech — have highlighted Obama's celebrity appeal to foreigners, and accused the Illinois senator of being unpatriotic.

Things get complicated by the race issue. For example, in an ABC News interview after Obama's Berlin speech, one McCain supporter made a point of mentioning how McCain was "all-American" and "one of us." Those could be references to Obama's lack of patriotism — or they could be code words for race. 

Intentionally or not, McCain's current line of attack strikes both of these lightning rods. His strategists, like Penn, know that "international" and "American" are mutually exclusive terms in this country's politics — even if trends of globalization mean that, in the "real world," American and global interests look increasingly alike.

Victor Tan Chen is In The Fray‘s editor in chief and the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. Site: victortanchen.com | Facebook | Twitter: @victortanchen

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