I have heard a lot of commentary over the past few days about how the McCain campaign is furious, feeling that it has been mistreated by the press. The argument goes something like this: Obama is playing filthy politics while McCain is getting all of the blame. I even read that it is not the McCain people but the “Obamamedia” who are gripped by insane rage”. Obviously, I am not completely objective here and am not going to pretend to be. But let’s look at the facts.
In terms of character attacks, Obama has definitely tried to depict McCain as a “Republican” and representative of the same ideologies and policies of the Bush Administration. Some of the uglier attacks have been the ones characterizing McCain as out of touch and erratic. One could argue that both of these really mean to say that McCain is too old. Finally, the strongest of the attacks have been the ones calling McCain dishonorable, most likely hoping to elicit a Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men “you can’t handle the truth” moment.
Personally, I believe that McCain could have been an acceptable candidate, especially were we seeing McCain 2000 on the stump. In 2000, McCain was not George W. Bush, and there were even reports, denied by McCain, that he had voted against Bush in 2000. Nevertheless, McCain did a couple of things that opened the door to being labeled a Bush Republican, regardless of his pre-2008 record. McCain, in order the win the Republican base, cited his 90% pro Bush voting record to prove his conservative values. Then he yielded on all of the major social issues to accept an extremely conservative platform at the Republican convention, positioning himself clearly farther to the right than at any other time in his political history. With the choice of Sarah Palin, McCain made a final embrace of the Republican base, thus making it very easy for Obama’s “more of the same” argument.
Prior to the GOP Convention, I had written about the press’ favorable treatment of McCain. Although the press wrote more stories about Obama, there was also a larger percentage of negative stories about Obama. The press finally began turning against McCain when he choose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Most of the press corps, including some conservative pundits, saw the choice as cynical and uncharacteristic of John McCain. I believe this was a turning point in the campaign. Did the press then lose its respect for McCain? But is wasn’t until the screaming mobs and Palin’s plural “palling around with terrorists” that pushed a large quantity of editorials and columns against McCain’s tactics.
Nevertheless, the Obama camp has been very easy on Sarah Palin. Obama and Biden have not made any negative public statements about Palin other than disagreeing with her policies. As a matter of fact, the Obama team has largely ignored Palin. With respect to the “mainstream” press, after a week of Palin’s nomination, there was almost no mention of her daughter’s pregnancy or her family life (regardless of what the Republicans will tell you). The press — without a word from the Obama campaign — was definitely right to doubt Palin’s qualifications after her shockingly poor interviews. It takes real imagination to hear Palin speak about Russia and keep a straight face:
It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there.
The press gave Palin’s debate performance positive marks but glanced over the content of her words. And while Palin was decrying Obama for seeing America as imperfect, no one in the mainstream press or in Obama’s team was asking whether Todd Palin was a secessionist. Remember when everyone in the press was upset because Palin wouldn’t do any interviews? Well, guess what? She still isn’t, and no one is bringing that up. Most surprisingly of all, the press has barely covered the very damaging ethics report from the Alaskan legislature.
While everyone is saying that the economic crisis is advantageous to Obama, it is actually giving Sarah Palin an out of jail free pass. No one is paying attention to her. No one is questioning her blatantly false public responses to the ethics report. No one is calling to attention her ridiculous assertion that by supporting a woman’s right to choose and current law, Obama is thwarting an open debate about abortion. In other words, if women didn’t have a constitutional right to abortion, then it would be up to the states to decide whether to prohibit abortion, thus “opening the dialogue” to prohibit abortion until finally the dialogue is closed when abortion becomes illegal. That’s a mouth full.
Notice that the press writes about Obama’s association with Bill Ayers, thus making an assumption that a real association, possibly a relevant friendship exists. Although the Obama campaign did make the Keating Economics video in retaliation and hinted into McCain’s Iran Contra ties, the campaign barely pushed on those matters while the press was quick to get back to Bill Ayers. The only argument I could make here to support McCain’s claim of bias is that the press thinks that negative stories about Obama sell more than those about McCain, but then they feel a need to compensate by attacking McCain’s intentions. It’s like saying, I want something bad but you are wrong for giving it to me.
I do believe that there are solid arguments, as I have written before, against Obama’s use of misleading policy ads, and I think those criticisms should be taken seriously. But in terms of character ads, I think that McCain picked up where Billary left off (thow the rock, hide your hand), and has played into some of the basic xenophobic and racial fears that still exist in the U.S. It just goes to show how much Obama is afraid of being label an angry black man that he has had to publicly disavow himself of the recent statement by civil rights legend, Rep. John Lewis. Comparing McCain and Palin to George Wallace went too far, but was it disingenuous?
As public figures with power to influence and persuade, Senator McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all.
The mainstream press immediately questioned whether Lewis knew that the 1960s were over 40 years ago. Nevertheless, we probably haven’t seen anything like Palin’s cutlure war stump speech since the 1960s. Think about it. Review the facts. At her rallies, she is telling voters that Obama is un-American. Check out the grammar,
[Obama] is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.
First of all, from the sentence structure and grammar it appears that Obama has close ties with a plurality of terrorists who are presently targeting their own country, the U.S., from within, making them even more dangerous. Then she says, “This is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America.” Her crowd has already been warmed up by a guy who says that it will be a scary day if you wake up to “Barack Hussein Obama” as president. Is it any surprise then that McCain is told by a woman at a public event that she cannot trust Obama because he is an Arab? McCain corrected the woman saying that Obama was a decent family man. What’s wrong with being Arab or Muslim? Imagine if we had substituted Arab with any other ethnic or racial group: I can’t trust him because he is a Jew, I can’t trust him because he is black, I can’t trust him because he is Asian. There is also an organized effort, contrary to the evidence, to blame the financial crisis on African Americans and Hispanics for receiving mortgages they couldn’t afford.
The mavericks (who call themselves such because of their alleged voting independence) argue that Obama is unpatriotic because he didn’t vote with Bush on the war. Cindy McCain speaks of the fear that ran through her body when Obama voted against protecting her son’s life in Iraq, and McCain says that Obama is someone we still don’t know. Who is the real Obama is, he asks. If the complaint is that the news only covers Obama, then I’d understand that Palin (who can’t come up with the name of a newspaper she reads) doesn’t know who Obama is. But for the rest of us? Come on!
Let’s be serious and honest with ourselves. We are not winning over any hearts and minds in the war against terrorism because they “hate what we stand for” or just because we bomb them, but because we are giving such xenophobic, anti-Muslim rhetoric a free pass. Yes, John Lewis jumped the gun. But when you hear those statements, cross the t’s and dot the i’s of the inferences, and then watch the videos of people at a few rallies (isolated as they may be), you begin to understand the severity of Lewis’ concerns.
As a matter of fact, it appears that attacking Obama’s “association” and the negative attacks have not worked (as polls indicate). Even conservative commentator William Kristol who last week said that McCain should go after Obama for his association with Jeremiah Wright, is now saying that McCain must drastically change his tactics. I honestly believe that John McCain was not comfortable playing dirty, hate mongering politics. It is not his style, and besides the fact that it isn’t winning over independents, McCain does not come off natural in that role. As a result, McCain is now shifting gears again and moving away from bringing up Bill Ayers and terrorists. Unfortunately, it is probably too late to bring back McCain 2000 because, in picking Palin and fighting for the base, McCain 2008 has brought back the divisive culture wars.
In the final weeks of the election, though, McCain does have one very good argument against the press. As the press is already calling it an Obama victory, there is the real danger of a press induced self fulfilling prophecy unduly influencing the outcome. As there are onl poll to go by and not votes, the press cannot say that Obama is really leading in votes. Unfortunately, many Republican are throwing salt, essentially conceding victory to Obama and (as seen in the aforementioned William Kristol article) blaming the campaign.
But the press’s subliminal subtext throughout the campaign coverage that McCain shouldn’t win the elections goes both ways. Notice that since the summer, the press has consistently questioned why Obama wasn’t doing better in polls in a year that Democrats were destined to win. This has generally been attributed to race, and even in the final stages of the debate we are being told for the umpteenth time that Obama’s biggest hurdle to victory (and McCain’s only remaining chance) is the Bradley Effect — where white people in the voting booth feel uncomfortable about casting their ballot for the black candidate. Few have taken note that we no longer live in a country where landslide victories are likely due mainly to gerrymandering and a deepened gap between Republican and Democrats. When Obama finally took a lead in the polls, this wasn’t attributed to the seeds Obama has sewed throughout the long campaign, but to the financial crisis alone. In other words, McCain is being ambushed (no pun intended) by fortuitous historical events while Obama is in the right place at the right time. Of course, McCain hasn’t helped much by canceling on Letterman and by actually coming off as erratic and silly.
Maybe the real McCain has not always come out, but hasn’t he been campaigning for the presidency for the last ten years? Shouldn’t he have developed a better narrative than just the surge and a team of mavericks? More than having his fate in the hands of the economy, McCain most likely suffered from an uncompetitive, uninteresting primary where he could get away with a such a limited narrative. The only thing new he offered for the general election was “Obama doesn’t understand” and the antithesis of his persona, Sarah Palin, who is already running her own 2012 campaign.
Overall, though, whether Obama has been worse than McCain or vice versa, the reality is that one team has run a stricter, more coherent campaign. You know the saying, “don’t hate the player, hate game.” We’ll soon see who wins the game.