Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain v. the Times

1. This story is the best news for McCain since Florida. Nothing--nothing--pushes the right wing toward a fellow GOPer as quickly as a New York Times hit piece. In fact, there were some Republicans such as Phil Gramm (on economics) and Jesse Helms (on affirmative action) who understood the dynamic, and reveled in the Times' disdain. McCain decided to take a different tack, and--in winning the Times' endorsement for the New York GOP primary--seemed to make a definite move toward the middle, in hopes of catching independents and (what seemed important at the time) anti-Hillary Democrats.

On his radio show on January 30th, Rush Limbaugh (no fan of McCain) said as much as this: as soon as McCain becomes the presumptive nominee, the leftist press who gloried in him versus Bush, versus Romney, versus Guiliani will turn on him with a vengeance. Today Limbaugh replayed the quote--and who could blame him? While watching cable news today, one watched mainstream Republicans barely containing themselves. There will little of what Limbaugh said to McCain supporters--Now you gonna listen to me?--but it hardly needed to be said.

McCain is the GOP nominee, period, and the oldest rule of the schoolyard is, "Nobody hits my little brother but me."

2. At the same time, the point of the article was hardly to hang McCain up for either a) cheating on his wife, b) ethics violations. Neither of these was the intent of the article. The intent of the article was to make McCain fair game for any of a number of allegations that would use the Times story as a jumping-off point.

When it comes to the Times, what matters is not that any one allegation be true, but that story after story, charge after charge, push a certain narrative forward, if only a little. I have seen this tactic in action since I was fifteen years old. Ronald Reagan was a doddering old fool (fool enough to win the Cold War, reduce the number of nuclear missiles in Europe, and keep the Contra cause alive in Nicaragua just long enough to ensure democracy in Central America). George H.W. Bush was a lightweight (Ambassador to China, RNC Chair, Head of the CIA, Vice-President for eight years, mastermind of the Kuwaiti liberation at the expense of 132 American lives--some lightweight!). Dan Quayle: moron. (To sight one example, get him talking about the history of Southeast Asia over the last half-century.) George W. Bush was a draft dodger (who was trained to fly rickety old bombers, and for it suffered a quarter-century of calumny and lies, culminating in a smear campaign so ten-thumbed it brought down a network news division).

Well, what of John McCain? War hero, prisoner of war, torture victim for five years (and it bears repeating, not so the North Vietnamese might procure information he might have had, but so they might convince him to walk out the front door of the Hanoi Hilton), advocate of some of the very policies the Times finds admirable but the right wing sees as odious (campaign finance, illegal immigrant amnesty, etc., etc.), ethics above reproach. The Times knows in its DNA that its general election recommendation will be either Obama or Hillary, probably the former.

So what to do?

Cut him off at the knees. Cut him off at his strongest point, his ethics. And cut him off in such a way that the rest of the MSM, like Basset Hounds hearing a dog whistle, might conclude it was open season.

And so we have the basic outline of the attack. The Huffpost, a nice distillation of up-market American liberalism, gives the basic angles of attack:

Only the tip of the iceberg:Cliff Schecter uses these precise words:

Many are also unaware, because somehow it has evaded the media's radar, that he's surrounded himself with more lobbyists than Jack Abramoff on a golf outing. Vicki Iseman, and his actions on behalf of her clients, is only the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Rick Davis, his campaign manager. Corporate lobbyist. Charlie Black, one of his chief advisors. Corporate lobbyist. We could continue, but The Huffington Post would cut me off and close the bar before I would finish.

John McCain has done many honorable things in his life. Some of them, such as his stances on campaign finance reform, a gun-show loophole and carbon emissions came during his brief period of political sanity, which lasted from about 1999 until 2004 (hmm, what happened in 2004 that might have changed things...).

But much of his tenure in Washington has been marred by behavior entirely at odds with the image that has been granted him. It's time the media told us the truth. We can handle the truth.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: As in, maybe he didn't have sex with this lobbyist, but this story is a metaphor for everything wrong with him:

Personally, I think his physical and political embrace of George W. Bush was the most lewd and obscene act this guy could commit, proving that it was easier for him to withstand years of torture by the Viet Cong than resist his own tortured political ambitions.

Ridicule is now allowed: It's hard to treat a hero like McCain with the same disdain reserved for a Quayle, a W, or even genuine war heroes such as Bush 41 or Bob Dole. There's not a sentient adult in America unaware of McCain's biography, and it's hard to get around.

The Times story opens the door. Treat yourself to a sample of Huffposter Chris Kelly:

John McCain sleeps around? It's like that awful Warhol movie that imagines Frankenstein's monster doing it. And the same week as the Gene Simmons' sex tape, too. How would Michelle Obama put it? For the first time in my country's life, I'm really proud to be an adult.


Eww. Do you think he calls her "my friend" when they're doing it? Do you think he calls his penis "my friend?"

No, you know it's the "A4 Skyhawk."

And with a young woman named Iseman! You don't have to like puns much to get a kick out of that. Doing it with a man who's barely alive. I, semen, meet I, Robot.

And is there a better name for an old porn star than "Johnny McCane?" "Roger Hickory?" "Rod Leathery?"

And then this:

And afterwards she has to dress him, because he can't move his arms.

Cripple humor! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Back in the nineties, when the right seemed to take over humor, when PJ O'Rourke was the funniest political journalist and Christopher Buckley the funniest political novelist, the question was asked: Where are all the funny leftists? Where are the heirs to Mort Sahl, George Carlin, and the Harvard Lampoon? When did liberals become the more-water-in-your-beer crowd, the dweebs whining, Not funnny, guys?

Well, now we know. Jon Stewart has a few lively moments, though his self-importance will be his undoing. Beyond that: Al Franken? Bill Maher? Leftist humor is nonexistent because it sucks.

Well, McCain should now know what he's up against.


Anonymous said...

Great read Joe!

Seriously the Times is now reduced to running hit jobs with.."well she sure was hanging around a lot!" innuendo and second hand crap? Todays fishwrap hacks are a joke!


Leslie Richardson said...



SunDevilJoe said...

Right on! What amazed me, but certainly didn't surprise me, was the liberal TV hacks(like Keith Olbermann) "frothing at the mouth" reaction. Chris Matthews, "Mr. Hardball", proclaimed that the NYT would certainly have a followup piece the next day. I'm still waiting.

jimmy said...

McCain is in trouble (of course, he always was). The Newsweek story today shows, based on his own testimony, that he lied in his denials yesterday. He said the lobbyists never asked him to intervene, and his earlier testimony claims they did. The deeper problem for him is that he has created this Maverick persona, part of which is a dislike for lobbyists and lobbying. He surrounds himself with lobbyists. That looks hypocritical.

He paints a picture of himself as a campaign finance reformer, and now he is caught playing games with public campaign finance rules. He has been pushing the envelope, ethically, on the very issues he tries to hold up as his strong points.

The timing of the NYT article is arguably questionable, but these stories were going to come out. They always do in a Presidential election. If the story had come out earlier, we might be looking at a Romney nomination.

jimmy said...

And I thought Jon Stewart was self-deprecating, not self-important. I suppose it is a fine line.

Bill Maher is self-important. Al Franken is boring. I find Stewart and Colbert funny. Who do you like on the right for humor? Please don't say Dennis Miller.

Anonymous said...

As soon as one of these left-wing nut jobs that fires off the statement "McCain is in trouble" shows some facts I'll listen....until then, we we all watch them lather up in the innuendo suds.......

jimmy said...

Didn't I provide some facts? He has been caught contradicting himself in regard to the NYT story. More importantly, people are now noticing that his campaign is run by corporate lobbyists. He is in a compromising situation regarding his commitment to take public financing. These are established facts.

Do you mean, speaking of "trouble," that you will wait and see if the media, which love McCain, will continue to report these facts? It is only a guess, but they probably will.

Joe is right. McCain is going to have to figure out a way to deal with this narrative, because it is relevant and is the type of stuff that will eventually gain traction. It is easy enough for the talking heads to understand and turn into soundbites.

Listen if you want. Or not. I essentially agree with Joe about most of what he says here. NYT stories critical of Republicans do mobilize the right.