Sunday, August 10, 2008

McCain vs. the truth

Montana Headlines takes on the task of defending John McCain's recent attacks on Barack Obama. It's a dirty job, but I guess somebody had to do it.

Oddly, he defends the humor in the ads on the basis of their You Tube popularity. Suffice it to say that certain aspects of humor simply defy rational analysis, such as, for example, the popularity of Adam Sandler.

But I would not want to defend McCain's ads, as Montana Headlines does, as consistent with his promise to run a "respectful" campaign. A joke or two is OK. Arguing that Obama doesn't have the experience to be president is perfectly legitimate. Saying that Obama is too liberal for the job is just fine.

But it's not OK to accuse Obama of selling out America to help his political chances. It's not legitimate to imply that Obama is a celebrity bimbo. It's not fine to flat-out lie about Obama's energy plan, or to lie about his tax plan. And it isn't respectful to imply that Obama has some sort of messianic complex.

Montana Headlines' justification for the McCain ads, such as it is, seems to be that McCain might lose if he doesn't get down and dirty. Just once, I would like to see American voters make it clear that candidates will lose if they do get down and dirty. Then Americans would actually have to make their decision for president solely on the basis of the candidates' experience, skills, potential and policies.

So far, only one candidate appears interested in having voters choose that option.


Anonymous said...

OK David, I have to ask the question - other than hype, what makes you think Barack Hussein Obama would make a good President? Maybe his mostly-absentee first term in the Senate, or his short stay in the Illinois State Legislature, where he did little? I think calling him a celebrity is very descriptive, since it's all he has.

David said...

I am by no means certain that Obama would make a good president. But of the two candidates available, I am leaning toward him because of:

1. His obvious intelligence.

2. His eloquence. His critics dismiss that as celebrity stuff, but it's hard to overestimate the value of rhetorical skills in that job. It's the thing we remember most about our greatest presidents -- and it may well be the biggest reason that Bush is so unpopular.

3. His brilliant campaign against Hillary Clinton. There is much more to being president than running a campaign, of course, but let's face it: The right wing, with all of its energy and resources, tried to beat the Clintons for 15 years and never pulled it off. Obama did it by running to the left of her and without a lot of negative campaigning. Of the three most successful presidential campaigns this year, his is the only one that didn't run into financial trouble or get torn by internal troubles.

4. His pragmatic approach to democratic rule. McCain's defenders cite his willingness to cross the aisle, and McCain deserves credit for that. But if McCain wins, he will take heat from the right every time he acts bipartisan. If Obama wins, he will have a mandate to work with both sides.

5. It's simply untrue that "all he has" is celebrity. His is a classic rags-to-riches American story: the product of a broken home, a mixed racial background and a rootless childhood. He didn't get where he is because of good looks or wild parties or influential friends. He did it with brains and perseverance, and his election would send a message that the final racial barrier in this country has been breached forever.

Too liberal? Yes, I agree. But don't underestimate the man just because you don't like his politics.

Montana Headlines said...

There was one major part of my argument about the McCain ads that you don't mention -- probably the most important part. Their major task has been to deflate a candidacy that has been built on nebulous rhetoric designed to create emotion and vibes.

"Celebrity" cancels out "Yes we can" -- "Praising McCain" addresses "Change" -- and "The One" is all about "Hope."

You can't seriously believe that the pin that pricks the bubble is despicable, whereas the bubble itself is somehow something worthy of the Presidency.

And I would hope that you wouldn't award your vote to a grossly inexperienced guy like Obama just because McCain went negative first.

One might well argue that McCain should be using serious policy proposals to address the shimmering image that Obama has created of himself, rather than using ridicule. But I doubt that it would work.

You've been around the political block long enough to know that a lot of people vote with gut reaction rather than reason -- and that the group is large enough to decide any reasonably close election. We might deplore the fact that this is so, but it is the reality of presidential politics.

You have described ways that you see McCain being able to run a campaign respectful enough to meet your standards.

What you haven't done is describe an effective way of dealing with the Obama mystique. And any opponent who doesn't figure out how to do that is going to lose, even if he is the better candidate -- as McCain is and as Hillary Clinton was.

Anonymous said...

I don't give him a lot of points for barely beating Hillary, when she had unfavorables over 50% even among her own party.

I notice that Rasmussen has had them tied for a couple of weeks now, and it reminds me of when I was a younger man and Ronald Reagan trailed Jimmy Carter in the polls right up until the last debate.

I personally think that 'celebrity status' has been carefully crafted by the Obama campaign and it's correct to expose it. This spring, his campaign would plant people to 'faint' from all the excitement at his rally's, kind of like an evangelist's show.

Should be interesting, thanks for keeping the lights on over here.

David said...

Eric, It's easy enough to say now that Hillary was beatable, but even Clinton-hater Dick Morris had all but conceded the nomination to her before Obama emerged.

Montana Headlines, I think mystique is something that generally takes care of itself. Using rhetoric to create favorable vibes is nothing new; it was what Reagan did best. But the daily grind of politics -- the compromises and trade-offs inherent in the system -- tends to rub the shine off all politicians unless their crucial years are well in front of them or far behind them. The Lincoln we revere would have been largely unrecognizable to Americans who lived day-to-day with the struggles and failures of his administration. And the Reagan I remember -- the one of massive deficits, cutting and running in the Middle East and Iran-contra -- has been eclipsed by the halo surrounding his memory. The daily push and pull of politics has a way of reminding us just how human we all are.

Obama's rhetoric has tapped into something real: a desire by many Americans to get beyond the failings, both political and moral, of the Bush administration in particular and of American democracy in general. If McCain succeeds only in destroying that hope for another generation of voters, rather than himself offering Americans something better to believe in, then he will deserve to fail.

I will vote against a candidate solely for going negative, especially if the candidate has promised not to, because I think that the highly orchestrated, market-driven negative politics of our era has become so destructive of democracy. I would rather risk a failed presidency than a failed nation.

Dave said...

Personally, I don't think that Obama has a messianic complex; what I'm seeing is a lot of people attributing things to him that simply aren't there.

David said...

Dave, I think you are 100 percent right.