Friday, July 25, 2008

Two images for Obama, McCain and the Establishment press

The McCain campaign rolled out the Republican dogma of the Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press! a few days ago, claiming that the mainstream press is in the tank for Obama. Lisa Benson of the Washington Post Writers Group immediately picked up the McCain campaign's message in this cartoon, which ran on July 24.

McCain is adored by the national press corps. And they're generally pretty shameless about showing it. Both McCain himself and Chris Matthews have said that press is McCain's "base". And Matthews wasn't being disapproving in saying that. He adores the bold Maverick.

So the Establishment press is happy to help McCain promote his campaign themes. Even, as in this case, when the theme turns out to be the Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press! meme that the Republicans have been using for decades now to "work the ref" and browbeat the press into giving their spin favorable treatment.

This willingness by our "press corps" to fawn on their favorite Maverick is a huge advantage for McCain's campaign.

We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time when looking at this problem, though. The press corps hate and despite the Clintons even more than they luu-uuv their Maverick. So when their Wicked Witch was still in the primary campaign, they did give Obama much more favorable treatment than they did Clinton. Or, it would be more accurate to say that the way the pundits trashed Clinton relentlessly was not matched by any such hostile treatment of Obama.

But the press played Rev. Wright controversy as a potential scandal for Obama. McCain's kissing up to crackpot radical clerics like John Hagee never came in for remotely the level of criticism and negative commentary that Obama did over Wright.

And check out this column from Maureen Dowd, who is ostensibly praising Obama in it, Is ‘The One’ Cocky or Commander in Chiefy? New York Times 07/23/08. In it, she uses the Obama-as-cult-leader labeling of him as "The One". Her first three paragraphs deal with that all-important issue of clothing style and its clues as to "presidential judgment". She refers to the wife of the French President as Obama's "glittery groupie". On his Middle East trip, Obama had been "girding his messianic loins" for his visit to Israel. The King of Jordon, she tells us, met with "the prince of Chicago". "Obama was acting as though he were already 'on a coin,' she writes, musing that "cocky or not", Obama "needs to swoop up to conquer so Americans can picture him in the role", whatever in the name of Zeus that may mean. She couldn't pass up a reference to "his paternal family's Muslim roots". She lets us know that she thinks Obama is a phony and an elitist by referring to the "old skill that Obama honed at the Harvard Law Review of listening until everyone at the table felt they had been heard (and agreed with)".

Dowd's nominally sympathetic column to Obama brings to mind the saying, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"

But in the bizarro world of PunditLand, her column counts as a "liberal" defense of Obama.

Josh Marshall highlighted this McCain campaign poster, which symbolizes in a very kitschy, church-bulletin sort of way an important angle that McCain is working in his pitch to potential McCain voters:

As hokey as the graphics are, the poster illustrates well the image McCain is trying to project on defense issues in general and the Iraq War in particular. Including the "down-home" hokiness of it.

While those of us who have followed the war news closely realize that McCain has been a hardline supporter of the war all along and really has no clue about how to bring it to any kind of optimal conclusion, he's conveying a different image in his appeal to independents. He's claiming that he's been a critic of the war all along up until The Surge. (I.e., he understands people's frustration with the war.) And he's claiming The Surge which he advocated was a stunning success. (Therefore, "I know how to win wars", as the bold Maverick himself says.) And he's holding out the promise of peace through Victory, which is presumably a major part of this poster's intent; he's also talked about how he expects to have concluded the Iraq War within four years, thereby freeing up money to balance the budget.

The poster with its warplanes actually hints (presumably unintentionally!) at what McCain's real intentions are: escalate the war by intensifying the use of air power in urban areas, killing many more "terrorists" and civilian noncombatants. In the eternal faith of the air power zealots, undiminished by any and all countervailing factual evidence, this will break the Will of the opponents and drive them to lay down their arms in unconditional surrender, which seems to be McCain's only concept of Victory.

The idea of Sunni guerrillas and the Mahdi Army surrendering all their arms cheerfully to the US and/or the Maliki government and turning themselves in to be imprisoned and tortured for the rest of their lives is improbable in the extreme. Even more improbable as the McCain administration escalates the air war and kills more and more civilians, aggravating the hatred against the US and the allied Maliki government among Iraqis, while making the already severe refugee crisis that much worse.

But the McCain in that poster could wind up coming off to a lot of independents, even those who favor a quick withdrawal from Iraq, as being the better candidate to pull off such a withdrawal. The appeal is basically: Look, McCain is experienced and practical and he's also a mean old guy. He promoted The Surge and it seems to have worked. He's more likely to be able to persuade the other side to give up and bring this war to a successful conclusion than Obama.

And, as Joe Conason explains in McCain's embarrassing assertions on the Iraq surge Salon 07/25/08, McCain's doting admirers in the press are only too willing to let him get away with the most dishonest characterizations of his own record and the results of The Surge. In the real world, McCain's claims about The Surge border on the crackpot:

So insistently do the media's mainstream and conservative commentators repeat the Iraq success meme - echoing the mantra of George W. Bush and John McCain - that to probe its premises and assumptions is not permitted. To question the success of last year's troop escalation supposedly implies a negative assessment of the performance of American soldiers and Marines and may even imperil their morale, creating a frame that stifles dissent. But now McCain himself has inadvertently reopened real debate on the subject by claiming that strategies and tactics used to quell the Sunni insurgency long before the surge troops arrived in Iraq should nevertheless be attributed to the surge. Indeed, the surge is so brilliant and so powerful, according to McCain, that it makes things happen in the past as well as in the present and the future.

That must be what passes for "maverick" thinking, although there are certainly other names for it. For those of us who remain tethered to reality, however, the success of the surge must be measured in a context that accounts for many other factors - as must the simple assertion that we are winning the war in Iraq as a result of the escalation. (my emphasis)
But our broken press corps is happy to enable this man's campaign for the Presidency, which will mean widening the war to Iran. Obama and the Dems have to come up with effective pushback on this. They really need to go after the press corps for their sloppiness and laziness on this whole thing. Otherwise, we'll have three months of the punditocracy talking about how the Great American and War Hero McCain came up with a brilliantly successful notion of The Surge, while the pundits themselves cringe in the face of Republican charges that the press is favoring Obama.

Obama needs to take a lesson from Hillary Clinton's campaign: you have to fight media dysfunction head-on.

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