John McCain’s annoying ad- which I still believe is racially incendiary- describes Barack Obama as the most famous person on the planet. I would imagine that this distinction doesn’t go to either Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain. It is likely that the Pope, the current occupant of the oval office (only 163 days left- thank the good Lord!) -George Walker Bush or even Queen Elizabeth II. But one of the points that this tacky attack ad was trying to make is that Senator Obama is a darling of the media- that he his rock star status is due, in great part, from the media attention he gets.
Mr. Obama does get a lot of press because his campaign is historic. He is the first African American who has a serious chance to become President of the United States. But all that press is not positive and quite frankly if Mr. Obama blinks the wrong way it becomes the obsession of one or more news cycles.
On the other hand Mr. McCain gets away with gaffe after gaffe after gaffe. When the Obama campaign raises questions about why Mr. McCain makes so many mistakes, they scream – ageism. But if Mr. Obama says that he doesn’t look like other people on our currency- he is accused of “playing the race card.” The media focused so much time on that statement you would have thought Obama had accused McCain of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
But Mr. McCain’s mistakes are considered quaint. The media was salivating to pounce on any possible misstep Obama might make on his trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Europe. Would Obama, the first-term senator and foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe? The nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to “the Iraq-Pakistan border,” or call the Czech Republic “Czechoslovakia” (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.
But, of course, it was Obama’s opponent, John McCain—the war hero and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee—who uttered these eyebrow-raisers. “Czechoslovakia” was clearly a gaffe, and understandable for anyone who was sentient during the Cold War years. What about the others, though? Were they gaffes—slips of the tongue, blips of momentary fatigue? Or did they reflect lazy thinking, conceptual confusion, a mind frame clouded by clichéd abstractions?
If Obama had blurted even one of those inanities (especially the one about the Iraq-Pakistan border), the media and the McCain campaign would have been all over him like red ants on a wounded puppy.
McCain caught almost no hell for his statements—they were barely noted in the mainstream press—most likely because they didn’t fit the campaign’s “narrative.” McCain is “experienced” in national-security matters; therefore, if he says something that’s dumb or factually wrong, it’s a gaffe or he’s tired. Obama is “inexperienced,” so if he were to go off the rails, it would be a sign of his clear unsuitability for the job of commander in chief.
As Fred Kaplan writes in the Slate.com , it may be time to reassess this narrative’s premise—or to abandon it altogether and simply examine the evidence before us.
Quite apart from the gaffes, in formal prepared speeches, McCain has proposed certain actions and policies that raise serious questions about his suitability for the highest office. As president, he has said, he would boot Russia out of the G-8 on the grounds that its leaders don’t share the West’s values. He would form an international “League of Democracy” as a united front against the forces of autocracy and terror. And though it’s not exactly a stated policy, he continues to employ as his foreign-policy adviser an outspoken, second-tier neoconservative named Randy Scheunemann, who coined the term “rogue-state rollback” and still prescribes it as sound policy.
Evicting Russia from the group of eight leading industrial nations may have some visceral appeal, but it has at least two drawbacks. First, all the G-8’s other members are opposed to the notion. Second, the main issues that concern the G-8—for instance, climate change, energy policy, nuclear nonproliferation, and counterterrorism—cannot be fully addressed without Russia’s participation.
The idea of a League of Democracy has a nice ring, especially given the United Nations’ frequent obstructionism in the face of human misery and common danger. The obstructionism stems in part from vetoes by Russia or China, which, of course, would not be members of this league. But there are a few problems here as well. First, democratic nations often differ on high-profile issues (e.g., the invasion of Iraq, the rules of engagement in Afghanistan, the Kyoto Treaty, etc.). Second, very few of the world’s pressing problems break down along the lines of democracies vs. non-democracies, either by topic or constituency. Third, creating such an overtly ideological bloc as a central tool of foreign policy would only alienate the excluded nations—and possibly incite them to form an opposing bloc. The challenge is to find common solutions to global problems, not to encumber them in a new Cold War.
And of course there is Mr. McCain’s head spinning reversal of every opinion he once held. Mr. Obama is accused of flip flopping because he has changed his position to the center on issues but Mr. McCain’s change in stance on tax cuts, off shore oil drilling (he used to be against it too) not to mention his mad dash away from the immigration legislation that bore his name is virtually ignored.
His reputation as a maverick seems intact with the complicity of the media even as he has become the hand maiden of George W. Bush. Where is the media scrutinizing McCain? No doubt they are busy obsessing about John Edwards’ infidelity and celebrating female victimhood with their “Poor Elizabeth” even as she has publicly supported her husband.
And McCain has gotten a pass on the economy too. For a nanosecond there was a little discussion that McCain’s economic policy has been developed by Senator Phil Gramm who was in bed with the financial institutions completely mired in the mortgage crisis and who called the us a nation of whiners while folks’ lose their jobs and the economy goes into the crapper for everyone but the few über wealthy and multinational corporations- most especially the oil companies. And scant attention is paid any more to McCain’s honest assessment of his lack of knowledge on the economy. God I miss Tim Russert- he was one of the few to call him out.
But McCain is adored by the press. He has a good personal story- his Viet Nam experience is a natural; of course you’d have to leave out the part about the breakdown of his first marriage and the Keating Five.
Obama is scrutinized every way but Tuesday. McCain gets nary a glance. So when the McCain campaign complains that the media love Obama- think twice.