11 September 2008

Too Many People Making Sense

There has been a huge amount of Palin news recently. It's either about her, about Obama's "attacks" on her, or about McCain's "defense" of her. And really, who can blame the media? There's a whole series of incredibly compelling and interesting stories in this mess, and the highly controversial issues involved are ones that are ripe for commentary. Despite the whining from both sides of the aisle, the media is actually doing its damn job for once.

Obviously, I'd like it if they were more skeptical of the McCain fairy-tale, where status as a POW means that people should vote for you, even if most of them dislike most of your policies. But they're seriously and carefully analyzing things for the most part. For the past month or so, something like 75% of news articles about the race have looked like slightly reworded press releases, from one campaign or the other. I'm glad to see some work being done.  That number is down to a good 50% or less.

Here are some of my favorite recent articles:

Frank James, Chicago Tribune:
Is Sen. John McCain against kindergartners being taught the difference between good touching and bad touching to protect children from sexual predators?

Or does the McCain campaign really have such a low opinion of Sen. Barack Obama that it actually believes he wanted to have Illinois kindergartners taught all the titillating details of human sexual anatomy.
Elizabeth Holmes and Laura Meckler, WSJ:
Despite significant evidence to the contrary, the McCain campaign continues to assert that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told the federal government "thanks but no thanks" to the now-famous bridge to an island in her home state.
Jack Bookman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Sarah Palin is out on the campaign trail, this time in Ohio, still repeating the lie that she rejected federal funding for that infamous bridge in Alaska.

Andrew Romano, Newsweek Blog:
It's clear what Team McCain is trying to achieve here. They want to portray Palin as the poor little victim of a looming Obama-media industrial complex that's "out to get her" just because she's a woman. They want to insulate their veep pick from any real opposition by equating valid journalistic inquiries and good hard politicking with the sort of anonymous smears that have spread online. They want to gin up sympathy for her among female swing voters who have faced improbable odds in their own lives
.Ruth Marcus, Washington Post:
Come on. I’ve covered a lot of incredibly trivial and ridiculously hyped campaign controversies, but the McCain campaign’s feigned outrage over Obama’s “lipstick on a pig” comments has to take the cake. I mean, no offense to bakers.
And in a rare insightful column, Joe Klein, Time:
Democrats do have the facts in their favor. Polls show that Americans agree with them on the issues. The Bush Administration has been a disaster on many fronts. The McCain campaign has provided only the sketchiest policy proposals; it has spent most of its time trying to divert the national conversation away from matters of substance. But Americans like stories more than issues. Policy proposals are useful in the theater of presidential politics only inasmuch as they illuminate character: far more people are aware of the fact that Palin put the state jet on eBay than know that she imposed a windfall-profits tax on oil companies as governor and was a porkaholic as mayor of Wasilla.

It's been popular for opponents to claim that the media has handled Obama delicately and refused to vet him.  And in fact, it's true that he has gotten less flack on things like the Rezko scandal.  In case you're unaware, this was a messy business for Obama that occured when there was an appearance of impropriety from a corrupt Iranian real estate magnate's suspiciously generous price on a piece of property.  It caused Obama a lot of problems for some months, early in the primaries.  People still try to bring it up occasionally.

Do you know why that charge has stopped sticking, despite how many times McCain surrogates throw it out there? Limbaugh mentions it religiously, as if reciting accusations of corruption in a mantra will make the incident to become more than the appearance of misconduct, blossoming into full-fledged corruption.  It's a sticky and messy scandal, and Obama was clearly wrong on the matter.  So why doesn't it work?

It's because early in the campaign Obama sat down with a room full of Chicago reporters, and literally promised to answer every question they had about Rezko. He admitted flat out to them that it was a "boneheaded decision."  And he answered every question. Thereafter, the reporting was done. Since then the charge doesn't stick because the story is over and Obama dealt with it as thoroughly as anyone could have.  It was, in fact, one of the most Presidential things I've seen him do.  He took a big story, dealt with it, and forced the media to move on.

It's not even a question of morality; his deft action didn't make him less mistaken.  It's a question of ability.  The media can only keep writing stories about a single event as long as there is a story.  Obama didn't deny it and didn't duck it: he made them write the story and then it was done.  There weren't any "Obama Dodges Rezko Questions Again" stories.

McCain/Palin have taken the opposite tact.  For two weeks since the announcement, Palin has ducked the media.  She has literally given her first interview since becoming vice-presidential nominee fourteen days after the nomination.  And the Republican campaign has been relentlessly pushing their story of the vicious Obama-loving media unfairly beating up on Average Sarah.  It's worked a lot in the past, but I think they're pushing it just too far this time.  There's not enough noise in the air right now: too many people are making sense.  It won't pay off.

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