Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stop Picking On McCain (And Obama Too)

What has really begun to frustrate me this campaign season is how often remarks made by people close to, associated with, or even only loosely associated with the candidates is somehow taken to be an indication of the candidate's own feelings and beliefs. McCain has been hit hard over the last couple of weeks, and Obama hit hard in the months before that -and that isn't even touching Hillary. 

Obama's gotten more than his fair share of hits with the nitpicks. Months ago, it was Reverend Wright. Weeks ago it was Jim Johnson. Newsweek ran a cover story about Obama's arugula incident. And this week, it is Wesley Clarke's remarks about how McCain's military service does not qualify him for the White House (and really, did anyone ever think that military service alone did?). McCain disappointed me by saying that Obama should "cut him loose". And Orson Swindle has said, "This is now about Obama, not Wesley Clarke". Why should it be about Obama? This is Clarke's opinion and Clarke's statement. It should remain wholly about Clarke and what he personally feels is necessary to run for the office of the president. But that doesn't seem to be sensationalist enough.

The newest one on the McCain front seems to be a statement made by his chief advisor, Charlie Black. In case someone lives under a rock and did not hear about it, Black said during an interview that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil "would be a big advantage to him". The media took to this like my dog takes to cheese. But there are two questions here: 1, is he wrong? Traditionally, war and defense has been seen as a Republican strong suit. Attacks or threats of attacks have oftentimes played to a Republican advantage. Maybe not so much anymore with Bush's fear mongering, especially in the last election for Senate. But if we are attacked, I can see people going with the guy who seems tougher; tougher physically, tougher mentally, and tougher on terror. But more importantly is 2: Does this really reflect on John McCain as much as the media makes out? I don't think so. I don't think anyone who has listened to the man could honestly think he would want to win due to an attack on American soil. Even among the closest of friends, there are diverging viewpoints and ideas. So why hold McCain responsible for something his aid has said?

Then there was the uproar a while ago about a McCain fundraiser being hosted by Clayton Williams after it came to light that Williams had compared rape to the weather in his unsuccessful 1990 bid for governor. Reading some of the allusions in blog posts made it sound like McCain himself had uttered the unfortunate simile. Now, it isn't as if McCain is incredible on women's rights, but the outrage that McCain would accept money from this man was a bit ridiculous given the very nature of the political process. We should be more offended that this guy can raise money. And the McCain camp did the right thing by denouncing those remarks, made nearly two decades ago, saying, "These were obviously incredibly offensive remarks that the campaign was unaware of at the time".

There have been attacks on his military service, especially in the blogosphere, with criticisms coming about McCain having signed a piece of anti-American propaganda while a POW in Vietnam. Forget that this sort of response to his torture is what has made him a vocal opponent of torture in any circumstances and has led him to say that information gained under torture cannot be trusted because "every man has his breaking point".

And there was the latest kerfuffle over McCain's remarks that he didn't know how much he last paid at the pump, because he was no longer allowed to pump his own gas. That seems like a fairly safe statement. Question: "When was the last time you pumped your own gas and how much did it cost?" Answer: "I don't remember". Seems simple enough. Answers the question effectively, and even gives a reasonable answer as to why he wouldn't remember. But everyone from liberal bloggers to Keith Olbermann took issue with it. And let me just tell you that when the Washington editor of The Nation Magazine, one of the last truly independent magazines out there and unapologetically as well as uber liberal, tells you that your focus is on the wrong issue, you've got problems.

That editor, Chris Hayes (who, by the way, is pretty darn cute), brings up where the real focus should be: on the issues. While on The Countdown, Hayes said, "I actually think that at a certain level, he's right. It doesn't matter. I mean, this authenticity competition we have every four years about which president... is the most ordinary, who you want to have a beer with, is transparently ludicrous... ...I don't care if he hasn't pumped gas in a year or 2 years or 5 years. What I care about is that he has some vision for an energy policy that isn't going to be so beholden to energy companies, that isn't going to be so beholden to fossil fuels".

And that is it, then, isn't it? The media should be focusing on that sort of substantial reporting: Does McCain (or Obama) have a comprehensive, workable, and positive policy on energy? Does he have one on health care? On women's rights? On taxation? On what to do about the war in Iraq? These organizations need to stop nitpicking the issues and incidents that, in the grand scheme of a political election, mean nothing and start focusing on the things that do. Because all it does is make them look foolish, and doesn't really say anything about either politician, or what good or ill they will do the nation as a whole.


MediaMaven said...

I wish there was a better picture of Chris Hayes, though he did seem pretty cute! Also, he's quite young and accomplished for someone who graduated college seven years ago.

Frank Rich wrote his Sunday column on Charlie Black's remarks, and he comes to some of the same conclusions you do:

I see both sides of the gasoline debate. Obviously a presidential candidate isn't going to be driving anywhere on his own; it comes with the territory. But I'm assuming Keith Olbermann & co. take issue with it because gas prices are such a big issue now that they should have an idea how much it costs at the pump and how much Americans are actually hurting, not just generalizations.

petpluto said...

I agree about Chris Hayes! Someone more talented than I should make screen caps of his appearance on The Countdown. And yes, he is ridiculously accomplished. I was expecting some old liberal with bad hair and a bow tie. Instead I got a young, cute guy who either knows how to dress himself or has someone around him that knows how to dress him.

And I would agree with Keith if the question had been phrased differently. But since McCain was only asked what the gas prices were the last time he'd pumped, I don't think he had quite the political gaffe many people are saying he did. He could have gone beyond the scope of the question and that would have been good; but part of McCain's appeal is not being a politician's politician, and he did mention that he understood how gas prices were hurting the "average" American through his town hall meeting things.

jjfs85 said...

Petra, you'd do well, I think, with a job in political media.