Monday, August 04, 2008

The Answer To Everything? A Series of Sound Bite Showdowns!

Today Fred Hiatt actually signs his name to a column on the presidential race. Looking at Obama's remark,
"So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other Presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky. That's essentially the argument they're making."
Hyatt claims,
I was more struck by the preamble to that comment: by Obama's statements that McCain and the Republican Party are so bankrupt in policies that they can win only by spreading fear.
Except that Obama didn't say anything about the Republican Party - he identified policies associated with the President and the Presidential nominee. Isn't that the same thing, you ask? Perhaps Hiatt has forgotten the scathing attacks on Bush from within his own party, the efforts congressional candidates are making to distance themselves from Bush and his policies, various right-wing pundits trying to claim that he's really a "liberal", his 20% approval rating.... And perhaps he's forgotten the similar attacks on John McCain that preceded his winning the nomination. Only through an astonishing case of amnesia could you believe that the Republican Party as a whole marches in lockstep with Bush and McCain.

Really, Hiatt's assertion could be seen as an attack on McCain. Did you hear that, John? Fred Hiatt thinks there's not a whit of difference between what you stand for and the policies of G.W. Bush. Well, it would be an attack if Hiatt weren't so confident that the entire Republican Party shares those same views.... I suspect that what's really going on is that Hiatt largely shares those views, so he takes it personally that Obama (and most of the nation) see the Bush/McCain platform as having failed.

Hiatt proposes an interesting cure for Obama's dip in the polls, something he says "political practitioners" (but not himself?) "seemed to agree" resulted from McCain's "negative ads and petty misrepresentations" - a zillion or so "town hall" encounters with McCain.
The forums would return attention to the issues, where Obama believes he has a clear advantage. And if McCain sought to use them for personal attacks, he would at least have to bear full personal responsibility for doing so.
Really? I think the lesson of the zillion or so debates during the Democratic primary process is that fatigue sets in quickly - that voters lose interest - at which point the contest becomes "what sound bite can be best misrepresented" or "how can the moderator spice things up". If Obama wants to take the high road to McCain's low road, as a result of voter fatigue, media sensationalism aimed at breaking through that fatigue, and the media's preference for covering claims in what they later concede to be "negative ads and petty misrepresentations" as if they're the gospel truth, the zillion "town halls" create risk.

Take, for example, one of Hiatt's paper's star reporters, Dana Milbank, his happy repetition of one of the McCain campaign's favorite themes (Obama's being "presumptuous") and his misrepresentation of Obama's recent remarks. I understand why Hiatt wants Obama to feed that dysfunctional media machine, but since the primaries ended it seems to primarily serve McCain. Really - where's the upside for Obama?1
1. I do not intend to suggest that these two examples are representative of Milbank's work as a whole.
Update: As if I needed another example of the media's irresponsibly helping to perpetuate a McCain campaign misrepresentation/smear, we now have insipid coverage of comments on tire pressure.

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