Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Back Seat Driving the Campaign

Wait a minute - that's the job of bloggers, not columnists, isn't it? Or is that just wishful thinking.

To the tune of "Let's Go Crazy", David Brooks lectures the candidates,
If I were advising the candidates, I’d tell them to double down on weirdness. Obama needs to occasionally criticize his own side. If he can’t take on his own party hacks, he’ll never reclaim the mantle of systemic change. Specifically, he needs to attack the snobs who are savaging Sarah Palin’s faith and family. Many liberals claim to love working-class families, but the moment they glimpse a hunter with an uneven college record, they hop on chairs and call for disinfectant. Obama needs to attack Bill Maher for calling her a stewardess and the rest of the coastal condescenders.

If I were McCain, I’d make the divided government argument explicit. The Republicans are intellectually unfit to govern right now, but balancing with Democrats, they might be able to do some good. I’d have McCain tell the country that he looks forward to working with Congressional Democrats, that he is confident they can achieve great things together.
David Brooks assures us that "Weirdness wins," but (surprise) provides no examples of weirdness propelling anybody into the Presidency. Brooks doesn't even believe himself, and immediately after suggesting that McCain's decisions are "weird" redefines that weirdness as "maverickism — against the entrenched powers and party orthodoxies". Brooks seems to know that "weird" is not good, unless you transform it into mavericky goodness.

As for Obama, Brooks thinks it would be weird in a good way for him to attack a comedian for making a joke about Sarah Palin. I can see how that would help Bill Maher, but I don't see what it would do for either Obama or Palin. Beyond that, Brooks offers one of his insipid generalizations about liberals, but in fact seems to be describing himself. When do you suppose he last had a "hunter with an uneven college record" over for cocktails? (I'm not familiar with Dick Cheney's college record, but if it's uneven I perhaps spoke in haste.)

Meanwhile, Richard Cohen wants Obama to be scrappier. Not to take on Bill Maher, but perhaps to act more like him. Cohen resents that Obama responds to questions not by sharing a zinger, but by suggesting that the media do its job:
Stephanopoulos vainly tried for some genuine reaction. In choosing Palin, did John McCain get someone who met the minimum test of being "capable of being president"? Everyone in America knows the answer to that. They know McCain picked someone so unqualified she has been hiding from the media because a question to her is like kryptonite to what's-his-name. But did Obama say anything like that? Here are his exact words: "Well, you know, I'll let you ask John McCain when he's on ABC." Boy, Palin will never get over that.
Perhaps Cohen wasn't thinking about the follow-up questions - "If that doesn't qualify her, why does this qualify you?" It may not be scrappy to sidestep a trap, but it is savvy. And Obama's right - the media should be asking Palin and McCain to back up their claims about her qualifications.
Maybe he's worried about how America would receive an angry black man or maybe he's just too cool to ever get hot, but the result is that we have little insight into his passions: What, above all, does he care about?
And McCain's kept his trademark temper under control because he's worried about being seen as an "angry white man"? Would that idea even occur to a mainstream pundit?

Okay, so Brooks wants everybody to be weird, and Cohen's angry that Obama's not angry enough, but... what about the issues?


  1. I recall how well "not being himself" worked for Gore. I wonder if Cohen would be among those calling Obama a "phony" if he followed Cohen's own advice. Brooks certainly would be.

  2. Thomas Friedman offers a column that starts out much like the others, but I think does a much better job of laying out why Obama needs to change his present approach to his campaign. His present tack doesn't appear to be connecting with voters like Friedman who "watch politics from afar".

  3. Still, he's just as guilty as the others of wasting a column analyzing the campaign instead of addressing the issues, or telling people why they should vote for one candidate or the other. It's funny that somebody who doesn't "watch politics" devote so much time to talking about politics instead of the things he (supposedly) actually watches.

  4. There's also the element of "how do you do it". It's easy to say, "he just needs to go out, connect with people, and put across a strong message, find a 'new way' to conenct." How does he do that? Particularly if the columnists who want him to do that are more interested in the campaign than the issues?

    I think there might be something to the idea Friedman offers - "I'm so willing to tackle the tough problems that I'm prepared to risk being a one-term President", but you open up the McCain response, "So am I", and the problem that if you start addressing specifics - what unpopular things you will do and how you will do them - you both open yourself up to attack and start alienating voter groups.

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