18 August 2008

Negative campaigning is apparently off limits

I knew it would happen.

John McCain was a media darling in 2000, the rabble-rousing political centrist who seemed to derive enjoyment from poking his party's base in the eye. Running against the ultimate establishment candidate in George W. Bush, McCain endeared himself to the elite media with his intriguing life story, maverick brand of politics, honest and freewheeling persona and his willingness to engage in a brass-knuckles fight for the nomination (his brief spat with Mitt Romney during this election cycle was kindergarten stuff by comparison). Despite having been in Washington for nearly 20 years, McCain was clearly the outsider.

No more. McCain, though still a maverick -- Gang of 14, immigration reform, climate change, torture, ANWR and runaway spending among this most notable of his clashes with the GOP -- and an anti-establishment guy by nature, has found himself in an uphill battle against a man who is able to give Chris Matthews an enjoyable sensation in his right leg by simply opening his mouth. The liberal media -- and I don't want to hear nonsense about the New York Times, NBC News, CNN or MSNBC (which lets Keith Effing Olbermann anchor its election coverage) being bastions of unbiased journalistic integrity -- have fallen head over heels for the Changemaker. As a result, when hitting back at Obama, McCain has incurred the wrath of many of those who were in his corner eight years ago.

The likes of Joe Klein and Jonathan Alter recently expressed outrage -- outrage, I say! -- at some of the Senior Senator's attacks on Obama. To be fair, Klein and Alter are columnists and are paid to write their opinions. Unlike Andrea Mitchell, who yesterday suggested that McCain knew the questions he'd be asked at the Saddleback forum before he took the stage, many pundits are not paid to be objective. But the likes of Klein, Alter and Andrew Sullivan, among others, seem to be genuinely taken aback by what they see as McCain's lack of integrity.

Admittedly, McCain's recent ad comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears was juvenile. And it's time for his campaign (and the RNC) to stop listing for voters ways in which Obama is "out of touch." McCain himself owns multiple homes, wears $500 Italian loafers, and is married to a woman worth millions. That said, most media personalities are so enamored with Obama that they have willfully blinded themselves to the type of campaign The Pope of Hope has conducted.

He danced around virtually every question posed to him by Rick Warren on Saturday night, and seems to have a genuine difficulty being straightforward and honest. Obama is writing the book on engaging in highly unbecoming attacks while still appearing to take the moral high ground. In April, he said McCain was "losing his bearings," an implicit yet obvious reference to the fact that his opponent is 71. On multiple occasions -- and until Team Maverick called him on it -- Obama warned that Republicans would try to use scare tactics based on the fact that, among other things, "he doesn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills." If that isn't playing the race card, then the race card doesn't exist. The Changemaker has remarked, ad nauseum, that McCain "represents a third term of George Bush's failed policies." Without providing any specifics and quickly jumping to another talking point, Obama gets away with it. However, when attacked by conservatives for his extraordinarily liberal voting record -- voting with the Democratic Party 97% of the time in 2007 -- Obama retorts with an assertion that he is running in order to do away with such old, tired political labels.

The most recent example of Obama's remarkable dishonesty is the aforementioned suggestion out of Obama's camp that McCain knew of many of the Saddleback questions before he went onstage. In fact, Rick Warren admitted that he provided each side a heads up as to several of the most difficult queries. Team Hope's averments were a pathetic attempt to grasp at anything within reach and throw it to the media. McCain brought down the house and blew Obama offstage, something the Changemaker hasn't had to deal with yet. For a presidential campaign -- especially one as puffed-up as Obama's -- to make such a suggestion is childish. However, for a network news correspondent -- especially one as widely respected as Andrea Mitchell -- to parrot such a mindless talking point (CNN did a similar thing) shows a revolting bias and an utter lack of journalistic integrity. It's very reasonable to ask whether Mitchell is so enamored with Obama that she actually didn't realize what she was doing.

The likes of Klein, Alter and Sullivan are similarly captivated by The Messiah. It's true that more than one of McCain's punches have landed below the belt. But most of McCain's critics operate under the assumption that Obama is incapable of doing anything wrong, and that his garbage rhetoric about change and hope -- and not his actions -- are a barometer of his campaign's message. In reality, Obama is just another politician from Chicago who has proven time and again that he'll say anything and do anything to get elected. He is a clone of John Kerry, minus the foreign-policy acumen. The Changemaker is just another liberal engaging in the same old liberal attacks. And he's similarly getting a free pass from the media. Those who have criticized McCain's tactics have looked the other way when Obama has gone into attack mode.

McCain communications guru Mark Salter nailed it:

We are all too familiar with Obama's brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent. Then you attack his character, distort his record and express outrage when he hits back. It's called hypocrisy, and it's the oldest kind of politics that there is.

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