James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘maverick’

McCain as Eeyore, and the “Dow of poo”

Posted by James McPherson on October 7, 2008

John McCain’s Desperation Express continues, with McCain and Sarah Palin furiously throwing mud as fast as they can, inciting crowds to scream hateful and scary epithets, hoping something will stick to Barack Obama–even as they hope that such tactics don’t bring too much attention to such things as McCain’s involvement with the Keating Five or his involvement with the radical Council of World Freedom (think neocons plus Iran-Contra scandal–gee, what could go wrong?). Not to mention Palin’s “Troopergate” problems, her “witch doctor” pastor, or her husband’s involvement with a separatist organization that advocates Alaska’s possible succession from the union.

It’s turning so ugly that even the slash-and-burn media that normally thrive on scandal and controversy are becoming disgusted by it. In the meantime, the tactics–once denounced by McCain–don’t seem to be working anyway, and are turning off even some conservatives who weren’t already abandoning ship because of Palin’s clear lack of qualifications, and who recognize that the attacks are an attempt to avoid discussion of the economy.

Obviously many Republicans still think McCain can win (as do skittish Democrats, particularly those concerned about the possibility of stolen elections in Ohio, Florida, fictional Springfield, and elsewhere). With a month to go, they’re right, but McCain’s odds grow longer each day. Barring unforeseen and dramatic events, the final two debates are his last chance to turn the tide, and even there his timing is bad. While time as a POW forty years ago doesn’t qualify anyone to be president or make someone a foreign politcy expert, such experience is even less relevant to economic expertise–McCain’s admitted weakness.

Tonight’s debate will feature the “town hall forum” that McCain generally likes, but such forums work best for candidates who are viewed as affable and compassionate. The strategy adopted by the McCain campaign, however, is neither of those, and he may find himself on the defensive against an audience (which, unlike with his previous forums, will not be made up of Republican supporters) that is more concerned with keeping their own jobs (or someday being able to retire from them) than with helping some rich guy from either party get a new job.

A defensive McCain can come across as an angry McCain, probably the worst tone he could adopt tonight. As Slate’s John Dickerson points out, “One thing we know: You don’t want Joe Six Pack calling you out.” Or a hockey mom, for that matter. One oddity not discussed enough in the media is how McCain keeps blaming his propensity for lying on Obama’s unwillingness to engage in more town hall meetings. Another problem for a candidate trying to make up ground, based on a half-dozen conversations I’ve had today, is that potential debate viewers disdane what has happened to the process. “I’ll probably watch part of it, but if it’s like the campaign has been lately, I’ll turn it off,” one coworker said about the debate.

What most Americans care most about right now is the plunging Dow and other negative economic aspects. Like Winnie the Pooh, their concerns are relatively simple and immediate, not about someone who engaged in bad behavior when Obama was 8 years old or McCain’s experience as a POW. And while the donkey is a Democratic symbol, it is McCain who is coming across as the old, gray, pessimistic, thistle-eating Eeyore who is yet again about to lose his tail.

Assuming the next two debates don’t dramatically change the electoral map–and I predict they won’t–I have another bit of advice for John McCain: “Live up to your motto, ‘Country first.’ Admit that your campaign is essentially defeated, and that it’s time to get to work on problems. Start talking about how conservatives and liberals can work together to solve tough problems. Note the great things about being an American, and how you’ll continue to work with anyone to make the country even stronger. Send Palin home to Alaska, tell your surrogates to shut up, and offer to turn over any money left over from your campaign to people who are losing their homes or jobs. Now that would be a ‘maverick’ thing to do. It might even restore your once positive image, and conceivably turn the election from a potential rout to a close contest.”

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Palin, Pakistan & the press: ‘Cheez Whiz, people, don’t you know she doesn’t mean what she says?’

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Republicans are trying to keep Sarah Palin from speaking to the press, even as she makes the rounds of traditional campaign stops. As I noted in the comments section yesterday, with last night’s Tina Fey “Saturday Night Live” appearance, considering how tightly scripted and hidden away Palin as been, lately most of us will have seen more of Fey as Palin than we’ve seen of Palin as Palin.

Now GOP operatives apparently will need to simplify the instructions even further: “Sarah, don’t speak unless you’re on a stage, with a teleprompter, repeating things we’ve let you practice. Smile and nod and wave, but don’t speak. And for God’s sake, don’t ever answer a question. From anybody. Anywhere.” That might make Thursday’s debate a bit tricky.

Just one day after John McCain criticized Barack Obama for saying he would strike inside Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden–a view, incidentally, that McCain himself and most other Americans likely would support, and which goes along with what has become Bush administration policy–Palin (on a Philly cheesesteak run) had a Temple University grad student ask her if American troops should go from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Her response: “If that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should.”

Though she said she had watched the previous night’s presidential debate, and praised the performance of McCain (whom she may believe once walked the earth with dinosaurs), she apparently missed one of her running mate’s strongest statements: “You don’t say that out loud.”

As a result, today the campaign was forced to retract one of the few things Palin actually has said out loud in public. With no apparent irony intended, McCain (talking this morning to George Stephanopoulos) said Palin was a campaign asset in large part because “She knows how to communicate directly with people.” That comment came almost directly on the heels of McCain weakly blaming her latest misstep on the existence of microphones at what was clearly supposed to be another beauty queen-style photo op:

“In all due respect, people going around and… sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that’s—that’s a person’s position… This is a free country, but I don’t think most Americans think that that’s a definitve policy statement made by Governor Palin.”

Of course he’s right about that. Most Americans likely no longer believe that the McCain can offer a “definitive policy statement” about virtually anything. No wonder even many conservatives and their media supporters are jumping ship. One newspaper, endorsing its first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 (during the last Great Depression), noted accurately:

McCain, who has voted consistently for deregulation, started off two weeks ago declaring the U.S. economy fundamentally sound but ended the week sounding like a populist. Who is he really? …

While praiseworthy for putting the first woman on a major-party presidential ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, his selection of Palin as a running mate was appalling. The first-term governor is clearly not experienced enough to serve as vice president or president if required. Her lack of knowledge is being covered up by keeping her away from questioning reporters and doing interviews only with those considered friendly to her views.

At the risk of repeating myself, Thursday night’s debate could be tricky, and I’ll again offer my recommended debate strategy of yesterday for both candidates: Try to let your opponent talk. Don’t complain if s/he goes over the time limit; you’ll probably benefit more from it.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some “family crisis” forces Palin to postpone or cancel the debate, if not withdraw from the race altogether. Whether anyone would buy that, after McCain’s recent erratic behavior, remains to be seen. And by the way, isn’t it long past time to stop calling McCain a maverick, and to start calling him simply a compulsive gambler?

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »