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 ‘McCain’

Interpreting the relevance of the Religious Right

Posted by James McPherson on June 25, 2008

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson this week accused Barack Obama of willfully distorting the Bible and of having a “fruitcake interpretation” of the U.S. Constitution. It became the day’s lead political story for several media organizations. My question–a question I ask myself regularly when I see media coverage choices–why?

Of course I can’t imagine why a supposed audience of 220 million daily worldwide radio listeners pay any attention to Dobson (apparently prompting Christianity Today to call him “the most influential evangelical leader in America”), but they do.  Many, it seems, hope he can tell them how to raise their kids. Dobson has a Ph.D. in child development and became famous primarily because of his books and “pro-family” organization. Like most television evangelists, he is at least as good at promoting himself as promoting the Lord. Dobson’s first bestseller was Dare to Discipline, and he became popular largely because he was more pro-discipline than most other family experts of the 1970s. He favors corporal punishment, but only when administered by parents who don’t want to do it but know they must for the greater good. Consider him the neocon of child development.

Dobson has no apparent education or experience in policy making, but because he is perceived to have political influence–mostly because of his political action committee, the Family Research Council–politicians and the media also care what he says. Obama quickly responded, as did his national director of religious affairs (I wonder if Ronald Reagan felt compelled to have one of those), saying Obama was “committed to reaching out to people of faith and standing up for American families.”

Because families is the code word that shows you care, of course. All the best religious conservatives know it. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Conservative Christian organizations also devote much of their energy to attacking the “liberal media,” though for those organizations “liberal” usually refers not to a political view but to the acceptance or promotion of activities deemed antibiblical and morally repugnant such as homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography, drug use, abortion, or violence. Those groups focus mainly on entertainment but sometimes include the news media (which, as discussed, have focused increasingly on entertainment themselves). Much of the focus for Christian groups centers on “protecting the traditional family,” despite the fact that, as one religion professor points out, “this ‘remembered family’ is a fairly recent development, one that came about with the industrialization and concomitant urbanization of America. . . . Previously, women and men had been much more co-workers in the unified task of maintaining a home.” Examples of the profamily emphasis include James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s American Family Coalition, and Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, which calls itself “America’s largest pro-family action site.” Dobson also founded a think tank/lobbying organization called the Family Research Council, which has editorialized in favor of eliminating government funding of PBS, in part because viewers were “fed up with the liberal bias.” Morality in Media, a religious media watchdog that boasts the slogan “Promoting a Decent Society Through Law,” has accused 60 Minutes and the New York Times of promoting pornography. More recently, with the help of a one-million-dollar Templeton Foundation grant, the Media Research Council spawned the Culture and Media Institute to “focus on the media’s relentless assault on faith, traditional values and personal responsibility.”



Dobson also has expressed dissatisfaction with John McCain, saying he would not vote for him, despite McCain’s efforts to reach out to the religious conservatives that he once unfortunately called (along with religious extremists on the left) “agents of intolerance.” In that 2004 speech, though, he did compliment Dobson, who “has devoted his life to rebuilding America’s families.” (He also managed to use the word “friends” nine times; he seems to use that word more than anyone who isn’t a salesman or a Quaker.)

Apparently both Obama and McCain have expressed a willingness if not a desire to meet with Dobson, but the good doctor will only do so on his own terms, as noted in recent reports. “McCain also has not met with Dobson. A McCain campaign staffer offered Dobson a meeting with McCain recently in Denver … Dobson declined because he prefers that candidates visit the Focus on the Family campus to learn more about the organization.”

This might be the perfect time for both candidates to ignore the Religious Right and stop giving it undue influence. After all, religious conservatives are themselves split by this election. As I noted in the same book mentioned above:

In 2007 prominent social conservatives split their endorsements for a 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Pat Robertson endorsed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who previously had supported gay rights and abortion rights. Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority and the Heritage Foundation, endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who also had once supported abortion rights and whose Mormon religion was considered a cult by some conservative Christians. Bob Jones III also endorsed Romney. After dropping his own short-lived presidential bid, conservative Kansas Senator Sam Brownback endorsed fellow senator John McCain. The National Right to Life Committee endorsed former Senator and “Law and Order” television actor Fred Thompson.




Another indication that this may be a good time to start ignoring the extremists on either side of religious arguments is a just-released survey of more than 35,000 Americans. It shows that most Americans are both religious and fairly moderate in their religious views. “Most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to faith,” the Pew Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life reported. “A majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, for instance, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.”

Of course, James Dobson would probably say most of those folks were willfully distorting the Bible with fruitcake interpretations.

(Followup notes: The Huffington Post’s Frank Schaeffer suggests that “Dr. Dobson has just handed Obama victory,” while this site offers a side-by-side comparison of what Obama actually said versus what Dobson claims he said.)

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Lying politicians

Posted by James McPherson on June 22, 2008

You may think that headline is the opposite of an oxymoron–so obvious as to be not worth stating. If so, you’re right; more on that in a moment.

David Brooks and others are beside themselves over Barack Obama’s change of heart–or lie–about accepting public financing. Of course, though I happen to think Brooks is a decent guy (and Slate magazine has called him “America’s one genuinely likable conservative”), he probably should be the last person to complain about inconsistency, based on his own record.

The point remains, however, that Obama flipflopped. He said he would accept public financing, then–when it was clear that he would raise a ton of money and be able to vastly outspend John McCain–Obama raise the spectre of conservative 527’s (think Swift Boats) expected to help McCain and declared that he would not accept it, after all. Personally, though I wish Obama hadn’t made the original pledge, I think a president who can change his mind when faced with new information is a good thing.

As several columnists and bloggers have noted, campaign financing is not the sort of issue that most voters are likely notice or care much about (especially this early in the campaign season). Brooks even suggests that the reversal indicates that Obama is “the most effectively political creature we’ve seen in decades” who boasts a necessary tough side that critics sometimes overlook: “Global affairs ain’t beanbag. If we’re going to have a president who is going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it is better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.”

McCain also has been crying foul, but of course he has flip-flopped on taxes and energy policy–two issues that voters do care about–and therefore has little room to complain. Besides, even if Obama “lied” (knowing that he would change positions if conditions changed), that merely puts him in good company. Almost all politicians lie (like most of the rest of us, for that matter). And presidents certainly do, as illustrated in Eric Alterman’s book When Presidents Lie, which my sister gave me for Christmas.

Alterman’s last chapter is titled “George Bush and the Post-Truth Presidency.” In fact, either Obama or McCain would have difficulty catching up with the lies of the current president, who seems bound to one day end up on this ignoble list.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

Posted by James McPherson on June 20, 2008

Having offered my suggestions for John McCain a couple of days ago, I’ll now do the same for Barack Obama. It seems appropriate especially because of recent articles listing possibilities that include John Edwards, Al Gore, Sam Nunn, John Murtha and Ted Strickland. The Huffington Post and others have handicapped other top prospects, including western governors Janet Napolitano, Brian Schweitzer and Bill Richardson.

I doubt that Edwards or Gore are serious possibilities. Edwards has already failed in an attempt to be VP, and generated no more enthusiasm in this year’s presidential bid. Gore has been there, done that, and is more influential outside of office than he would be as Obama’s second banana.

Hillary Clinton is the obvious favorite of many who seek the so-called “Dream Ticket,” and it’s good that (as announced this morning) she is going to campaign with Obama, but she brings too much baggage for the “change candidate” that Obama claims to be. Besides, I think she’d be a better choice as secretary of state or perhaps attorney general, moving to the Supreme Court as soon as there is an opening (probably about two days after Obama takes the oath of office, if he’s elected). Of course conservatives couldn’t be told that she’d end up on the court before the election, or that would become their major talking point for the coming months.

Napolitano and her Kansas counterpart Kathleen Sebelius offer other strong female leadership possibilities, and both have succeeded in dealing with Republican majorities. Unfortunately neither helps counter Obama’s biggest perceived weakness–a lack of knowledge or experience in foreign policy.

Nunn and Murtha are better options in this regard because of their military experience, but Nunn has been out of the game for so long that few people outside of Georgia likely remember who he is, and Murtha is viewed by too many as a crank and/or a flake. If Obama were to go that route, a better choice would be Virginia Senator Jim Webb or retired General Wesley Clark, who is well known because of his own presidential bid four years ago. He also might help swing disgruntled Clinton supporters because he was a leading figure in her campaign.

The popular and conservative Southerner Webb would be a good choice (though it might cost the Dems a hard-won Senate seat in the long run) and Richardson may have the widest range of applicable experience of anyone available. Unfortunately, Richardson is unable to do one thing that my top choice can do: attack the Bush administration (and its continuation under McCain) in a credible, logical manner while not turning off listeners.

My preferred candidate, Joe Biden, happens to be stronger on both foreign policy and bipartisanship than McCain, and would reduce the exotic feel of the Obama campaign (something a woman or Richardson would be less able to do). Biden loves cameras, and performs well in front of them. Occasionally verbose, he has become increasingly adept at breaking policy into sound bites. More importantly, for a vice presidential nominee (and perhaps especially with Obama’s efforts to maintain niceness), Biden has no qualms about going on the attack when necessary.

If Obama chose Biden as VP, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and Republican Chuck Hegel as Secretary of Defense, the administration would likely be both functional and well repected. Of course the Senate would suffer greatly.

Whomever Obama chooses, he should name his running mate by mid-July. That would give the team plenty of time to make the rounds of talk shows and to hone their message throughout the dog days of summer, peaking just in time for the Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Posted by James McPherson on June 18, 2008

There is naturally a lot of discussion over whom each of the candidates should choose as a running mate. The Los Angeles Times and others have named Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Mark Sanford, Richard Burr, Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty and Charlie Crist as possibilities–though since rumors that Crist is gay keep bubbling up and the last thing the party of Mark Foley and Larry Craig needs is another gay sex scandal, I doubt he’ll be any more than a campaigner for McCain. 

A popular choice among pundits–but probably no one else outside of Israel–is former Democratic vice presidential nominee and current McCain lapdog Joe Lieberman. (Yes, he acts more like an eager-to-please Labrador retriever than a lap-sized pocket pooch, but I can attest even a 100-pound Lab like mine considers itself to be a lapdog). Republican bloggers have broadened the list of potential running mates, including such possibilities as Condi Rice, J.C. Watts, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giulianni, Haley Barbour, Tom Coburn, Duncan Hunter, Marsha Blackburn or Sarah Palin.

Despite the advice he’ll get from the Huckabee Alliance and others, McCain should choose Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn or Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Both are young, attractive and female. That might make Cindy McCain, the one most familiar with his history, and some social conservatives a bit nervous, but in a post-Bill Clinton world I doubt that Democrats would raise improper questions. The youth and gender of either Blackburn or Palin would help McCain among young voters, disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters, and dirty old men. Of those two choices, I prefer Palin–a University of Idaho journalism graduate, former beauty pageant “Miss Congeniality,” mother of five, lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and very popular governor.

As for when McCain should name Palin as the nominee (though I hate to help the GOP): I suggest Sunday, Aug. 24. That’s the day before the start of the Democratic National Convention, which runs Aug. 25-28. That would greatly reduce the positive attention paid to the Dems, especially since the networks have largely abandoned most coverage of the highly scripted conventions, anyway. It would also leave Democrats scrambling to consider responding during the speeches of the Democratic VP choice that Wednesday night or of Obama that Thursday night. Frankly, I’d recommend that they not address it at all, since there are too many ways they could do so badly–another reason McCain should introduce her then.

Since the Republican National Convention isn’t until Sept. 1-4, that would give people a week to learn more about Palin and for the news media to come up with all they could–which with such short notice would almost certainly be superficial and glowing. And that’s still more than two months before the general election, which would generate buzz at exactly the time most Americans will finally start paying attention to the electoral process. 

AUGUST 1 UPDATE: Lots of other folks are discussing Palin as McCain’s choice.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 27 Comments »

Presidential debates

Posted by James McPherson on June 4, 2008

In what would be a positive move for the American political process, Barack Obama and John McCain both suggest they are open to a series of debates different from (and in addition to) the traditional three pseudo-debates offered by the Presidential Debate Commission. Though additional debates are unlikely to match the drama of the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 (see a short history clip below, or the debate itself can be found via YouTube), perhaps we can avoid the traditional recitation of prepared soundbites that we get during most elections.

Or perhaps not. McCain says he’d like to see a series of town hall-style debates, but in a press conference this morning refused to consider the more freewheeling Lincoln-Douglas style proposed by Obama. Admittedly, McCain is in a tough spot. He is low on money, and needs all the free coverage he can get. Yet when it comes to public appearances, McCain looks old, he has difficulty remembering facts or reading a teleprompter, his diction is flat except when he’s angry, and he doesn’t draw the rock-star crowds of his younger opponent.

Neither candidate is likely to highlight policy initiatives. But probably the only chance McCain has to compete rhetorically is to find a setting that will downplay his negatives while enhancing his folksy ability to chat informally with people unaccustomed to asking tough questions about his recent history as a flip-flopper. Still, he has used his current ongoing town hall forums in much the same way that most candidates use the debates–as an opportunity to answer any question with a regurgitated well-used talking point–suggesting that the current proposal is more about TV face time than about a real desire to expand the amount of meaningful information available to the electorate.

Obviously prospective voters could spend time online to find more useful information than will be offered via the debates or anything else offered on television. But few will, and in general more information should be considered a positive–though Fox News might disagree. “America’s Election HQ” seems to be bored with the actual electoral process, judging by today’s comments from E.D. Hill.

Hill responded to the idea of expanded debates as something that would “put me to sleep,” and also indicated she had no desire to see more debates. (Her Wikipedia bio claims she is working on a master’s degree in government, again demonstrating the negligible value of Wikipedia as a reference–surely that uncited reference must be a joke inserted by a viewer familiar with Hill’s political intellect and level of curiosity.) Hill often serves as one of Fox’s living blonde jokes and key distortionists, though admittedly she is one of the few attractive women in America brave enough to co-host the radio show of sexual harrasser Bill O’Reilly’s (Fox paid, though O’Reilly never apologized). Having accumulated eight kids during her three marriages, perhaps the self-appointed child-rearing expert needs the money.

Perhaps someone should point out to E.D. (named Edith Ann at birth; one can imagine all sorts of appropriate “D” words as descriptors) that no one is requiring her to watch the debates–not that she’d understand the discussion of policy even if she did manage to stay awake for it. After all, this is a woman who produced a book with a title referring to “America’s Best and Brightest,” then included Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, Albanian “dog trainer of the stars” Bashkim Dibra, and Fox morning nimrod Steve Doocy (recently slammed on the air by Fox’s Chris Wallace for his anti-Obama distortions)

As for the presidential debates, if they happen, Fox has plenty of other spinners who will watch the debates and then tell viewers what they heard, why McCain performed better than Obama, how Obama lied, and perhaps where Jeremiah Wright watched the debate.

A brief Kennedy-Nixon debate history

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Democratic self-mutilation

Posted by James McPherson on May 20, 2008

I suppose cutting off your nose to spite your face would make it easier to stick your head up your butt. Beyond that, however, I understand the rationale of the Hillary Clinton supporters who say that they will refuse to vote for Obama even less than I understand the conservatives who say they support Hillary over John McCain.

Once the Dems choose a nominee–especially if the loser endorses the winner–probably most of those folks will overcome their hurt or distrust of the their party’s nominee and vote in their own best interest. But not all, of course, as amply demonstrated by Ralph Nader’s assistance in giving us eight years of George Bush.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve voted as an independent in almost every presidential election since my first in 1976. And I agree with what I once heard folk singer/storyteller Utah Phillips say, “Remember, if you vote for the lesser of two evils, you’re still voting for evil.” But on the rare occasions when it appeared that my vote might actually matter (mostly I’ve lived in heavily red states where the outcome was a foregone conclusion), I’ve had enough sense to vote for the person whom I most trusted to be in a position to support my interests.

One thing I do know: Conservatives will revel in the irony if disgruntled women voters give McCain the votes he needs to win and, in their view, finally guarantee the Supreme Court Majority that will overturn Roe v. Wade. Of course much of the reason for the current court majority, as I’ve discussed in more detail elsewhere, is that Republicans who disagree on various things–taxation, immigration, war, abortion, etc.–manage to put aside their differences to vote for one bad nominee after another. As a result, we’ve all lost–but progressives have lost the most. And those who care about women’s rights may be the biggest losers if McCain wins.

Posted in Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos

Posted by James McPherson on May 7, 2008

As a media scholar, I accept the fact that it is part of my job to watch television shows, listen to radio programming and read publications that I know will insult my intelligence. A former colleague once reminded me that, regardless of our own political views, we should sample from the opposition sources simply “to know what the bastards are up to.” Beyond that, I listen to idiots on both ends of the political spectrum because they offer a variety of perspectives that can sharpen my own critical thinking, because they do have unfortunate and sometimes disproportional societal influence that I should try to understand, and because sometimes they stumble into truth. Rush Limbaugh, the king of the blowhards, demonstrated that fact yesterday when he told a caller, “You don’t know how fortunate you are not watching cable TV. … You’d have such a pessimistic view of your country if you watched cable television.” Of course ACLU-beneficiary Rush went on to his usual complaint that, to quote directly, “The problem in America is too much liberalism.”

Limbaugh’s comments came in response to a complaint about his ongoing “Operation Chaos,” in which he has been encouraging Republicans for at least the past couple of months to cross party lines to vote in Democratic primaries–and to vote for the trailing candidate (usually Hillary Clinton), with the sole aim of extending the Democratic primary process while the eventual nominee takes a beating from fellow Democrats. Despite contrary evidence, Sean Hannity and others credit Operation Chaos at least in part for Hillary’s win in Indiana, and MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews went off on Limbaugh’s “mischief making” last night, saying: “What a ridiculous way to use the vote for which people fought and died, to use that vote to make mischief. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

Aside from the fact that Matthews seems to have become nearly as much an apparent Hillary-hater as Limbaugh in recent weeks, his comment is one of those that, while it sounds patriotic, is frankly as misguided as many right-wing radio pundits if he thinks that people “fought and died” so we’d all think the same way about patriotism. People vote for all sorts of reasons, and have the right to use that vote however they like. They can vote for Disney characters–and some do. The fact that you’re far more likely to be struck by lightning than to have your vote actually matter, regardless of whom you vote for, is irrelevant–it’s your vote. I’d argue that voting for or against a candidate who has the nomination wrapped up, as John McCain does on the Republican side, might be as big a waste of time as writing in Donald Duck. (Now, Daffy Duck, on the other hand… there’s a candidate.) Besides, some conservatives, including Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter (see clip below), seemingly prefer Hillary Clinton to John McCain–not necessarily a bad idea from a conservative perspective, considering that Bill Clinton was far more conservative than many Republicans.

I’ve never crossed party lines to vote in a primary (though in almost every political election of my life I have voted for some Democrats and some Republicans), but I know people who have. A couple of family members are Idaho Democrats, meaning they have about as much chance of affecting a general election in their own state as I do of becoming President Ron Paul’s press secretary. Those family members vote in the Republican primary for the least objectionable candidate–the one most friendly toward public education and social services, and therefore the one most attuned to their priorities. Likewise, a conservative Southern Baptist friend once voted in a primary for Jesse Jackson in an attempt to thwart the nomination of a more mainstream (and more electable) candidate.

Of course, I happen to be among the minority who think that the lengthy primary process has done the Democrats more good than harm. They’re raising tons of money and bringing in new Democratic voters. The two candidates are facing criticism that they would face later, anyway, and have time to develop counterarguments. McCain has largely dropped from view, except when he makes the occasional gaffe about whether we’re fighting Sunnis or Shias, a shifting perspective about the economy, or the accidental admission that the Persian Gulf War was largely about oil. And most of the electorate won’t pay much attention until at least August, anyway.

Ann Coulter supports Hillary Clinton

Posted in Media literacy, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

John McCain and me

Posted by James McPherson on April 29, 2008

I worked for several years as a reporter covering politics–mostly local, though one of my early political interviews as a 23-year-old editor of the Gilbert News (later the Gilbert Independent) in Arizona was of John McCain. He was running for national office for the first time, and I actually remember little about the interview other than the fact that it came on the spur of the moment and I wasn’t particularly well prepared. The interview and his subsequent victory did prompt me to follow his career a little more closely in the years that followed. I doubt he remembers it at all.

At times McCain has impressed me, such as when he strenuously opposed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that Bill Clinton signed into law. Lately he has been less impressive with his efforts to kiss up to the conservatives that he thinks he needs to win the presidency. I think it’s a political error, frankly. McCain’s greatest appeal has always been to the middle, and he is now doing much to sacrifice that appeal–how much will become clear after the Democrats choose a nominee and the general election battle begins in earnest.

On the other hand, perhaps McCain realizes that his appeal for moderates has largely been undeserved, since he has almost always acted more conservative than he sounded. Maybe he suspects that coverage of a general election campaign might paint a more accurate picture of the real McCain, costing him moderates, anyway. If so, he has more faith in mainstream media political coverage than I do.

Posted in Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

Presidential politics and WWE

Posted by James McPherson on April 23, 2008

As if bad bowling and tossing back whiskey shots weren’t enough to convince us that the presidential candidates get blue-collar America, now all three candidates have joined in promoting professional wrestling. Come to think of it, the trash-talking phoniness of the WWE does have a fair amount in common with the state of modern American politics.

Posted in Politics, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Posted by James McPherson on April 22, 2008

Here’s something I wrote more than a year ago (though you’ll have to take my word for that), for my forthcoming book (pp. 213-214). Of course I’d look a lot smarter if the book had come out sooner.

In trying to understand whether political change is indeed underway, hopeful liberals, pessimistic conservatives, and would-be political pundits might look for other parallels with the beginning of the conservative resurgence. For example, they might compare the 2004 Democratic Convention speech of Senator Barack Obama to Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” address of forty years earlier. Both speeches attracted positive national attention, and both men found themselves in demand as speakers inside and outside their parties. Though Reagan had a sharper wit, a folksier manner, and a more practiced delivery, both he and Obama spoke on behalf of their values in direct, positive, and personal ways that connected with listeners. In 2006 Obama was one of the most popular campaigners for Democratic candidates around the country. He also wrote a popular book that might be compared to conservative icon Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. Obama’s The Audacity of Hope offered an image for the nation’s political future, calling for, in one reviewer’s words, “a mode of liberalism that sounds both highly pragmatic and deeply moral.” Like a Reagan campaign speech, the book also was long on optimism and short on policy details. [Review from the Washington Post’s Book World/washingtonpost.com]

In this television age Obama has one distinct advantage and one disadvantage compared to Ronald Reagan. The advantage is that after the publication of his book, every national network devoted considerable coverage to the issue of whether Obama might run for president. Predictably, most of the coverage focused on whether in spite of his race and youth he was “electable,” without discussing his political ideas (or even whether he had any). After months of free speculative publicity, Obama finally declared his candidacy for president. One disadvantage he faced was that even though he was relatively inexperienced as a politician, he had been in politics for most of his adult life. A sad fact of contemporary American politics is that many voters trust actors more than they do politicians, as perhaps demonstrated by the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the same governor’s seat once held by Ronald Reagan. Two U.S. senators, Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton, were viewed as very early frontrunners for the 2008 presidential nominations of their parties, but the simple fact that they had voting records in a political body that sometime requires compromise meant that opponents even in their own parties could attack them as wafflers and flip-floppers. It is no accident that almost every president since 1976 has been a governor, not a legislator (the single exception, George H. W. Bush, had been Reagan’s vice president). As for candidates coming from Congress, one critic of the conservative movement made an observation decades ago that might now apply to Americans in general, and to their news media: “Compromise means cooperation . . . and a loss of integrity. By this logic, those who succeed in the political world and attain real influence are corrupt and can no longer be trusted to advance the true cause. Only the loners who refuse to play the game of the System are to be trusted.” [Quote from Alan Crawford, Thunder on the Right: The “New Right” and the Politics of Resentment (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 113]


Posted in Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , | 10 Comments »