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 ‘Ted Kennedy’

Predictably ‘shocking’ Brown win makes Dems blue, but election’s meaning far from black & white

Posted by James McPherson on January 20, 2010

“In a stunning upset that reshaped the U.S. political landscape…” “… an upset victory of epic proportions…” “… one of the biggest political upsets in modern history…” Yeah, sure. Yawn.

Reactions from both sides of the political aisle after yesterday’s Massachusetts election were as predictable as they were meaningless. Lots of celebrating on one side, much gnashing of teeth on the other. Many on both sides predict/hope/fear that Congressional health care reform may be dead. (Though he also overstates the “stunning upset” angle, Chris Cillizza offers a good review of winners and losers.)

Maybe with an electorate as uninvolved as ours (and no, religiously watching Fox News or MSNBC, an activity likely to make voters stupider rather than politically smarter, doesn’t count as political involvement), we deserve to have such an abysmal health care system. Besides, it appeared that any health care plan coming out of Congress was going to do far more for insurance companies than for most Americans with poor health care.

Still, I hope the surprise voiced by so many “experts” in politics and the media over Brown’s victory is posturing on their part, and that they’re not really dumb enough to be shocked. If they are, it again raised the question of why they’re considered “experts.” In fact, Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley falls short of shocking for several reasons:

  • Though he’s a conservative in a blue state, Brown comes across as someone personally far more like Barack Obama than Dick Cheney, and he downplayed his Republican ties while raising funds in Obama-like fashion. While he may think like Sarah Palin and the Tea Party crowd (and gladly takes their money), he doesn’t say it out loud. He’ll probably end up as a moderate (and definitely not a “family values” icon), just to guarantee his future electability.
  • Coakley ran the worst campaign of anyone since, well, John McCain. She didn’t much seem to want the position.
  • Massachusetts isn’t as blue as some people keep pretending. Yes, Ted Kennedy was a god there–but then the same is true to a lesser extent of almost all longterm incumbents who bring lots of pork and attention to their home states. But keep in mind, this is the same state that elected Mitt Romney–perhaps the most credible 2012 GOP presidential candidate–as its governor.
  • The party in power typically loses midterm elections. And even though it came earlier than most, this was a midterm election. Incidentally, Brown will have to run again in 2012, when the turnout (because it’s a presidential election year) will be much higher.
  • The 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate was a freak event–and, considering the conservatism of many of those Dems, largely meaningless except as a further example of how stupidly undemocratic the U.S. Senate is. By the way, even if they should win a majority in 2010 (my prediction: they won’t), those conservatives who think they’ll achieve any major legislative goals under the current system are delusional. The system works only for those who exemplify the “party of no.”
  • Finally, the result is unsurprising because American politics in general (including the politics of Barack Obama) are so conservative. But then I’ve devoted much of a book to that issue.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

McCain’s ‘no-talk express’ going where unwanted to avoid rough road

Posted by James McPherson on September 24, 2008

John McCain has spent much of his time the past couple of weeks trying to overcome his comments about “not knowing much about the economy” and–on the day the current meltdown began–about “the fundamentals” of the economy being strong. The Huffington Post’s Bob Cesca today humorously wrote that McCain’s “very serious and mavericky campaign strategy can be described in four simple words: Blurt Out Random Crap.”

Even conservative intellectual George Will has compared McCain to a “flustered rookie playing in a league too high” and Alice in Wonderland’s decapitation-happy Queen of Hearts. This week Will called McCain’s behavior “childish” while noting: “For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are ‘corrupt’ or ‘betray the public’s trust,’ two categories that seem to be exhaustive–there are no other people.”

Now, despite the fact that he has had 26 years in Congress to try to help avoid the economic mess, McCain today suspended his campaign “to help negotiate a Wall Street bailout“–prompting David Letterman of all people (and doesn’t it get a bit frustrating having so much of the most relevant political commentary coming from late-night comedians?) to comment: “You don’t suspend your campaign. This doesn’t smell right. This isn’t the way a tested hero behaves.”

It seems to me that McCain recognizes that the electoral tide seems to be going against him, and he is again grasping at straws. After all, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already said McCain’s presence would be more of a hindrance than a help. That’s assuming McCain can still find the Senate–keep in mind that this is the same guy who hasn’t cast a vote in Senate since April 8. He couldn’t even show up to vote for a Medicare bill for which even a cancer-stricken Ted Kennedy appeared.

In addition to suspending his campaign, McCain called for a postponement of his scheduled Friday night presidential debate with Barack Obama–and the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and the suddenly helpless Sarah Palin, though Obama and debate organizers said the presidential debate, at least, would go on with or without the GOP nominee.

McCain also cancelled tonight’s appearance with Letterman. He bailed out despite the fact that the two men were in the same city (he apparently ditched Letterman for Katie Couric), and this might have been an opportunity for someone who wanted to act presidential to calm people’s fears–apparently prompting Letterman to comment, “What are you going to do if you’re elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We’ve got a guy like that now.” Incidentally, McCain was replaced on Letterman’s show by liberal MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann, who, oddly, might be the only person in America left who could generate sympathy for the GOP nominee.

My recommendation for when McCain should start his campaign back up: Nov. 5. After all, he’ll only be 76 for the 2012 election, he’ll have four more years to brush up on the economy (our woes probably won’t be close to over by then) and Palin will have four more years of moose-hunting experience–maybe enough time to work in a couple of press conferences and half a dozen media interviews.

Same night update: McCain’s odd “financial crisis timeline,” including an apparent visit with millionairess “financial advisor” Lynn Forester de Rothschild.

Friday update: The tide continues to rise for the McCain campaign. Today conservative columnist Kathleen Parker calls for Palin to step down because she is “clearly out of her league.” One of the most damning quotes: If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.”

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

Pressure now on McCain, GOP

Posted by James McPherson on August 29, 2008

It appears that, as expected, John McCain will announce his running mate today in an effort to decrease Barack Obama’s post-convention bounce in the polls. Republicans should hope, of course, that voters don’t make one interesting coincidental connection–the fact that the Bush administration and McCain have made an art of releasing bad news on Fridays so as to draw as little attention as possible.

We don’t yet know what Obama’s convention bounce will be (I expect 8-12 percent over where he was when the convention started), and as I’ve stated previously, the polls don’t mean a lot at this point, anyway. Nor do we know what impact McCain’s choice for VP might have. One fascinating note for me: Fox News is noting this morning (though Drudge disagrees) that Sarah Palin might be the pick–which would mean both McCain and Obama made the selections I said they should (though I doubt either of them was reading my blog for advice).

It does seem that Obama and other key Democrats–Hillary and Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama in particular–did what they wanted to do in their convention, and that last night Obama gave a speech worthy of the grand venue chosen for it. That puts more pressure on McCain and his party to do well this week at their own convention, assuming the weather and events cooperate.

Incidentally, one respondent has suggested that because I noted that Tropical Storm Gustov may put a dent in the Republicans’ ability to get their message out, I actually was hoping for a hurricane. That contention is both ludicrous and insulting, of course. Unlike Pat Robertson and a few other assorted nuts, I don’t believe God uses hundreds or thousands of weather-related deaths to punish sinners (remember the Noah’s Ark rainbow story from Sunday School?), and no rational person would wish for a natural disaster under any circumstances.

Analyzing the media and politics is what I do in my real job, not just as a blog hobby. But suggesting that what I predict MAY happen is an expression of my own desire makes little sense. After all, you may recall that I predicted that Obama, Hillary Clinton and McCain would all be leading presidential candidates even before any of them announced their intent to run–even though none of the three were among my two favorite candidates. I predicted years ago that George W. Bush would be a disaster as president, though for the sake of my country and its people I hoped otherwise. I predicted that Bush and a gutless Congress would take us to war in Iraq and that the war would last for years, though I opposed the war from the outset.

Besides, I hope the GOP convention goes off without a hitch and that the Republicans get their message out. As I hope I’ve made clear elsewhere in this blog, I think we need as much information as possible–even (and maybe especially) from sources with which we generally disagree–to make the choices necessary for meaningful self-government.

By the way, speaking of my real job, today I’m off on a day-long retreat and next week I go back to teaching four classes, advising a student newspaper, and participating in various committee roles and other activities. I’ve also promised to complete a book chapter within the next couple of weeks, and am organizing a January study program taking a dozen students to New York and Washington, D.C.

The point isn’t to garner sympathy (though I’ll take it), but to note that, though I’ve tried to post entries here at least four days a week throughout the summer, my frequency likely will decrease during the school year. Of course, there are a multitude of good sources in the links at the right side of this page to keep you busy on days I don’t happen to post.

Thanks for reading, and for any comments you feel moved to make. And have a great weekend.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Another Clinton triumph; can GOP compete?

Posted by James McPherson on August 28, 2008

Like Hillary Clinton the night before, last night Bill Clinton did what I predicted he would at the Democratic National Convention, coming out strongly in support of Barack Obama. Bill Clinton gave a maybe the best speech of the convention so far, after getting an opening ovation even longer than that for Ted Kennedy two nights earlier (more cheers, fewer tears).

In other convention activities, the roll call vote offered some interesting drama, vice presidential nominee Joe Biden gave a sometimes touching, sometimes tough (but less effective than Clinton’s) address, and Obama made a surprise appearance at the end. All in all the night was a positive one for the Democrats. Still, the promise of drama outweighed the actuality, partly because the nervous Dems had both the roll call and Clinton’s speech early, not during prime time.

Maybe it was just me being tired and sometimes bored myself, but even the talking heads seemed a bit off after the night’s activities were over–less eager to compete for airtime, less enthused about making pro- or anti-Clinton points. An interesting thought occurred to me as a result. It could be that they’re all getting tired. If so, that might be a negative for John McCain.

Until yesterday, I thought the Republicans had an advantage in terms of potential post-convention “bounce,” because their convention comes just days after the Democratic Convention. In addition, McCain apparently will name his running mate today or tomorrow, in a further attempt to blunt the impact of Obama’s mile-high stadium extravaganza tonight (a reminder: CNN has paid for the best camera angles for the stadium coverage).

Now, however, I’m not sure that I’d want to be in the Republicans’ shoes. After two weeks of the Olympics and this week’s convention, and with summer coming to an end, it may be that most Americans are tired of made-for-TV specials and ready for regular programming to begin. Watching a four-day miniseries that revolves around an old white guy whom everyone thinks they know (and that’s one line the GOP has been pushing heavily, that you “know” McCain but not Obama) may turn viewers away in droves, especially if he selects another fairly dull white guy as his running mate.

Another potential problem for the McCain camp is the fact that a hurricane named Gustav may be bigger news than the convention next week, especially in places like Florida and Louisiana. If Gustav happens to hit near New Orleans on Monday or Tuesday, it might be a “perfect storm” for destroying Republican hopes of getting much positive coverage out of their convention.

Face it, people aren’t likely to spend much time watching a bunch of speeches from mostly white folks in Minnesota, especially if they’re looking to see if black people will again be stranded on rooftops in Louisiana–and how the Bush administration, which McCain hopes to continue in many ways, will respond this time around.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Will Hillary sabotage Barack? Listen on the radio

Posted by James McPherson on August 26, 2008

If you’re interested in what’s to come at the Democratic Convention–who will speak when and about what, combined with some interesting convention history–Fox News has an interesting briefing book on line.

Unfortunately about the only meaningful question the talking heads seem to have about tonight’s convention are whether Hillary Clinton will speak forcefully and convincingly on behalf of the man who narrowly defeated her for the Democratic presidential nomination, and whether Mark Warner and other speakers will be tough enough on John McCain and the Republicans.

Despite the fact that Clinton has repeatedly endorsed Barack Obama, the media and her PUMA supporters apparently both hope to continue the controversy. Fortunately, that part will be over tonight–and then the pundits can immediately start debating whether Bill Clinton will forcefully and convincingly support Obama when he speaks tomorrow night.

I’d be amazed if either Clinton fails to give their full support to Obama, even if they fail to convince Bill O’Reilly, Darragh Murphy, or their followers. Then the newsies can start anticipating what “bounce” Obama may get from the election, how the GOP version will compare, and/or whom John McCain will choose as his running mate.

Of course they could also read the Fox briefing book or the schedule and come up with all sorts of actual news stories, but that might be difficult, time-consuming or meaningful. TV news as we know it might be ruined as a result.

Still on the remote chance they’re interested in pursuing news, I’ll offer some options (with similar possibilities bound to pop up for next week’s Republican Convention). Some of these have actually been covered in past years by PBS or other media, but the networks apparently don’t follow those media, either. A few ideas:

  • What is in the official party platform, and how does that correspond with the candidates say they’ll do? How does it compare to the GOP platform?
  • What was the “Interfaith Gathering” that kicked off this week, and why was it held?
  • How is technology being used? The convention is streamed online–is anyone watching?
  • What is the cost of the convention, and who pays for it?
  • Who is funding the various activities (and what are they) that are tangentially connected with the convention, and what do the funders hope to get in return?
  • Who are the protestors, why are they there, and how are they funded?
  • Who are some of the non-elected participants on the schedule, and why are they there? Some examples from just the first day: Judith McCale, Nancy Keenan, John Hutson, Randi Weingarten, John Legend, Ned Helms, Lisa Oliveres, Laura Tyson, Jon Schnur, Margie Perez, John Balanoff, Mike and Cheryl Fisher, and Don Miller. 
  • How much do the delegates care about what goes on during the day? What do they do in their free time in Denver?

Regardless of the shortcomings of the press, the conventions make for sometimes-interesting theatre. Ted Kennedy’s speech last night, following on the heals of a video about him, was an example. I happened to be in my car during the speech, listening to it on the radio–which reminded me of how much the spectacle matters.

Though I was somewhat impressed that Kennedy showed up speak despite his illness, listening on the radio I didn’t find the speech particularly impressive in either style or substance. But after I got home I watched it on television. Seeing the people in the crowd, some of them crying, gave the speech more impact even though I had already heard it once. Being in the hall itself had to be even more emotional, and I think the journalists there found themselves a bit caught up in it.

Some pundits and articles noted how the speech echoed parts of Kennedy’s 1980 convention address, which is sometimes ranked as one of the top speeches in American history. What I remember most about Kennedy and 1980, however, is less positive. The fact that he chose to run a bloody campaign against a sitting Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, may ultimately have cost his party the election and given us Ronald Reagan and his later neocon followers. Even the famous speech did nothing to call for party unity.

One unrelated electoral note, which I may expand on later: Both sides are fearful of the dirty tricks that are bound to appear during the election season, as sleazebags on both sides make use of the Internet. Those have already begun, of course, with a host of Web sites still alleging that Barack Obama is a Muslim, faked his birth certificate, etc. The problem, of course, isn’t just the promoters of such garbage; it’s also the number of lazy nutjobs who will believe it.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Posted by James McPherson on July 25, 2008

The PUMA is an interesting species. Some critics might view PUMAs in the way many wrongly characterized Hillary Clinton, as bitter harpies. Others might see them as the type of women that misogynists typically prefer: silly, irrelevant, perhaps even cute.

Either characterization is mistaken (PUMA, by the way, generally stands for “Party Unity My Ass,” though one group has claimed “People United Means Action.”). PUMAs obviously are wrong and misguided, in my view, but passionate. And now they’re getting what many of them want most, some media attention.

PUMAs are angry people, mostly women, many of whom now say they’ll support John McCain over Barack Obama. There’s no denying that there are quite a few of them (though how many are GOP fronts can’t be determined) or that many are bitter. A quick scan of some of their blogs comes across such charming comments as, “Whenever I see one of those stupid “O”s on the back of someone else’s care [sic] I just want to RAM THEM!!!” and “Isn’t ‘barack’ that noise people make when they puke?” and “Do obama supporters still get headaches after they had their lobomy? [sic]” and “Even if Hillary should publicly–in person–denounce all 527s who are trying to get her nominated and elected, we can’t give throw [sic] in the towel. Clearly, the Chicago political mafia is strong-arming her to disown us.”

One blog post is titled, “If we’re PUMAs, then Obamaphiles are CHEATahs.” Cute, huh? Of course the difference is that PUMAs proundly claim the title before going on to disparage those who would prefer a different candidate. (This might be an appropriate time to remind readers that I was not an Obama supporter in the primaries, though I can’t imagine not voting for him over McCain in the general election.)

The CHEATah post comes from a blog that in its “About Us” section states: “We will start with the Democratic party and then work to bring together the rest of the country. We will come together at our common goals and go forward together, strengthened and mighty.” Its “credo,” in part: “We will all need to come together before the fall. Let’s craft a message that even wingers will envy. … Some of us have lost our minds lately. We are putting conditions and litmus tests on our candidates. We are getting lost in the trees while failing to see the forest.”

All of that may sound good, but the blog actually devotes much of its attention to PUMA promotion and Obama bashing, and also has a heading titled “PUMA Power” that states: “There will be a lot of calls for ‘Unity!’. But let us acknowledge what this really is. ‘Unity’ is a weapon that the party is going to use against us.” Perhaps it’s time to update one or two of the above categories.

Despite their real or manufactured fury PUMAs probably will have no meaningful effect on the Democratic Convention as far as preventing Obama from claiming the nomination, especially since Clinton likely will speak on his behalf at the convention. Still, in a tight general election (the kind we typically have) they might conceivably make a difference. Sadly and ironically, it would be a difference that goes against most of their own primary interests (at least those who aren’t secretly McCain supporters to begin with–like perhaps Fox’s favorite PUMA spokeswoman and 2000 McCain donor Darragh Murphy).

PUMAs might make a difference in the same way that Ralph Nader did against Al Gore in 2000, Ross Perot did against George H.W. Bush in 1992, Ted Kennedy did against Jimmy Carter in 1980, and Ronald Reagan did against Gerald Ford in 1976–drawing just enough attention and votes to help put the candidate their supporters disliked most in the White House. The difference in each of those cases was that the candidate’s supporters actually had a candidate who obviously still sought the position, while Clinton likely will–as she has repeatedly on previous occasions–exhort her supporters to do what they can to avoid a continuation of the Bush policies. A McCain presidency would have a good chance of turning those 5-4 Supreme Court votes against progressives into 7-2 votes against them.

Thus far, consistency, except in avoid-Obama-at-all-costs rhetoric, has not been a key part of PUMA power. Even Fox News, which would undoubtedly love to see PUMAs help swing the election for McCain and which has aired more about the group than any other network, can’t help but point out the contradictions. For example, see the YouTube videos below. The last one starts out much the same as the first, but adds some interesting context (though it doesn’t explore the disconnect between, “I don’t think it’s just to prove a point; I think it’s a very important point we’re making.”).

It’s difficult to tell how much influence the PUMAs will have, especially since many of those now complaining will swallow hard, hold their noses and vote for Obama in the general election, perhaps without telling their fellow PUMAs. The influence of blogs on elections also is unknown, though I don’t believe the vast majority of blogs are very representative of much of anything since most tend to have a limited following of serious but somewhat cowardly anonymous supporters who talk mostly to each other–a sort of ooh-look-at-me-aren’t-I-clever form of text messaging with less emotional commitment and no added wireless fees.

PUMAs do have cause to be unhappy, though not nearly as much cause as many of them claim. The Democratic primary system was a mess, but it was a mess that Clinton helped create. Interestingly, some of her supposed staunchest supporters now hope to make a bigger one.

Note: The organization name is corrected above–thanks to the respondents who noted that I had it wrong.

Follow-up: Somewhat ironically for a group that complains about being heard, PUMA sites seem to be among those most likely to delete the responses of those who disagree with them.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

Medicare & the missing McCain

Posted by James McPherson on July 9, 2008

Despite battling brain cancer, Ted Kennedy showed up (to a standing ovation) in the Senate today to help pass a veto-proof Medicare bill. The bill blocked a 10-percent pay cut for doctors, whom many Republicans apparently think are overpaid when they accept Medicare. Kennedy was escorted into the chamber by Barack Obama, who also voted for the bill.

And John McCain, whose Web site boasts that when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid he would “reform” the payment system to cut costs, because, “Medicaid and Medicare should not pay for preventable medical errors or mismanagement”? He was the only senator to miss the vote entirely, traveling to Ohio and California to campaign just in case those folks didn’t know he was running for president. As Washington Post blogger Ben Pershing points out, “Yesterday marked the two-month anniversary of the last time McCain cast a Senate vote, on April 8. The Medicare vote marked the 76th consecutive tally McCain has missed.”

McCain also has called for some seniors to pay more for their Medicare benefits, while trying to cobble together a health care plan that would actually cover someone who cost sick or hurt while costing taxpayers nothing. That may not be a bad idea, especially for those who marry as well as McCain did.

McCain refused to comment on another health issue–why he apparently thinks it’s OK for the government to pay for Viagra but not birth control (duh… guess which he needs?), saying, “I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don’t recall the vote, I’ve cast thousands of votes in the Senate.” Just none lately.

Pershing also notes that McCain criticized Obama for an alleged flipflog on terrorism (in which Obama voted exactly like McCain probably would have), while also skipping that vote. What is it that politicians tell the electorate all the time? If you don’t vote, don’t complain?

Next day update: Blogger “Jordan Says” has nice comment with YouTube video of McCain’s reaction when asked the Viagra question.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »