HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

October 20, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


At Long Last
October 14, 2008

I'm pleased to see the issue of false equivalency finally stepping forward in American political discourse. For years, it has been one of the largely hidden disgraces in our political behavior, promoted to a disastrous degree by the major news outlets. The Republican Party has fed on it like ravenous hogs at the swill trough.

It's a simple device. Some Republican spokesman will make a blatantly false smear of a Democratic candidate, such as the charge of Jeffrey M. Frederick, the head of the GOP in Virginia, that Barack Obama behaves like Osama bin Laden. Then, a supposedly more moderate Republican will admit that the charge is a bit over the top but that we have to remember that the Democrats have employed the same techniques by charging that McCain's policies lately have been erratic. And the press will get in line, pronouncing sagely that "they all do it."

It was good to see Rachel Maddow confront David Frum on the issue recently. Frum, a Republican operative, has discovered that we should now tone things down and discuss policy issues in a substantive way. Making fun of ridiculous proposals violates this sobriety in the same way as does screaming hate-filled epithets at a political rally. Maddow told him in no uncertain terms that this was a nonsensical equivalency. And when he tried to squirm out of it, she told him again, and again. She did it courteously, but she did not back down.

There is not one shred of doubt that the McCain campaign has promoted false, nasty rumors about Barack Obama's character. The Obama campaign has done nothing of that sort with respect to McCain. There is no equivalency in the tactics of the two campaigns. There is nothing approaching similarity. The American people need to have that pointed out to them so frequently that they will finally get it through their heads.


Going On Too Long
October 15, 2008

The remaining weeks of the presidential campaign can serve only to degrade the country. If there are persons who remain undecided they are brain dead as far as politics are concerned. How could they possibly learn anything between now and November 4th that would affect the outcome?

There is nothing either candidate can say to explain himself more fully than he has already. People who don't know, clearly, who the candidates are, and what each stands for, are hopeless.

The media will be desperate to find something dramatic to report, so they will launch into news-making mode. And when the press makes news the issues are seldom substantive.

There will be under the table efforts to rouse the passions of unbalanced people. The volume of screaming will rise; the amount of analysis will decline.

Each of the campaigns will be tempted to try to land a haymaker. The McCain camp is more drawn to this tactic than Obama's is, and if Obama can maintain control of his own people he's not likely to make a big mistake. But, there's always the chance that an overexcited person will say something balmy which could dominate the news. The country cannot benefit from that.

The main effect of dragging the campaign out will be to make the citizens even more cynical than they are already. We have long since passed the point where healthy skepticism transmogrified into juvenile cynicism.

I realize the election date can't be changed, but there's not much doubt we would come out a healthier nation if it could be held this weekend.


Preferences
October 16, 2008

The television pundits are almost unanimous in telling us that the public, in this time of crisis, don't like attacks on a candidate's character or past record. What they're interested in are his plans for the future. Therefore, it's an ineffective tactic to go on the attack.

Here's a weird alternative theory. Maybe what the public doesn't like is falsehood, whether it comes in an attack or in any other way. When John McCain slams Obama, the GOP candidate almost never tells the truth. He knows, for example, that Obama has had no significant interaction with William Ayers. Yet McCain continues to insinuate that there's something fishy going on between them.

The pundits can't imagine that an average citizen would be offended by a lie because the pundits believe, with a religious faith, that almost no citizens pay enough attention to facts to be aware that a lie is being told. The only persons who might know that a candidate is lying are wonks, and it's an established truth of television lore that wonks don't count for anything in an election. So, when John McCain angrily tells a lie about Obama, the voters are put off by the anger and not by the falsity.

Television personalities swim in such a sea of untruth they can't imagine that persons outside those briny deeps, persons who, so to speak, live on dry land, might find lies objectionable. After all, doesn't objectivity require that one take falsehood as seriously as he does truth? Is it possible that anyone might dare to set one above the other? Wouldn't that be a violation of the pundit code?

Most people tend to project their thoughts onto others, and none do that more aggressively than the men and women who appear on TV, claiming insight into the thoughts of the great noble but unwashed public. That's why Andrea Mitchell, for example, could assert, with perfect confidence, that John McCain surely "won" the third debate just minutes before surveys showed that a majority of viewers found his performance less than enthralling. Andrea didn't care whether McCain's pronouncements comported with truth. But it seems that other people had a different view of success.


Tactical Revelation
October 17, 2008

There's no doubt that anyone who would credit the message of a political robocall is a moron. Even so, the Republicans are increasingly employing automated telephone calls as their campaign winds down. That tells us who they think their supporters are.

It's a technique that fits perfectly with John McCain's launch of Joe the Plumber to national prominence. How much insult do the GOP operatives think the electorate will swallow? Their faith in the immensity of the public gullet dwarfs their followers' supposed belief in providence.

I'm pleased to see that it's provoking a rebellion among some of their former cheerleaders. It's hard to get up in the morning and regale yourself with the thought that you're a piper to the brain-dead. The most notable voices so far have been Kathleen Parker and Christopher Buckley. The latter, son of the late right-wing guru, has announced that he will vote for Barack Obama, and has resigned, under pressure, from the National Review, a good portion of which he still owns. Kathleen Parker, who failed to win much favor among the fanatics by calling on Sarah Palin to take herself off the McCain ticket, has defended Christopher by reminding us that his father never had much use for the "well-fed Right."

The Rovian strategy of thinking that you can maintain perpetual power by pitching solely to the uninformed and dull-minded is beginning to fall apart. And poor John McCain is too dimwitted to grasp that it doesn't work very well anymore.

It will be interesting to see who goes next. George Will and David Brooks are on the verge. It's not too much to hope that by election day only Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly will be left. Okay, maybe that is too big a hope, but, still, there is a movement and I'm happy to watch it unfold.


Republican Pride
October 18, 2008

John McCain says he's proud of the people who come to his rallies. It's a revealing comment.

I wonder if he has seen tapes of the crowds waiting in line to hear him speak at Johnstown, Pennsylvania on October 12th. If he has, I don't see how he can any longer claim that hatred is being spewed by only a few fringe people at his events. Vile signs and shouted racial epithets were common up and down the line. The most accurate one-word description of the attitudes displayed there is "filthy."

Take a look at the tape, which you can find a link to on the web site "Talking Points Memo," and ask yourself if these are the people you want to be directing the future of your country.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly says that the McCain campaign in its later stages has turned into a promotion of hatred, fear, and ignorance. And he's right.

We have been too much taken in by political rhetoric which proclaims the American people to be generous, noble and brave. There surely are persons in the nation who fit those adjectives but there are also millions who are as bigoted and ill-informed as any set of people in history. The fiction that all Americans are good -- meaning kindhearted and tolerant -- is the most dangerous myth we have to face.

An effective measure for determining who should get your vote is an accurate assessment of who is and who is not pitching his appeal to the nasty element of the American public. In this election there's no doubt about that. Barack Obama is reaching out to the compassionate traditions of American culture whereas John McCain seeks the support of the most prejudiced and hate-filled people in the land.

Your choice will help determine what your country is going to become but, perhaps more importantly, it will tell you who you are.


............................................................................................................................................................................


Comment On This Article
(Please include your name so that we may publish your remarks.)


Return to the Table of Contents



Home           Contact Us           Mailing List           Archives           Books on Sale            Links



Articles may be quoted or republished in full with attribution
to the author and harvardsquarecommentary.org.



This site is designed and managed by Neil Turner at Neil Turner Concepts