Too many of us, I believe, have begun to place too much hope for McCain’s election prospects on the debates–as if they might constitute yet another turning point in the campaign akin to the Republican National Convention and the “Palin Effect.” But I seriously hope that the McCain campaign has not fallen into this kind of thinking.
There is very good evidence, I believe, for the idea that when John McCain actually DRIVES the news rather than reacts to it, that he’s able to gain ground against Obama. This was certainly the case after the Palin selection, when the Obama campaign and the media were forced to scramble desperately for several days… an event which was accompanied by sinking poll numbers for Obama and rising poll numbers for McCain. All followed by one of the most disgraceful episodes in American political history–the systematic and relentless Orwellian trashing of Governor Palin’s record, person, and family.
As disgraceful as all of this was, I think we need to admit that it was at least partially effective and reflect on why. The McCain camp unnecessarily surrendered the initiative to an inherently media and allowed THEM to control and shape perception and drive the news.
Failing to set ground-rules for the Gibson-Palin interview akin to those Obama set for his O’Reilly interview. Palin was at the time the most sought after interviewee anywhere–they should have negotiated for, at the very least, a prohibition of editing Palin’s answers.
Personally, I think it’s utter folly to select the VP and publicly announce the selection so close together. Why couldn’t McCain have selected her weeks earlier, kept it under wraps, and afforded her the time that any VP candidate needs to familiarize herself with all of the presidential candidate’s positions? The fact that Palin needed time to prepare was easily spun by the media as an inability to withstand scrutiny. During the time while Palin was still preparing, she needed to be in front of the cameras directly refuting lies. In fact, she still needs to be doing that more. This Bush-like passivity in the face of the media’s onslaught is a losing game.
My point is that we, and the McCain campaign, need to learn and understand the terms that we are laboring under and react accordingly. Whenever the initiative is surrendered to the Obama-media, or when we misguidedly expect decency and fair treatment, we lose ground.
So why not place hopes on the debates?
Is there seriously any doubt how the debates and their aftermath will play out?
McCain (and Palin) will be subjected to hostile questions, loaded with inaccuracies and harsh innuendo, and then their answers will be endlessly labeled as distortions and lies for days afterward by the chorus of media talking heads.
By contrast, Obama (and Biden) will be tossed one softball after another, and their responses will be lauded as visionary, profound, and a harbinger of hope and joy to all Americans. Can you seriously doubt it? Any gaffes will be minimized, explained away, or ignored altogether… that is, if those gaffes are not themselves lauded as visionary, profound, and a harbinger of hope and joy to all Americans.
No, McCain really only has one road open to him: driving the news. Easier said than done, obviously, and this can take many forms, but I do believe that there is one necessary recognition to arrive at before this can take place. And that’s that when it’s done, the media will scream bloody-murder and attack relentlessly in response… and that they (the McCain campaign) must not go wobbly in response.
And here is one suggestion: go to the mat, finally, on the issue of race.
McCain and his supporters (for the most part) have very appropriately avoided touching this with a ten-foot pole out of a proper respect for our inclusive, multi-cultural society, and because Republicans are actually not (as our critics relentlessly insist) racists.
Obama, on the other hand has been allowed to nakedly indulge in the worst kind of divisive race-based politics, as evidenced in his recent Spanish-language ad which brazenly and falsely accuses McCain and Republicans of racism. He is on record (and there are audio clips from him reading from on of his books) saying that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need.” He has a whole series of troubling and racist former associates, including but not limited to Jeremiah Wright.
If I were McCain, I’d go all in, and have everyone from Governor Palin to his campaign spokesmen and women loudly and repeatedly accuse Obama of what, in fairness, he is truly is guilty of: being a race-baiter and a divisive, racially-based demagogue. The media will go through the roof, but the American people will listen, and I don’t think it’s an argument that Obama can win. And that is because it is ACCURATE and the American people are not sympathetic to those like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and David Duke who attempt to divide us by race. Whether or not McCain has the stomach for this much straight talk remains to be seen.