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Friday Talking Points [40] -- Obama Shines, McCain Whines

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Be careful what you wish for, John.

That seems to be the message of the week for Senator John McCain. He took some campaign consultant's idea a few weeks ago and tried to make political hay out of it -- put a running "clock" up on his website to show how long it had been since Barack Obama had been to Iraq.

It was a sophomoric trick, but then what do you really expect from a Republican campaign consultant?

But all this toss-the-gauntlet-down machismo has now backfired, in two spectacular ways. To help illustrate them, and just to liven up the prologue here, I turn to the Talking Heads, because assorted "Burning Down The House" lyrics just feel so appropriate this week:

Watch out

You might get what you're after

Barack Obama picked up that gauntlet, John, and has turned it into pure gold. Maybe he's an alchemist, or something.

Baby what did you expect

Gonna burst into flame

McCain, surprisingly, seemed to be caught unawares by Obama's move -- even though Obama had announced his intentions weeks ago. McCain's campaign certainly seemed to be floundering around trying to respond to Obama World Tour '08, even though they really should have probably seen it coming -- since they were the ones challenging him to do so in the first place.

Cool babies

Strange but not a stranger

The only thing McCain's campaign seemed to do right in reaction to Obama's overseas tour was to challenge the media to examine their own motives -- with the always-tempting "left-wing media" label -- which was aided by the New York Times turning down an op-ed article from McCain this week (on the grounds that it was a purely political screed, and didn't address the question: "What would you actually do in Iraq?"). But beating up on the New York Times is always good grist for the conservative mill, and they actually got all the television news to engage in one of their periodic spasms of navel-gazing.

I don't know what you expect staring into the TV set

McCain's specific complaint (to present both sides fairly here), was: "WAAAAHHHH! Waaa-aaa-aaAAHHH! Waah! Waaaaaaaaaaaah!" (transcribed from a recent press conference).


Actually, his complaint was that the media was fawning all over Obama (all three networks sent their anchors overseas to cover Obama's trip), and wasn't paying nearly enough attention to John McCain.

Once again, the Talking Heads sum it up:

Some things sure can sweep me off my feet

But this was mistake number two for McCain in this whole fiasco. Because of his Hillary-esque "attack the media" salvo, the network news decided to give him something approaching equal time this week. The squeaky wheel got his grease, apparently.

But again, be careful what you wish for, John.

Because extended media coverage of every single day of the McCain campaign was bound to eventually showcase the complete horse manure coming out of his mouth with predictable regularity (about once every two days, on average, but this week I must admit he really outdid himself).

McCain simply couldn't compete with Obama this week, no matter how hard he tried. And then, to really annoy the media, he did two things mid-week that multiplied his problems. First, he released a web ad on how much the media loves Obama -- taunting them, in other words. Then McCain abruptly cancelled a press conference, because he was afraid of having to explain one of his recent gaffes (there have been so many this week, I actually forget which one it was).

Just when he had gotten the media to come around to his way of thinking, he takes the opportunity to blast them with a double-barrelled shot of disrespect.

All wet

Here, you might need a raincoat

And then his big visual-backdrop coup of the week had to be cancelled. The Republicans are coming around to believing that their strongest issue in this election may be their addiction to offshore oil drilling. I personally think this is a dandy way to lose the state of Florida... but hey, what do I know?

John McCain was supposed to fly out to an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico to counteract the video images of Barack Obama raising a crowd of two hundred thousand people in Berlin, and give a speech about how wonderfully safe offshore drilling could be. Even though a hurricane had just passed by, the weather wouldn't have really been a problem.

But another problem developed.

Hold tight

Wait 'till the party's over

Hold tight

We're in for nasty weather

It seems a barge accident on the Mississippi River happened just before McCain was due to give this speech. An oil slick drifted down into New Orleans, closing the entire Mississippi to traffic. Not exactly the best political time to give a speech about how safe the oil industry now is, eh, John?

The mainstream media did (in fact) give McCain a pass on this, buying the campaign's explanation that "bad weather" caused the cancellation, but a review of the timeline shows this to be the lie it truly is. The hurricane was long gone by the time the event was scheduled, but the glops of oil were just arriving downstream in New Orleans. So the media continued to do their best to give McCain the benefit of the doubt, but it didn't help much.

Even the weather itself seemed to be on Obama's side, as he gave a speech in Berlin in bright sunshine.

Dreams walking in broad daylight

I ask you to bear in mind, this is just a quick overview of the train-wreck nature of John McCain's campaign this week. I'm not even getting into specific events, or specific idiotic things coming out of McCain's mouth this week. I just don't have the room, if truth be told.

The dominant image of McCain this week was telling -- McCain endlessly whining about Obama. Seriously, pretty much all the time the networks devoted to "balancing" the Obama footage was of McCain talking before (woefully) small audiences, complaining (in that you-kids-get-off-my-lawn way that only very old men seem to be able to master) about his opponent. I never once heard McCain offer any reason to vote for him, or any other sort of theme. It was all sheer grumpiness, aimed right at Obama. McCain looked more like he was auditioning to replace Andy Rooney than actually running for president.

Meanwhile, the media (another result of McCain's complaining) transformed their mission from "covering Barack Obama" to "trying to catch Obama saying something stupid." They even openly admitted this, in some sort of desperate bid to stave off the "liberal media" label. They talked endlessly about the "risk" Obama was taking on his trip.

But you know what? Obama rose to the occasion. Everywhere he spoke, he just couldn't help looking so... presidential... that it left the media with nothing to talk about but how relatively big his adoring crowds were, and how amazing that three-point basketball shot Obama sank was.

If I were John McCain, I would seriously think about firing that new campaign team he just hired. Because if last week was any measure, they're simply not worth the money he's paying them.

Because the overriding image America got from McCain last week was a whining toddler having a temper tantrum.

As a not-exactly-unbiased observer, though, I have to say to McCain: Keep up the good work! Your campaign team's doing great! Attack the press some more, that'll help you get better coverage! And when you do get this coverage, complain about Obama every chance you get, and never ever say what your plans are for the future! Seriously, John, this is indeed the best way for you to win! Go for it!

Either that, or take David Byrne's sage advice:

Here's your ticket

Pack your bag

It's time for jumpin' overboard

While John McCain did nothing but whine this week, Barack Obama did nothing but shine.

There just is no other candidate this week for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. The New York Times summed it up nicely:

As his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, met one-on-one with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Middle East on Wednesday, Mr. McCain went on an awkward grocery-shopping trip with a mother and two children in a Pennsylvania supermarket and held a news conference at the dairy case. And as Mr. Obama spoke to a rousing crowd of more than 200,000 in Berlin on Thursday, Mr. McCain had a bratwurst lunch with the owner of a car dealership and other local business people at a German restaurant in Columbus.

Barack Obama looked presidential last week. John McCain did not.

McCain's week just seemed to get worse and worse, while Obama's got better and better. McCain was shown riding a golf cart with George H.W. Bush, whining about Obama to various extremely small crowds, talking to the press in front of dairy cases and German restaurants, and cancelling his oil rig photo-op because of an oil spill. And that doesn't even touch upon the gaffes flying left and right from McCain's mouth.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, was shown all over the world, giving serious answers to serious questions, meeting with foreign leaders, and giving speeches before delighted throngs of people.

So, like I said, it's pretty easy to see who the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was this week. Congratulations Senator Obama!

[Congratulate Barack Obama on his Senate contact page to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

This story didn't exactly happen during the past week, but it began to get some media coverage, so that's good enough for our judges.

The Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week last week was the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), for their insistence on their plan of penning up protestors at the convention into what are, essentially, cages.

That's right, the dreaded "free speech zones" are back. From people who should know better. John W. Whitehead at the Huffington Post has the full story, which he (quite rightly) opens by quoting the First Amendment.

Get this -- Democrats are going to have "free speech zones" this summer at their convention. Republicans are not. Makes you proud of your party, doesn't it?

Well, no. Somebody needs to buy the folks at the DNCC a clue, obviously. In small words they can understand: the whole country is a "free speech zone," guys. Protestors are not terrorists. They are not breaking the law. They are standing up for what they believe in, and attempting to speak freely to the political process in what is supposed to be a free society.

The whole thing just outright disgusts me, if truth be told.

So for their rampant ignorance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (the First Amendment in particular), the DNCC earns this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. For shame. Seriously -- you folks should be ashamed of yourselves.

[Contact the DNCC via their web contact page to let them know what you think of their actions.]

Volume 40 (7/25/08)

My introduction to this article ran a bit long this week, so I'm going to be brief here. While it would be tempting to attack in great detail the idiocies of the mainstream media and their Obama-versus-McCain coverage, it would just take up too much space (because there's so much of it to cover).

I do have to say one thing, though. The media really needs to learn to get away from inserting themselves in the entire "coverage" debate. The media is supposed to be passive -- reporting the news, not being the news.

If this whole kerfluffle had happen a few decades ago, any news editor worth his or her salt would have answered the McCain campaign's charges of over-coverage of Obama's trip with a short answer: "Obama's trip is news. We cover news. End of comment." Makes you wish those editors still existed.

Anyway, without further ado, on to this week's Talking Points, served up (as always) as a public service for Democrats being interviewed this weekend.

Someone needs to give John McCain a current world atlas

These geographic gaffes just keep piling up. Just in the past week alone John McCain said Iraq and Pakistan share a border (they don't), Czechoslovakia still exists (it doesn't), and that somehow Canada was not a foreign country (it is). The Czechoslovakia gaffe was something like the third time in two weeks McCain has gotten it wrong. McCain tried to strongly condemn Obama for giving a political speech in a foreign country, apparently forgetting that McCain himself did so a month ago, in Canada.

I look forward to the first time the phrase "a senior moment" is used by the mainstream media, but I'm not holding my breath.

"John McCain has been painted by the media as some sort of foreign policy giant, a man who is in tune with everything that's happening in the world. This myth is never challenged by the press at all. But somebody on McCain's campaign should really buy him a world atlas which was published after 1993. Because he keeps getting basic world geography wrong. Some 'foreign policy expert.' I think most Americans would prefer a man in the White House who can remember the names of the countries of the world without having to correct himself three times in the same week."

Barack Obama makes sense on Iraq

The key to this one is getting in the phrase "makes sense" or "common sense" as often as possible.

John McCain has been forced into a lot of hairsplitting on his Iraq position, because (lo and behold!) the "situation on the ground" has changed, and McCain has not quite caught up to this change yet. Barack Obama, meanwhile, is looking more and more sensible on his Iraq position to folks both here and in Iraq. This needs to be forcefully pointed out.

"John McCain quibbles about tactics in Iraq, but Barack Obama is concentrating on the overall strategy for America in the region, which makes sense. George Bush and John McCain have finally come around to Obama's sensible way of thinking on Afghanistan, which is a good sign. But on Iraq, Barack Obama has staked out a position that is wildly popular with the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people, and the American people. Obama is looking forward to the future in Iraq, while John McCain seems woefully stuck in the past. Setting a timetable for withdrawal is just common sense. Even George Bush is starting to come around on this one. Why is John McCain still stubbornly ignoring the wishes of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government?"

Like your pay raise? Thank a Democrat.

A story which got buried in the avalanche of campaign reporting this week is that the minimum wage got raised again. This directly affects millions of people, who should be reminded who exactly made this raise possible.

"The millions of Americans working at minimum-wage jobs will find their paycheck a little bit bigger this week. This is because Democrats in Congress managed -- over the strong opposition of Republicans -- to get a law passed which mandated this raise. So to those millions of people, I'd like to say: If you liked your recent raise in pay, thank a Democrat."

He's got to make up his mind...

Barack Obama got a great line off in an interview with Time magazine this week. Well, it's actually one of those lines that is kind of a muddle to read, but makes sense when spoken aloud. It goes right to the heart of all the "flip-flop" talk from the right-wing echo chamber. In answer to the question (about Iraq, specifically): "Was there anything that you saw on this trip that changed your mind? John McCain, as you know, is saying, 'Well, he already knew what he was going to think before he got there,' " Obama answered:

"Well, I thought John also suggested that I'm always changing my mind, so he's got to make up his mind about what he says about my mind."

The smell of desperation

"I love the smell of desperation in the morning. Smells like VICTORY!"

[Heh heh. Just couldn't resist that one.]

Republicans in Congress are in full rout. There is, after all, an election coming up. And they know which way the wind is blowing. Even George Bush has been backing down on veto threats this week.

It seems the Republican leadership in Congress is giving GOP members a green light to "vote their conscience" on bills from now until the election. For those of you not fluent in wonkspeak, allow me to translate: this means more and more of them will be voting with the Democrats on more and more bills, in a last-ditch effort to get re-elected.

But it gets even better! As many as nine out of the twelve vulnerable Republican senators will not even attend their own national convention. Seriously, the Republican brand is so toxic that even being seen with their party could kill their chances of keeping their jobs. This is an absolutely mind-boggling development.

"I notice that the Republicans in Congress have been breaking with President Bush and their own party on several Democratic bills recently. Democrats have been trying to pass laws to fix any number of problems in this country, and up until now Republicans have mostly held firm in resisting commonsense change. Now that they see their jobs in jeopardy, Republicans have decided to support some of these Democratic ideas. Astoundingly enough, many Republican senators will not even attend their own national convention this year, out of fear of being seen with Republicans, I guess. The American voting public has a choice this November -- they can go with Democrats who want to get things done, or they can vote for these Democrat-lite Republicans. Why go with an imitation if you can have the real thing?"

McCain makes things up

John McCain got really offensive this week towards Obama, by saying bluntly that Obama "would rather win an election than win a war."

Obama should immediately dispatch some surrogates with military experience (in uniform, if possible) to shoot this one down as forcefully as it deserves.

"John McCain said recently that Obama would, quote, rather win an election than win a war, unquote. This from the man who swore he was going to have a dignified campaign without personal attacks. I guess that promise was just politics, huh, John? I defy John McCain to come up with a single quote where Barack Obama says he would like to 'lose' in Iraq. He can't do it, because it doesn't exist. It's not Barack Obama who is sinking into the gutter and the mud in this campaign. John McCain is actually the one who -- quite obviously -- will say anything to get elected. And the voters are smart enough to realize this."

This is boring... see if the game's on...

Barack Obama will soon be giving his convention acceptance speech on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. John McCain will follow about a week later. But who scheduled the final night of the GOP's convention, when McCain will give his acceptance speech? I'd like to shake their hand, personally.

"John McCain will be giving his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on the same night as the first game of the N.F.L. season. I wonder how many people will be watching John McCain, and how many will be watching the champion New York Giants play the Washington Redskins, instead."

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Cross-posted at Democratic Underground