Politics

McCain's Surge Gaffe Actually Acknowledged On MSNBC

A perfect example of how badly the media muddies the water when it comes to the Iraq War occurred in the late morning on MSNBC. At around 11:40, Contessa Brewer took up one of the key issues that those Cheeto-eating bloggers have been completely on top of: namely, John McCain's inability to articulate any sort of coherent foreign policy, mainly because it's all built on facts he doesn't completely understand and strategies whose failures he has to furtively labor to keep obscure.

Remarkably, Brewer actually took discussed McCain's recent lapse on the conditions on the ground that were contemporaneous to the beginning of the "Surge." Brewer reported that McCain's remark failed to "align with the facts," and then went on to get the basics of those facts exactly right.

Really, I was so excited that MSNBC was even covering this matter that I felt like leading everyone in one of those "slow clap" scenes from bad movies where one guy starts clapping and soon everyone in the room breaks into applause. Sure, there was a little equivocation ("McCain may have gotten it wrong."), but I was willing to look past it, because it looked like Brewer was just setting up the shot for another on-air personage to bang home.

Unfortunately, the other person in the room was Jonathan Capehart, who immediately busted out his broken down hurdy-gurdy and started to crank:

It may have been a mistake but let's keep in mind Senator McCain has always been about the Surge. The Surge is working. The Surge is what's made Iraq safer and what made it possible for Senator Obama to take the trip that he did earlier this week. So I think what Senator McCain is trying to do is plant the seed of doubt in voters' minds that Senator Obama is up to the task...

Really? You "think" McCain may want to "plant the seed of doubt in voter's minds" about Obama? I'm sure that Capehart used all of his reportorial expertise to almost reach that painfully obvious conclusion.

Things trended downhill from there.

...now everyone is pointing out that maybe Senator McCain has the facts wrong, it now plays into the narrative. The story line that Senator McCain has a little trouble remembering little details.

Capehart goes on to cite a couple of McCain's gaffes, and suggests, again, with amazing trenchant analysis, that Obama and McCain are "both trying to get at each other." But he's really badly missed the point here. If the "storyline" is that "McCain has a little trouble remembering little details," then we're all in trouble, because the storyline should be that McCain is saddled with trying to win on Bush's failed war strategy, and so he's stuck in a box, endlessly insisting that the limited success of the "Surge" can be used to cancel out major national security failures. The narrative should be that John McCain lacks a cogent foreign policy framework to make America safe.

Capehart goes on to cheerfully utter that "the average voter isn't paying attention to this much detail," that "maybe" McCain "got facts wrong," that (again with the painfully, stupidly obvious observations!) Obama and McCain "are having a fight," and, appallingly, that "foreign policy is Senator McCain's strength." At that point, Contessa Brewer finally attempted to fight back and end the segment, saying, "Conventional wisdom had it it was his strength but we'll see how this goes."

But Capehart actually jumps back in, fighting to get in an insistent last word:

Right but it is his strength. You get Senator McCain off the Surge and off the war and onto the economy and he's in quicksand. He loves having this debate on foreign policy even though it doesn't look like it's a winner for him.

The problem here is this naive, incorrect, zombie-drool assertion that foreign policy is McCain's strength rules the day amid mounting evidence that there is actually no facet of contemporary foreign policy on which McCain seems to be even nominally conversant.

I don't know where this shooting gallery is where all these reporters are getting their regular doses of Surge Logic(TM), but if we want to change the "narrative" to something that better comports with reality, someone needs to find it and BTMFD.

[WATCH.]

BREWER: It may not jump out at you but McCain's assertion there doesn't align with the facts. Colonel McFarland actually said the Anbar Awakening began in the fall of 2006. When Sunni tribes decided to start fighting al Qaeda. And the Surge did not begin until months later. Meaning McCain may have gotten it wrong. Jonathan Capehart is a editorial writer for The Washington Post. Is it a gaffe? A mistake? Was it intentional spin?

CAPEHART: It may have been a mistake but let's keep in mind Senator McCain has always been about the Surge. The Surge is working. The Surge is what's made Iraq safer and what made it possible for Senator Obama to take the trip that he did earlier this week. So I think what Senator McCain is trying to do is plant the seed of doubt in voters' minds that Senator Obama is up to the task, one of being president and two of leading a country at war but the problem that he has when he says, you know, that Senator Obama has the facts wrong and now everyone is pointing out that maybe Senator McCain has the facts wrong, it now plays into the narrative. The story line that Senator McCain has a little trouble remembering little details. We saw the Sunni versus Shiite problem he had with Senator Lieberman walking up to him reminding him he got it backwards. And then you also have the gaffe he made confusing Somalia and Sudan. There are all these little things that make people wonder if Senator McCain is all there. The Obama campaign earlier on would use words like Senator McCain is confused or he's lost his bearings. They are both trying to get at each other.

BREWER: Barack Obama has been asked about McCain's fighting back on this whole Surge thing and Obama has said, look, I'm not going to criticize my opponent while I'm here on foreign soil. I'm not going to it on this trip. Are we splitting hairs when we're parsing the meaning of these words? These two are really focusing on the details. Did Barack Obama support the surge? Now he says we're glad the Surge coincided with this standing up by Sunni leaders and all worked together and all of it together is a success. Is the average voter going to be paying attention to this kind of detail?

CAPEHART: The average voter probably isn't paying attention to this much detail, but when you look at the larger context here, you have Senator McCain saying that Senator Obama got facts wrong when everyone is pointing out that maybe Senator McCain was the one who got facts wrong. Also, they are having a fight. Obama and McCain on foreign policy. Foreign policy is Senator McCain's strength. Even with the war --

BREWER: Conventional wisdom had it it was his strength but we'll see how this goes.

CAPEHART: Right but it is his strength. You get Senator McCain off the Surge and off the war and onto the economy and he's in quicksand. He loves having this debate on foreign policy even though it doesn't look like it's a winner for him.

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