Saturday, September 13, 2008

How's "The View" From the Other Side, McCain?

After two solid weeks in which the McCain campaign very deftly and very successfully (you gotta hand it to 'em) kept Team Obama completely off balance and on the defensive, yesterday at least there was a single news-cycle in which the GOP ticket got a glimpse into the world of reactive politicking. Pardon me if I gloat; it's been a while.

First there was Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson, in which she revealed that she doesn't understand entitlements, as well as that she doesn't understand the Bush Doctrine, as well as that she doesn't deny being for the bridge to nowhere. It might not have been a full-up, deer-in-the-headlights fiasco, but anyone who watched with an open mind certainly had to get the feeling that Governor Palin is a long, long way from being ready to take over for a seventy-two year-old cancer survivor in the White House.

Then there was the first big left-leaning 527 ad, blasting Palin for supporting aerial hunting of Alaskan wildlife. The ad itself is probably not terribly effective, seeing as how anyone who is inclined to support Sarah Palin will probably find its narrative maudlin and (dare I say it?) bleeding-heart, but the problem for Palin is in the dialogue it triggers about the issue. In Alaska, it happens that a state referendum can be quietly and unceremoniously reversed by the legislature after its passage has existed as a matter of legal mandate for three years. And the reason that's such bad news for Palin is that the people of Alaska passed a ban on such aerial hunting practices in 2003 -- and when the legislature overturned the ban during the 2006 Gubernatorial campaign, Palin made it clear that she was not disappointed, despite the fact that the will of the people had just been summarily thwarted by an elected body. Surely Governor Palin doesn't wish to see her populist credential juxtaposed against a flagrant opposition to the will of the people of Alaska. And just as surely, she will.

Meanwhile Mr. McCain's new Senior Economic Advisor (you'll recall that his old one was dismissed for saying that the recession was a product of whining), Douglas Holtz-Eakin is quoted in a forthcoming book by Fortune columnist Matt Miller--suggesting that both Presidential candidates will have no choice but to raise taxes. "If you do nothing on the spending side," sayeth Holtz-Eakin, "you're going to have to raise taxes whether you're a Republican, a Democrat or a Martian." After being asked by the author if this implied that McCain would have to abandon his campaign pledge to lower taxes, Holtz-Eakin responded, "No, that's the Republican brand. And you don't dilute the brand." To which we say, it appears that Mr. Holtz-Eakin is against raising taxes before he intends on being for them.

Then there was McCain's supposedly puff-ball appearance on ABC's morning kaffeeklatch, The View. On paper both the format of the program ( a panel of competent, middle-aged women discussing a hodge-podge of topics in a congenial atmosphere that is generally devoid of hard disagreement), and the audience demographic (women who might not be engaged enough in current events to know that Sarah Palin isn't interested in helping them), seemed perfect for a McCain appearance. A genius move. The aging Senator could sit with his buddies for the fifth time in the last three years and mock Obama for appointing himself a celebrity, and the panelists would demur when he launched into a six-minute infomercial for his running mate, culminating with some thinly veiled suggestion that the people "attacking" her were the real sexists in this race.

Only one small problem: someone forgot to tell Barbara Walters. From the moment McCain sat down she siezed McCain's ankle and simply and flatly would not let go. From Palin's record, to this notion that she will "reform" anything as Vice President, to McCain's own reversals on a wide assortment of issues, nothing was off the table for Walters. Within minutes her usually softball compatriots were piling on, and by the end of the interview McCain actually had the audience booing him.

Gosh, what else could go wrong on a Friday news cycle?

Well, how about subpeonas? The investigator hired by the Republican-controlled Alaska State Legislature to look into the dismissal of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monhegan has been openly frustrated by the Governor's naked attempts to stonewall the story until after the election for weeks now, and indeed was seeking to subpoena Palin's husband to force him to testify. On Friday a panel of judges granted that request, and now Mr. Palin will, within days, be answering the charge that he made repeated phone calls to the office of Frank Baliey, a key figure in the scandal because of a telephone call that Baliey placed to a certain Rodney Dial, one of Monhegan's Lieutenants, which was recorded without Baliey's knowledge.

In that recording, Baliey can be heard repeatedly suggesting that Monhegan to fire State Trooper Mike Wooten, and citing as the primary reason for the request the Trooper's sudden and acrimonious estrangement from the Governor's sister. When asked why Bailey had pressured Monhegan to fire Wooten, Bailey apparently responded that he had been directed by Palin's husband to do so. Monhegan refused to dismiss Wooten and was quickly dismissed himself, leading to the allegation that Palin had fired Monhegan in reprisal for his refusal to carry out her reprisal against her soon-to-be-ex-brother-in-law. However Mr. Palin testifies, it seems reasonable to expect more to come of this story between now and November 4th.

Whether the cumulative force of all of this incoming will be enough to rattle the structural dynamic of the race, or if instead the McCain team's brazenly misleading ads about Obama's supposed accountability for the failure of immigration reform will once again return us to an Obama-on-defense posture, will take one or two more ratings-heavy news cycles to shake out. But in the meantime, at least, staying current on the race has turned for one day back into the fun it was, before. There are promises from the Obama campaign to hit harder, promises to take new initiative in the campaign, promises to make bigger and more effective buys--but for the moment at least, I'm content to watch replays of an old friend in the journalism business, doing the job the way it's supposed to be done, and putting all of Team Crankypants on notice that the free ride may be coming to an end.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida


vader said...

Lets not forget one of McCains presidential primary opponents Ron Paul suggesting his folks not vote GOP. (yea not Dem too, but the not GOP is the important one). Looking over Ron Paul's election results, it seems to be a real threat and there is Mr. Barr nipping at McCain's heels too. In a close race, A %1 or 2 lost is a real threat.

The McCain lies and press isolation may not make the press love Obama, but it makes them much less enamored. McCain has made 2 great errors IMHO, the Palin nomimation has every chance of hurting him and the lost of his honor and honesty diminishes his 'brand name'.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the stuff from "the view."

something bothers me though: obama not agreeing to the town hall debates. this increasingly seems like a mistake to me. maybe there is a fear in his campaign that this isn't his best medium and that he will lose.

but i feel like obama needs to answer this charge. if he will not agree to these debates or some kind of compromise, he needs to come out and offer something else to mccain instead, that he knows mccain will turn down: e.g., debates in a more auditorium style. so that if he cannot accept mccain's "offer" at least he can hit back, saying, "well mccain won't come to my debates, either."

obama's (in)action on this doesn't affect my opinion of him as a supporter/voter. but i'm afraid it might hurt him in the race, if mccain is able to make it into a big issue. and on the other hand, obama might be able to shut him down at the debates and shift the momentum.

what do you think about this?

(p.s. i very strongly agree with you that obama needs to use mccain's words against him. i don't understand why the campaign is not doing this.)

Dave O'Gorman said...

At the time I think Obama was right to turn down the town halls because the McCain people wanted them in lieu of more conventional debates in which the questions are posed by professional journalists.

What Obama needs now is not to go back in time and reverse his answer on that question, it seems to me, so much as to turn his own television ads into the same de facto town-hall-rebuttal that McCain's ads have been for several weeks, now.

If there are ways to get our message (about using McCain in his own words) into the hands of the Obama people, then I'm all ears. I'd write to the state chairs and even to the national campaign about it, but surely they get a mountain of (mostly crack-pot) suggestions from rank-and-file citizens all the time.

I suppose we could form our own 527 -- if we were willing to rob a bank, first, that is.

By the way, Vader, love the comment about Barr and Paul and the loss of the McCain brand. It's only the second day, but I can't help feel as though something has shifted. Maybe that's wishful thinking, but the news for McCain today isn't any better than the news I wrote about, today.

Anonymous said...

The McCain ads that ran during the Olympics were, I thought, devastating. The story-line went:"Washington is broken, and McCain can fix it. He went after big Tobacco, and so on and on." That took Obama's outsider thing and made it a McCain campaign platform. McSame is still using that same ad, or a variant. I am terribly afraid that it is completely effective. How do you suggest that it is overcome?

Dave O'Gorman said...

The quickest, easiest way to seize back the initiative is still to show McCain speaking in his own words.

The Obama people have just circulated a memo (about which much more, anon) in which they've tacitly promised to start doing more of this, by explicitly acknowledging the preposterousness of many of the McCain team's claims.