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Daily Howler: A famous pundit can't think of a reason for John McCain's childish campaign
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ABOUT THOSE TIRE GAUGES! A famous pundit can’t think of a reason for John McCain’s childish campaign: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6, 2008

GIVING PEACE—AND OBAMA—A CHANCE: Understandably, race can drive people crazy. To us, this seems to make a bit more sense when black people get driven to the point of distraction. Oddly, it often seems to be white folk who flamboyantly lose their minds.

Unfortunately, this can cause a serious problem when Democrats try to win an election. For that reason, Dems and libs should think, with great care, before baring their souls about race this year. This election will be decided by 130 million people—most of whom do not see the world in the same ways you and your best friends do. And there’s surely no other subject which can alienate people so swiftly.

Therefore, for the next ninety days:

Timothy Noah: Timothy Noah should stop discussing race—right now, pronto, instantly. No. Most people don’t think you’re discussing his race when you say Obama’s too thin. (To read, if you must, just click here.) By the way: Karl Rove will pay Tim Noah good money to keep saying weird things like that.

David Gergen: David Gergen should reconsider his belief that he has magical access to the truth about race. No. The fact that he’s a white southerner of a certain age doesn’t mean he has magical knowledge of racial “code” language. Simply put, the following presentation (on Sunday’s This Week) wasn’t even slightly smart. Many people have called Obama “The One.” Gergen’s infallible papal insights mainly exist in his head:

GERGEN (8/3/08): Everybody knows [Obama is] black. But there has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other. He's not one of us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mostly below the radar screen.

GERGEN: It's below the radar screen. I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it. But it's the sub-text of this campaign. Everybody knows it. And when they send—there are certain kind of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you when you see this Charlton Heston ad, “The One,” that's code for “he's uppity.” He ought to stay in his place. You know, everybody gets that who is from, you know, a southern background. We all understand that. When McCain comes out and starts talking about affirmative action, I'm against quotas, we get what that's about. We understand where that's coming from.

For the next ninety days, Karl Rove will pay David Gergen good money every time he talks about “code for uppity.” It doesn’t matter if he thinks he’s right. It wouldn’t matter if he could prove he was right in some sense (perhaps by tracking brain waves). Oprah Winfrey—and many others—have called Barack Obama “The One.” Gergen hasn’t been driven crazy, but he’s been driven unwise.

(Just a guess: Obama loses votes every time his supporters snark about “uppity.”)

Bob Herbert: We’d love to stop criticizing Bob Herbert, but he needs to get a grip on his imagination—instantly. Here’s what he said on Monday’s Morning Joe, discussing the Spears/Hilton ad:

HERBERT (8/4/08): You guys have seen the ad a number of times, I am sure, and you have it here in-house. First thing you see are a couple of images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, right? And we see an image of Barack Obama right after that, comes quickly at the beginning of the ad. You remember that, right? Do you remember any other startling images right there at the beginning? All right. There is an image right there in that very beginning of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and there is an image of the Washington Monument. Look at the beginning of that ad again. And you tell me why those two phallic symbols are placed there—pow!—right at the very beginning of that ad. I really wish somebody would answer the question—I think it’s really important. Why are those two phallic symbols in this ad...

Except that isn’t the Leaning Tower of Pisa—and that isn’t the Washington Monument. What you see is a structure at the Berlin location where Obama was giving his speech.

Karl Rove will pay Bob Herbert good money to discuss phallic symbols in John McCain’s ads. (There’s a bonus for spotting the Leaning Tower of Pisa when it isn’t actually there.) If Herbert wants to give Obama a chance to win, he needs to stop helping like this.

Keith Olbermann: Herbert’s presentation occurred on Monday morning. Twelve hours later, our own Mr. O was still recycling his howlers:

OLBERMANN (8/4/08): It seems like the celebrity ad continues to echo and Bob Herbert of the New York Times was on this network pointing out something—I don`t know that anybody noticed before—this morning: That not only in that McCain ad were there two underdressed blondes mixed with the black guy in the ad, but there are also images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Washington Monument, and the Victory Column in Berlin, as Bob Herbert put it, "phallic symbols"—three phallic symbols, two blondes and Barack Obama.

He’d had twelve hours to check his facts—but he still was repeating these world-class blunders. For the record, no one had “noticed” those famous structures because they aren’t there in the ad.

Understandably, race can drives people nuts. Ideally, such people will consider shutting their yaps and giving Obama a chance to win. This isn’t about our chance to prove that we’re more insightful than somebody else. It isn’t about conducting a seminar, even if we could make some points which might turn out to be right. Noah could have expressed his views on race at any point in the past twenty years. He didn’t have to wait until now—till a White House campaign was unfolding.

This is about getting out of the way and letting Obama stop getting defined. It’s about giving Obama an actual chance to win.

No, that wasn’t the Leaning Tower. No, Gergen doesn’t have magical powers. No, being thin doesn’t mean being black. Very few people think such things—and when we speak those ways in public settings, we may cost Obama votes.

An election isn’t about “being right.” In an election, you approach 130 million people, most of whom don’t see the world in exactly the same ways you do. You’re looking for things you see the same way. The Leaning Tower—it ain’t in the ad!—may not be one of those entities.

ABOUT THOSE TIRE GAUGES: The Dowdification of American discourse is truly a thing to behold. Consider the letters the Times prints today about Maureen Dowd’s Sunday column. (To read the column, click here.)

When the column appeared, a parade of angry on-line commenters battered its Antoinette author around. This morning, the Times has been a bit more selective in giving three writers its pages.

In the first letter, a Broder from Brooklyn praises Dowd for “rightly call[ing] out the American people on their prejudice against Barack Obama.” In fact, Dowd’s treatment of this important matter was thoroughly bungled in Sunday’s column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/5/08). She herself, of course, has ridiculed Obama as “Scarlett O’Hara” and “legally blonde.”

In the second letter, the Times somehow finds a Houston man who got conned by Dowd’s “organic chicken” comparison. In Sunday’s piece, Dowd cited Amy Chozick’s ridiculous Wall Street Journal piece, suggesting that people won’t vote for Obama because they think he’s too thin. The Houston writer got thoroughly tooken by all this blather—and, therefore, he praises Dowd too! Please don’t make us explain. (To grasp the size of the nonsense involved, just click here. Scroll down to Chozick’s “Corrections & Amplifications.”)

In some ways, the third letter’s the best. The writers’ tone is so arch one can barely tell that they’re criticizing Dowd. And as is required in a New York Times letter, they’re clueless about recent politics:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (8/6/08): Maureen Dowd’s column, as well as other articles we recalled about Senator Obama, brought to mind what a wonderfully effervescent campaign it has been lo these last 16 months.

When have we ever heard—or will again hear—of a presidential candidate likened to literary heroes like Mr. Darcy, Alfred E. Newman, Dennis the Menace and Cool Hand Luke?

Ah, sweet diversity of American politics! If only Henry Mencken were alive to witness it.

That’s the New York Times’ idea of a critical letter on Dowd.

Truly, where does the Times find these people? “When have we ever heard of a presidential candidate likened to literary heroes like Mr. Darcy?” How about in the last election, when the very same Dowd compared the Democratic nominee to the proud Mr. Collins, from the very same book?

“When have we ever heard of a candidate likened to literary heroes like Dennis the Menace?” In Campaign 2000, the Democratic nominee was endlessly likened to Eddie Haskell—by Maureen Dowd, to cite one example. Needless to say, it was Dowd who had introduced the world to this childish comparison (according to Nexis archives), back in 1992; as always, Frank Rich had helped her. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/15/07. Scroll down to “In search of the historical Haskell.”)

In fact, these silly comparisons have driven our discourse for quite a good while now, typically helped along or invented by Dowd. But the Times’ letter-writers think it started this year! This innocence of our recent history made the pair “fit to print.”

This morning, Dowd’s nonsense continues apace, as she asks a question we’ll answer tomorrow. Why on earth is a man of honor like John McCain running such a childish campaign? Dowd can think of just one explanation:

DOWD (8/6/08): John McCain is pea-green with envy. That’s the only explanation for why a man who prides himself on honor, a man who vowed not to take the low road in the campaign, having been mugged by W. and Rove in South Carolina in 2000, is engaging in a festival of juvenilia.

The Arizona senator who built his reputation on being a brave proponent of big solutions is running a schoolyard campaign about tire gauges and Paris Hilton, childishly accusing his opponent of being too serious, too popular and not patriotic enough.

Even his own mother, the magical 96-year-old Roberta McCain, let slip that she thought the Paris Hilton-Britney Spears ad was “kinda stupid.”

McCain’s 2000 strategist, John Weaver, was equally blunt with Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter: “It’s hard to imagine America responding to ‘small ball’ when we have all these problems.”

Note the way the novelization works. It can’t be Weaver who’s “pea-green with envy” because he got dumped by McCain. No—because Dowd seeks to affirm his view, his view arrives without motive. (By the rules of the game, his statement is “blunt.”) No, it’s McCain who is clearly “pea-green,” Dowd says. She can imagine no other reason for the “juvenilia” of his current campaigning.

The Hilton-Spears ad was “kinda stupid?” It’s hard to be a whole lot more stoopid than Dowd’s assessment of McCain’s motivation. Tomorrow, we’ll review the recent history of “juvenilia” in Republican White House campaigns. For our text, we’ll consider an insightful news report by the Times’ Alison Mitchell. A report from May 1999.

Why is an honorable man like McCain running “a schoolyard campaign about tire gauges?” It’s stunning that Dowd can’t think of an answer. Or that she’s allowed not to say what she knows.

Dowd can’t think of any reason why this “man of honor” would run this campaign! Can a nation survive this level of discourse? Gazing back on the past dozen years, we’d have to say things aren’t going real well.

Try to believe they permit this: But then, how low are standards at the Times, especially where their top Antoinette is concerned? Try to believe that a passage like this was allowed in this morning’s column:

DOWD: Some of McCain’s old pals in the Senate are cringing at what they see as his soulless transformation into what he once scorned.

“John’s eaten up with envy,” said one. “His image of himself was always the handsome, celebrity flyboy.

“Now somebody else is the celebrity,” the colleague continued, while John looks in the mirror and sees his face marred by skin cancer and looks at the TV and sees his dashing self-image replaced by visions of William Frawley, with Letterman jokes about his membership in the ham radio club and adventures with wagon trains.

Dowd claims she’s quoting one of “McCain’s old pals in the Senate.” But uh-oh! She doesn’t say which party this “old pal” belongs to! Can you think of any journalistic reason why that fact would have been omitted?

Given Dowd’s appalling track record, we can think of no real reason to believe anything she says. But we had to chuckle when we saw that passage. Is there any chance that’s the voice of “McCain’s old pal in the Senate,” John Kerry? Could it be the voice of some other Dem? We don’t have the slightest idea. Dowd’s editors agreed not to tell.

A taste of the comments: Today, the Times prints letters which praise brilliant Dowd. How about a taste of the on-line comments? Here’s the second comment appended to Sunday’s piece (for a full dosage, click here):

COMMENT 2: Can you just re-run your Gore columns from 2000, and spend the next three months in the South of France? America would be much better off for it, Maureen.

Ouch! There seems to be historical memory there! Granted, that was posted by TeddySanFran. But the next comment was similar:

COMMENT 3: Does this column exist for any reason other than to perpetuate Republican smears about Democratic candidates? How do you imagine this is helping the discourse?

The fourth comment rejects Dowd’s view of Obama-as-Darcy. The fifth comment correctly says that “the sideshow...seems to be all Ms. Dowd has to comment on these days.” According to the seventh comment, “This column says nothing. It was a waste of space.”

No, we didn’t post those comments. And when the Times gets similar letters, such letters are sent off to die.