Sunday, October 12, 2008

Triathlons and Politics

At the risk of alienating half of the people who read this blog (what, two people ?), I am going to post something that's political. To be honest, I think that it's sad how afraid everyone is talk politics these days with friends whose political leanings are unknown. Of course, if you drive by my house you'll know who I support, but these days discussing politics is as poisonous as discussing the Red Sox and Yankees, at least living right on that fault line here in south-central Connecticut. A

I was thinking about this on my long ride yesterday. I read a number of articles, including this one by Victor Davis Hanson, which suggest to me that some conservatives have already started retrenching, meaning they have given over to losing the presidential election, and started assigning blame.

I personally think this is kind of lame. Hanson's article, one of many echoing the same lament, is the equivalent of writing up your pre-race expectations and saying you're not going to do well, but then blaming others for poor result you expect to earn, and suggesting it's unfair. It would be like me blaming the triathlon community for masters swim programs, personal swim coaching, and high-end wetsuits, while logging 3000 meters a week in the pool...

The argument goes something like this if you don't want to read the article- and you should- The MSM (that's mainstream media) won't allow John McCain to ask legitimate questions that point to deficiencies in Barack Obama's character because the MSM wants Barack Obama to win the election and is is actively attempting to bury any news items that allow Mr. McCain to question Mr. Obama's character, should he chose to, which most recently (yesterday) he appears to no longer want to do.

There are three hot-button issues that have been focused on: Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, and Tony Rezko.

The Ayers issue has gained the most traction with the right. Why ? Bill Ayers = Terrorist. Barack Obama + Bill Ayers. Barack Obama= ??? According to the political advertisements- which have not actually run according to the Washington Post, the official campaign position is that it represents 'bad judgement.' But in this post 9-11 world, the word terrorist has obvious, and ominous, implications.

Has the MSM covered the story ? Well, if you consider the right's printed paragon of liberal excess, the New York Times, part of the MSM, and their front page adequate coverage, then yes. In the Washington Post, a fairly balanced news outlet, they reviewed the Times coverage this way: 'The New York Times got it right last week when it noted that the Illinois senator had "played down his contacts with Mr. Ayers, 63. But the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers."'

The Post article also does what the MSM has not necessarily done a great job of- explaining why Ayers is an education advocate in Chicago and not a man living in an 8 by 8 cell.

So while you have people at McCain/Palin rallies shouting 'terrorist', and conservatives pundits claiming that the association is being ignored, the MSM has looked at the association and determined it was largely that of two men who sat at the same table in board meetings, not co-conspirators plotting to bomb the Pentagon again (in Ayers case, at least).

I don't think on the second point I could really do the Reverend Wright controversy justice, as I am not myself a journalist, nor do I have the time to devote to my blog to detail the 'controversy' in all its g(l)ory. But if you can close your eyes and not hear 'God damn America,' you were probably in a coma in the spring of 2008. Claiming the media did not examine this relationship is a bit of a specious argument. Whether you think the relationship was accurately represented by the Obama campaign is probably a matter of your personal judgement. What can't be questioned is that Mr. Obama responded by delivering a significant speech on race that, as much as the actions of the media, answered the controversy.

Finally, you have the Tony Rezko connection. Of the three character issues, certainly this seems to be the most interesting. Unlike Mr. Ayers, Mr. Rezko is in jail. Further, Mr. Rezko was in real estate, and real estate is an important component in our current financial mess. Yet of the three character issues, this one is getting the least play, probably because it evokes the least emotional response. It also is by far the oldest of the three issues, and has been investigated very thoroughly. The Rezko connection, which included suggestions that the Obama's home was purchased at a reduced price due to the involvement of Mr. Rezko, was an issue during the Democratic primaries. It was certainly floated as a problem by the Clinton campaign.

Again, the MSM did investigate the connection. Both the Tribune and the Sun Times, as well as the New York and Los Angeles Times, ABC and Fox News, among others, have looked at the connection between the two men. Obama himself has admitted that the sale of land adjacent to his property to him by Rezko suggested the 'potential for impropriety.' What the MSM was not able to prove was that his connections with Rezko led to political influence.

Still, as so often seems to happen with politicians, this of all the connections is the closest to anything disturbing. It is not surprising. Why do politicians so often run afoul of ethics with real-estate developers ? Because developers need the help of politicians to get projects approved- for zoning, for funding, for community approval.

Nevertheless, this connection has been vetted by the press, and found wanting of any serious negative consequences for Mr. Obama.

The problem with these character attacks, if you will, or a question of character, if you won't, are twofold:

1) Credibility- these attacks play well with the base of the party, but as one conservative analysts said 'Show me a middle-of the-road voter that will be swayed...' Much less entrenched liberals that will be convinced. It's not like Michael Moore is going to tune into a McCain rally then leave and call Jon Stewart up and say 'Why did you lie to me when I asked if Obama was an Arab terrorist ? How could you ?' These questionable associations have been available to middle-of-the-road voters to Google and watch on You Tube for months, and they just haven't really gained any more traction than John McCain's association with Charles Keating.

Obama was called out by the Clinton campaign for not having been properly vetted and they suggested Obama might wither under bright lights, which the campaign did its best to bring out. Now, just three weeks from the election conservatives like Hudson, Krauthammer and others are still saying that the only reason that Obama hasn't withered is because the media refuses to turn on the spotlight.

Regardless of your political persuasions, spend five minutes on You Tube and you will find a diametrically opposed individual- a conservative cuckoo who believes that Obama is a Muslim whether he believes it himself or not or a liberal looney who thinks the financial crisis is a conscious plot by George W. Bush to suspend elections.

News outlets report on what sells, and these 'character questions' aren't selling. The news agencies put them on the shelf, and the consumers spoke. What they said appears to be, 'Thanks but no thanks.' The spotlight was turned off not because of bias, but because the bright light failed to show any improprieties on a scale that the voters were uncomfortable with.

Although if Obama wins, 'Cottage View Terrace' might become our next Whitewater.

2) Fatigue- Although conservatives spent most of them time they controlled both the legislative and executive branch this century castigating Democrats for a lack of civility- 'up and down' votes on nominations for the bench and cabinet positions, the truth is that for the last quarter century american voters have been subjected to a non-stop series of character attacks. From almost the moment Bill Clinton was elected, the Clinton bulwark was laid siege to by conservative activists and ultimately congressional investigations. 8 years later, he left off, surviving a bruising impeachment that demonstrated both his considerable personal shortcomings and congressional (or at least senate) contempt for the whole process.

In 2000, the first victim of conservative character attacks was actually- John McCain. In the south, conservatives activists worried that the then-centrist McCain might beat George Bush in the primaries spread rumours that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. These rumours were a bizarre perversion of a charitable act- the McCains had adopted a Bangladeshi girl.

The next was Gore- he was lampooned alternately as a serial exaggerator, a liar, a braggart, a hypocrite, and even 'fat'. He was repeatedly said to have claimed to have invented the internet, which he never did claim to have done, and it was his congressional testimony on global warming that was the basis for the exaggeration claims. Mr. Gore has now won a Nobel Prize for his work on raising global awareness about Global Warming.

In 2004, the 'Swift-Boating' of John Kerry, the last war hero to run for president prior to Mr. McCain, needs little comment either to its vitriol or its inaccuracy. The MSM largely left Mr. Kerry to defend himself. He declined, and it may have cost him the election.

The problem Mr. McCain now faces is the american public actually has turned its attention away from Brittany's Spears re-flattened midriff, and what they want to hear is how the candidates can save their jobs, their homes, and their investments (if they have any). That includes me. I am far more concerned about whether I will have a job in six months than I am of a mind that Mr. Obama went to Mr.Ayers basement after those board meetings to build pipe bombs.

If conservatives could demonstrate that Mr. McCain has a compelling economic program that the MSM is ignoring, then I would at least be interested. Quite honestly, it seems that few people really understand what the candidates budget plans are, but if the message includes jobs, housing, and financial stability, my bet is the MSM will cover it and the people will listen.

As the crass saying goes, 'it's the economy, stupid.' What these continued character attacks- which Mr. McCain now seems once again to be disavowing- suggest is that his own campaign does not think he can win on the only issue that matters to the voters.

This petulant whining about the press before the election has even been held, simply isn't in the spirit of putting forth your best effort. Stop pointing fingers, start working harder on legitimate issues. And perhaps, accept the fact, if it should happen, that your man lost because their man did a better job, or offers a better strategy. Some days we don't win, and most of the time when we don't, we deserve the result we get.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It definitely seems like the McCain camp is realizing that they aren't going to win unless the economy fixes itself in the next two weeks.

They are just throwing whatever crap against the wall to see what sticks at this piont, which makes for a better sit-com than political campaign.