Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I'm probably being naive, but this post by The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder gives me hope that the press might actually be rethinking its love for John McCain.

Ambinder tells us that

USA Today calls a new McCain ad "a marker on the path toward the kind of simplistic, counterproductive demonizing that many expect will poison the fall campaign." Andrea Mitchell of NBC News describes the McCain campaign's latest ad, about Obama and injured troops, "literally not true."

Ambinder says these are signs of (as he puts it) an elite (i.e., media) backlash against McCain's tone. Is he right?

It seems hard to imagine the media turning on McCain; then again, until sometime in 2005 it seemed hard to imagine the media turning on George W. Bush. The change resulted came not because journalists finally figured out that the administration's policies were awful, but because they concluded that the administration had deceived them on a number of issues. That was unforgivable.

Something like that may be happening again. McCain did promise that, even though 527 groups run by unwashed troublemakers might go negative in this campaign, he, heaven forfend, wouldn't. The press actually believed McCain. And now, shockingly, he's gone negative! The press loses its innocence!


Ambinder advances a theory about what's going on with McCain:

The cadre of McCain allies who aren't part of the campaign are very worried. They believe that McCain's current crop of advisers are playing to his worse instincts, particularly his pride and his ego. When McCain is privately content, he comes across publicly as happy-go-lucky and magnanimous; satisfied; when he is combative, he comes off as combative and reactive. They worry that he is obsessed with Obama's character and willing to attribute motives to Obama that are simply unbelievable outside of an echo chamber filled with those who are predisposed to believe Obama's a phony.

On one hand, this theory jibes with the myth of McCain -- that he's unusually noble and that he's not really a partisan Republican, except when evil forces conspire to make him that way.

On the other hand, maybe there's something to this -- maybe McCain really is abandoning his usual McCain-advancing jujitsu, the appearance of eclecticism that's made him a Republican big-leaguer by concealing his Republican-ness, and he's doing so because he's fallen in with advisers who are basically Freeper/Limbaughnista cultists, with the result that now, in the eyes of the press, he's losing the veneer of maverickness that's always preserved his brand. In other words, maybe the cultists pushed his temper buttons until he started acting like them because they wake up every day shouting "All Democrats are pure evil!" into the mirror and couldn't stand working with anyone who didn't, much less working for someone who didn't.

If so, it's yet another sign of the Monica Goodling-ization of John McCain. All by himself, of course, McCain has spent this campaign flip-flopping to bring himself into compliance with right-wing dogma, and he's gotten himself to the point where he could almost certainly pass Goodling's hiring litmus tests. But that's not good enough -- either he or his aides want him not just to advance wingnut policies but to sound wingnutty. Maybe it's the last step in his gang initiation. Whatever's going on, maybe it really will open the press's eyes -- I doubt it, but let's hope.


...OR: As Aimai says in comments, a simpler explanation is that this is McCain's real (i.e., angry) personality -- excessive anger is something he can pull off without assistance, thank you very much.

Well, sure -- but the crafting of the message, particularly the ads, isn't something he can do solo. So we have an angry McCain and a team helping him turn that anger into the public face of the campaign.

A hallmark of Bush's team was always thuggish attack politics on the part of surrogates, accompanied by a pious insistence that the president himself despised partisan attacks and wouldn't engage in them. I imagine the Bushies were comfortable with that division of labor because they felt secure in the knowledge that Bush, like them, really did despise Democrats. The dogmatists don't trust McCain on that score, so they want to hear him get nasty. And, yes, he's clearly willing to comply.

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