The politics of distraction
September 12, 2008 | If you were to judge by most of the recent television coverage of the presidential campaign you might think that Barack Obama called Sarah Palin a pig and wants to teach kindergarteners all about sex.
• The other afternoon on MSNBC, Chris Matthews devoted an entire hour — an entire hour! — to the "lipstick on a pig" controversy. Only there was no real controversy. The whole kerfuffle was ginned up by faux outrage from the McCain camp, willfully wrenching from context and distorting Obama's use of a common figure of speech, one that McCain himself has used on numerous occasions, notably referring to Hillary Clinton's healthcare proposals.
• John McCain has been running a TV ad called "Education" that claims Barack Obama's "one accomplishment" is legislation to teach "comprehensive sex education" to kindergarteners. "Learning about sex before learning to read?" the ad asks rhetorically, "Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family." Never mind that the legislation called for an age-appropriate curriculum which, for kindergarten, meant teaching about appropriate and inappropriate touching. But McCain would have you think it meant positions, techniques, and condoms.
This is all a transparent strategy to dominate the news with nonsense and keep people from thinking about the real issues facing America. Every minute you spend thinking about and talking about the application of cosmetics to barnyard animals is a minute you haven't been thinking about the thousands of service men and women who have been killed and injured in a war that never should have been fought; about the faltering US economy and precarious financial system requiring one bailout after another; about the increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots, fostered by the Bush tax cuts for big business and the wealthy, and which John McCain wants to make permanent and even increase; about the scandalous number of Americans who lack health insurance and the soaring costs for those who have insurance (my own has tripled in six years); about the failure of American schools to meet the challenge of educating youth for jobs in a global economy; about a military that is stretched so thin that it can't meet current needs, much less take on the additional fights that John McCain would like to pick with countries like Iran and Russia; about the fact that America has lost its moral authority in the world because of the Bush policy of lawlessness and torture; about the pervasive corruption and incompetence of the last eight years while the foxes have been guarding the chicken coop; about the consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels; about ....
The Republicans are aided and abetted by the media, especially the talk news channels (CNN, MSNBC, FOX) who like nothing better than "controversy" to boost their ratings. As consumers of their services, we have to start demanding better.
What this campaign is proving beyond a doubt is that John McCain, who supposedly puts service and honor and country first, will say and do absolutely anything in pursuit of his ambition to be president of the US. If McCain were driven by a mere fraction of the integrity and love of country that he claims, he would not countenance this garbage. The John McCain who was destroyed by this offal in 2000 has come full circle and embraced it to serve his own ends.
During the Republican convention we saw a touching video about Cindy McCain and her selfless philanthropy through the American Voluntary Medical Team, providing medical care in third-world countries and disaster areas. Today we learn that she used that charity to secure narcotic prescription painkillers to support her own addiction, and that the charity eventually had to be closed in the wake of an investigation (A Tangled Story of Addiction, Washington Post, 12-Sep-08). Talk about putting lipstick on a pig!
In the face of this onslaught of lies, distortions, and sleight of hand, the Obama campaign has faltered, unsure how to respond. Handwringers have begun to second guess and suffer buyer's remorse. Advice is coming from all quarters.
Indeed, Obama isn't really helping himself. While the opposition specializes in one-liners and compelling sound-bites, Obama paces the stage, measuring his every word, like the University law professor he once was. My own advice would be to understand that short, terse language and snappy delivery are not the same as dumbing down. As attributed to Einstein, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I want a president who is thoughtful, but the pacing and weighing of words does not convey an air of engagement and energy. By this time in the campaign, the words should already be measured, refined, and ready to deliver snappily.
However, that doesn't just mean learning to throw zingers better. It also means refusing to play the Republican game. What's needed is an offense that puts the spotlight exactly where it belongs — on the issues Americans care about.
Last updated on Sep 8, 2016