Archive - Jul 1, 2008

Take The Shot

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Memo to Barack Obama: PICK ONE.

You're going to have to pick one between now and November, and it really doesn't help you to wait while pitch after pitch bounces off your head. You're going to have to pick one and fight it, because if you don't, it's not going to stop.

Wesley Clark would have been a good one to pick. I'm normally not a huge proponent of the theory that all it takes to defuse a bully is to stand up to them once, in a dramatic fashion. Life doesn't play out like an episode of Growing Pains. But politics, strangely enough, often does.

For those of you who weren't following this, on Sunday, in response to a leading question, Wesley Clark said the following:"Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." And oh, was there a pulling of hair and rending of garments and wailing!

Big fucking whoop. First, this is true. We've had 43 presidents, and a startlingly small number of them were fighter pilots who were shot down. Second, militarily, General Wesley Clark outranks Captain John McCain, so you'd think he'd be given some leeway in terms of smack talk. And third, who really gives a shit?

But, as a wise man prophetically stated yesterday, "the media, in its desire for an exciting narrative of a divided country, will downplay reasons not to vote for McCain, and amplify reasons not to vote for Obama." And so the media dutifully amplified the fake outrage from the same people who said John Kerry faked injuries to get his Purple Hearts*.

Obama could have said this was a bullshit attack. He could have stood up for the media manhandling of one of his surrogates. What Clark said was so far inside the boundaries of acceptable discourse that letting it be attacked actually redefines acceptable discourse in a way that will hurt Obama in the long run. I believe we all know what's coming next. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"As he's said many times before, Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain's service, and of course he rejects yesterday's statement by General Clark." - Obama spokesman Bill Burton, apparently a product of John Kerry's Nerf factory.

Conventional wisdom says that by doing this, you take the issue off the table, stop the attacks, and move on to talking about the issues. Funny thing about conventional wisdom - it only seems to apply when the people in charge of the "conventional wisdom" decide it should apply. If Fox and CNN and MSNBC decide they can keep this thing going for a few more days, rejecting or no rejecting. And if you give them a reject, they'll demand a denounce. If they get a denounce, they'll demand a fired. If they get a fired, they'll STILL bring it up whenever it'll give them a boost.

There's another, even stupider line of thought that casts this as a clever, super-double-secret strategy. By doing the "say bad thing, denounce bad thing" game, Obama "gets it out there" that McCain's military service isn't that big a deal. Which would be great, except, well, that only works for conservatives. And the only reason it works for conservatives is that once it's "out there", their media enablers feel free to repeat it. You're not going to turn on the TV tomorrow and, now that it's "out there", see Bill O'Reilly and Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson debating the suddenly important question of the true worth of John McCain's military experience.

The current rules are the result of two decades of conservative media-bashing and media-buying. You don't fight that by pretending it's not there, or trying to play along with it. You have to bloody it. You have to punch it in the nose like it's a hungry shark. Shame and embarrass it publicly so that maybe they'll think twice the next time they try it. And to do that, you need an easy win, something so blatantly false and mischaracterized that even Glenn Beck would feel his last shred of shame stirring if he tried to defend it. This Clark business might have been that easy win, but now Obama's gonna have to pick another one.

*And I mean literally the same people. Bud Day, one of the Swift Boat Douchebags for Bush, is now part of John McCain's "truth squad", which in every news story today has appeared with quotation marks around it, which I choose to interpret as punctuational subliminal messaging.