Thursday, September 18, 2008

NewsWatch 9.18.08

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

Trends and Tremors
The war on change. Who's winning? (Hint: Obama's the shark)

New poll numbers show that Obama is still viewed by voters as most likely to bring change to Washington. This comes after a big McCain-Palin push to literally steal change right out from under the Democratic ticket.

A lot of pundits will point to McCain's gaffes this week, but by my analysis it has more to do with Obama's increasingly harsh tone, which has apparently effectively painted McCain as just another member of the Republican establishment.

Obama's vitally important question, "change to what?", seems to be taking hold in the public mind. A week ago, conservative commenters on articles and blogs were talking about lipstick and saying Obama's attacks were dishonorable because they were personal. In fact, Obama's focus has always been on issues, but the media has harped on personal issues.

Now that the race has come back down to earth and is focused squarely on (economic) policy, voters are getting what Obama's been saying all along: you can't be a change agent unless you have substance to back up the slogan.

Obama has some substance. No one can claim that his economic plans are flawless, but he doesn't have to live up to that standard. Promising to out-change Obama, McCain is the one who now has to prove that the change he brings will be sound, a burden staffers probably didn't think about when they decided to be mavericks again. And up to that standard, his proposed $5 trillion tax cuts with no plan to pay for them look preposterous, especially next to Obama's more modest agenda.

There's a big disconnect between McCain's maverick talk and the way he and Palin talk about policy in generic terms. That's why mistakes like the 'Blackberry' gaffe are so damaging. Claiming to have invented the Blackbery because you once sponsored sweeping telephony reform provides a historical basis for what Obama's been telling us and what we're seeing on the campaign trail: McCain is not a man of any real substance. This has always been the case, but Obama's sharpening of attack provides the dialogue the MSM needs to really get at the issue.

Expect McCain's continuing, discredited 'tax raise' ads to be the headline going into the first debates. He just doesn't have anything to run on, so the only thing he can do is keep spinning falsehoods.

The Economy is Still Stupid
Or whatever the line was. Bottom line: as I discussed yesterday, McCain has a real problem because he keeps sending mixed messages on the economy. With central banks across the world pumping an extra $180 billion into markets today, that problem is unlikely to go away soon, and McCain's not helping his appearance by tossing out a new reactionary "solution" every day.

On Monday McCain wanted a commission, yesterday he blamed "greed and corruption Wall Street," and today he's blaming regulators by calling for the ousting of SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. What he's not doing is defining where he stands on the issue. Does he blame loan company management (the ones who would be the primary recipients of his tax cuts) or government agencies? So far there's no clear message, and that's a problem for McCain.

Oh yeah, is anyone else sick of 'Fundamental' puns yet?

McCain and "Friends"
Speaking of puns I'm tired of, headline writers should be shot for anything including the words "who needs enemies" or friends like these" in any form for the next month or so. That said, McCain certainly seems to have a problem with people who should be on his side. First, Fiorina mis-speaks and tells the world that Palin and McCain aren't qualified to be CEOs. Now Senator Chuck Hagel, a former staunch McCain supporter, says that Palin isn't qualified to be Vice President. And unlike Fiorina, he meant it:

• "...doesn't have any foreign policy credentials."
• "I think it's a stretch to, in any way, to say that she's got the experience to be president of the United States."
• "You get a passport for the first time in your life last year? I mean, I don't know what you can say. You can't say anything."
• "I think they ought to be just honest about it and stop the nonsense about, 'I look out my window and I see Russia and so therefore I know something about Russia'...That kind of thing is insulting to the American people."
And their son, Gordon Bennet-he's-actually-standing-by-his-principles-unlike-John-McCain! Wow, that was really obscure.

For Hagel, it comes down to foreign policy, which could become a bigger part of the campaign given that the economic meltdown is a global one. So speaking of our Friends (look, my tie-in!) overseas, how has McCain been fairing on international issues in recent days? As it turns out, not so great.

It isn't totally mainstream yet, but in an interview with a Spanish-language Union Radio, McCain committed a huge blunder by seemingly not realizing who José Luis Rogríguez Zapatero is, and then instead of asking for clarification, going on to call the Spanish Prime Minister a Latin American agitator. There goes the Hispanic vote.

But it will also be interesting to see if any of these foreign policy blunders spillover and affect other voting blocks looking closely at the candidates' foreign policy cred. The Jewish vote, which both campaigns are trying to court in Florida, comes to mind. We'll have to wait and see which demographics are affected most by this big, big mistake.

Two-horse Race
Sarah Palin got out of the gate fast, but is steady Joe Biden about to pay dividends for the Democratic ticket? As I mentioned yesterday, his new, aggressive tone on the stump is getting high marks. New poll averages show Biden's favorability 10 points higher than Palin. Today, Biden told wealthy Americans to be 'patriotic' and do their share to pick America up by swallowing Obama tax increases.

While this bit won't go down well with the fiscal conservative crowd, it plays right into re-building the original Obama brand of hope by playing on the nostalgia of forgotten WWII-era American unity and togetherness. This could become a recurring theme of Biden's speeches, and it's what he adds to the Obama camp: the ability to talk frankly to the press and the public about somewhat controversial issues from the position of a wise old patriotic advisor.

Meanwhile, Palin has to stick to talking points and no media interviews, so after a flashy entrance her momentum is starting to fade down the home stretch. Now she's even pulling out of scheduled California campaign stops. Strong and steady wins the race, my friends.

Shocking: Maybe Obama Really Does Care?
A few days ago Obama was blasted by the Chicago Tribune for not pushing for ethics reform in the Illinois State Senate:
"For those of you who still cling to the fantasy that Barack Obama is "about change," you should note how he, or his minions, want nothing to do with reforming politics in Illinois, perhaps the most corrupt state in the Union."
I remember because Illinois conservatives jumped on the story to proclaim "if only the rest of America could see how little Obama's done for Illinois!" Well, two days later Obama made the call to Senate President Emil Jones, who is now expected to call the Illinois Senate back to Springfield to tackle ethics reform.

So maybe it's simpler than Obama misleading everyone and making up a grand story about reforming politics just to get elected. Maybe he's telling the truth. Maybe he was just too busy running a little campaign of his to place a call THAT instant. But hey, that's just my theory, and I know simple, boring, rational answers don't sell newspapers. I'd like it, however, if we could stick to reporting about controversy, instead of trying to incite it. Talk about change we need...

Today's Top Headline
Starting today, I'll be awarding one lucky assistant editor the day's top headline. It can be one that's hilarious, spot-on, or makes so little sense that it obscures the meaning of the article. So here's today's Top Headline:

Will McCain Waste Palin?
Wall Street Journal

There's nothing like a dehumanist headline (and article, by the way) during a campaign marred by accusations of sex-and-other-isms to get the talking heads going. But this headline offers some very interesting commentary on where this race stands.

Last week Sarah Palin was the subject of every headline and article, and it seemed like McCain might be slipping into the background of his own campaign. Now, however, Palin is back as the object of the sentence. Does this reflect her real-life position? Is she just an object? A resource? A tool McCain is using to get votes? Public perception definitely appears to be heading that direction.