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Friday, August 01, 2008

Sparring Over McCain Ads

NBC News's Andrea Mitchell spars with McCain campaign manager Rick Davis over the "Celeb" ad. It starts about 2:35 in.

Bluffing 'Bout Bias?

31 Jul 2008 01:48 pm
obamacedarrapids 103.jpgCEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA -- Really, the press corps should pay attention to Barack Obama's sustained defense of his energy policies, which includes new language on John McCain's ties to the oil industry. But we're not: we're writing about the flashpoint of the day, which is the McCain campaign's contention that Obama is illegally playing the "race card," of bluffing about bias.

"Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."

Here's their evidence, from Obama's town hall meeting in Springfield yesterday:

So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other Presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky. That's essentially the argument they're making

Obama is trying to associate McCain's disputably tasteful but non-racist characterological attacks with the peripheral below-the-line attacks on Obama's race or cultural otherness.

Now, Obama "doesn't have the typical biography that others do," and he "doesn't come to this the way that others did," says his chief message maven, Robert Gibbs. And that's what Obama means, Gibbs says, when he points to the faceplate of currency.

And McCain's campaign is trying to play the aggrieved victim card, trying to generate the type of outrage that legitimately follows when the "race card" is played illegitimately. Also, by putting on their poker face a day after the Britney/Paris ad, McCain's campaign might be trying to associate criticism of McCain's tactics with the allegedly laid down race card. McCain's aides have been waiting to use this "race card" card for a while, saving it up like one of those Uno Draw Fours.

Republicans on the periphery of the party apparatus use "Barack Hussein Obama" as if Obama was a presidential assassin, and more respectable talk radio hosts use a slightly thinner version of the encomium -- that Obama, with all his mysterious radical friends , is a dangerous, unknown commodity.

And this is undeniably true: Obama's name is unconventional. A good number of white folks in Missouri haven't ever seen a black presidential candidate, much less had to contemplate voting for one.

Stipulating that McCain isn't race-baiting doesn't mean that Obama ought to refrain from recognizing that some people who might be inspired by his message might also be a little wary, a little prejudiced in the way that most of us are, a little confused about what this unusual guy is all about.

McCain isn't race baiting. And campaign operations chief Steve Schmidt has told his communications staff that he will fire any campaign operative on sight who even thinks of trying to exploit racial prejudice. Democrats might be skeptical of this, but there's no evidence to say otherwise.

Now, I didn't go to a four year college NOT to assimilate some lessons about the semiotics of about gender and language. CBS News National Correspondent Dean Reynolds noted yesterday that the McCain campaign accused Obama of reacting to McCain's aggressiveness "with a mix of fussiness and hysteria." Strike me down for noticing, and I usually hate to even think in these terms, but those words have gendered meanings. Reynolds:

It reminded those of us in the political press corps of the "Breck Girl" tag the Republicans stuck on John Edwards, or their slam against John Kerry: "He looks French."

Republican campaigns frequently take this "wimp factor" tack -- even against fellow Republicans. Remember Alexander Haig's critical riposte to then Vice President George H.W. Bush during a debate in 1988. "George," said Haig, "we didn't hear a wimp out of you."

It appears that in the latest rip on Obama's "fussiness and hysteria," the party of Larry Craig and Mark Foley seems to be trying to woo not only the male vote, but the "manly men" substrata therein.

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