Obama, McCain Media Narratives

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Apr 03, 2008 at 11:30


Gallup has an interesting new poll out that asks people who they least want to see elected President and, in a move rarely made by pollsters, why:

When Americans are asked which of the leading candidates left in the race for president they least want to see elected president this year, 40% name John McCain, 36% Hillary Clinton, and 20% Barack Obama.

McCain's lead isn't surprising, given that Republicans split their choices between Clinton and Obama. It is somewhat interesting that Clinton still leads Obama in this category among Republicans, but really, could 20 years of national attacks on Hillary Clinton ever be surpassed by a few months of vicious, national attacks on Obama? For my money, it is the follow-up "why" question for the poll that is really worth a look, since it provides insight into which media narratives are sticking, and which ones are not:

A follow-up question asking respondents for the reasons they least want to see their named candidate elected finds the overwhelming criticism of Obama is his lack of experience. The main rationale for spurning a Clinton presidency is the perception that she is untrustworthy, while the knocks against McCain are threefold: his associations with the Iraq war, with President George W. Bush, and with the Republican Party.

Looking further into the details, it appears that the Muslim smear against Obama is still just as salient than the Rev. Wright stuff. In a multiple response, open-ended follow-up question, 12% of those who said they would least want to see Obama become President listed "Muslim" as a rationale, while 8% listed his religious affiliation and 5% said that he was a racist. Obviously, anyone who thinks that Obama is a Muslim, even after the Rev. Wright story, is both as dumb as rocks and was never going to vote for a Democrat anyway. Further, three times as many people list Obama's "inexperience" (39%) as the major flaw they find in him as list the two potentially Wright connected reasons combined (8% and 5%). And as far as inexperience goes, I don't think that is a big negative, given that it is the line Clinton has more or less ineffectively used against Obama in the primary, and since Americans are hungry for change.

Obama appears to have done an excellent job weathering the Rev. Wright storm, even though it was the sort of attack that would have mortally wounded some other candidates. That he was able to turn the story around with a dramatic speech and make it about a new era of race relations in America is as strong an indication of his ability to handle Republican general election attacks as one will ever get from a candidate in a primary. Obama just faced the sort of attack he will face in the general election campaign, and he weathered it brilliantly. In that sense, the story was actually useful for Obama and Democratic primary voters, since it demonstrated that Obama met an important threshold for a Democratic presidential nominee: the ability to stand up to the Republican Noise Machine. Now, Hillary Clinton isn't the only candidate who can make that claim.

The narratives on McCain are also revealing. McCain is disliked because he is a republican, because he is close with Bush, and because of his views on Iraq. While the main punchline on McCain these days is his age, only 7% of those opposed to McCain listed his age as the main reason. It is essential that the punchline be changed to his views on Iraq and general desire to continue Bush policy. Instead of being portrayed as old, McCain needs to be portrayed as psychotic--the crazy old relative who wants to bomb everything and let God sort 'em out. Instead of being portrayed as a reformer, McCain needs to be portrayed as more Bush during an election when 70% of voters want something new.

The "old" narrative against McCain is insufficient: we need to turn him into a Bush-loving, bomb-Iran, Iraq fo-ev-ah version of Grandpa Simpson. While I love the "Iraq is hurting the economy" line, when it comes to branding McCain, a psychotic Abe Simpson seems to be the way to go.  

Chris Bowers :: Obama, McCain Media Narratives

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A Cross Between Abe Simpson And Monte Burns (0.00 / 0)
Abe Simpson is already psychotic.  Psychotic doesn't necessarily mean violently derainged, or even mean.  It judst means severely detached from reality--which, of course, is Abe's hallmark.  It's like the old saw, "neurotics build dream castles in the air, and psychotics live in them."

No, what we're looking for is Abe's mental chaos crossed with the moral darkness of Monte Burns.

That's the ticket!

That's John McSame!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


I was thinking Burns, too (0.00 / 0)
The McCandidate definitely has that aspect, even though Cheney is so perfectly Burns that it might be hard to really replace him in that.

[ Parent ]
They Are ALL Mr. Burns! (0.00 / 0)
It's a channeling thing, see?

And it's not just Mr. Burns. There's also Cthulhu.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
I was thinking more along the lines of (4.00 / 1)
Cotton from "King of the Hill".  Short.  Mean.  War hungry.  Psychotic.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, Him, Too (0.00 / 0)
Lots of options.

Lots of options.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
joke telling tip.... (0.00 / 0)
the joke is a LOT funnier when you don't give away the punchline in the subject!

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

[ Parent ]
Much as I agree with the "psychotic old man" theme (4.00 / 1)
I don't think using those words will be effective in defining McCain.  Regardless of the precise, clinical, definitions of the words - the public perception of them is at odds with McCain's demeanor (unless he blows his stack in public in a major way - or at least in a way that the M$M will harp on - ala the "Dean Scream".  But leopards rarely change their spots).  Characterizing politicians (unless they are Democrats, or extremists) as lunatics, or raving crazies, or psychotic, can also serve to lower the listener's opinion of those making the claim.  Such should be made with caution - especially when you aren't preaching to the choir, i.e. trying to influence undecided voters.

Rather than using such "hot button" words - I think it may be more effective to characterize McCain's policy veiws as "unrealistic", or "wishful", "not based on reality", etc. On the war issue - tying McCain to the Bush/Cheney legacy of lies and failure will go a long way toward making the case that he's a nut-job without ever having to say it explicitly because many of my fellow Americans (even those that are not on the "left") have begun to realize that Bush/Cheney are quite disjointed from reality.

For example - one can dismiss McCain's acceptance of a 100 year occupation of Iraq as "psychotic" (I happen to agree, too), but attacking that "plan" from a more practical basis - how will he pay for it, how will the military be able to support it - may be more effective because its less inflammatory.  McCain cannot answer a question like: "Which domestic program do you prose defunding in order to pay for the extended occupation of Iraq while cutting taxes?" because his "policies" are not based in the real world where bills must be paid, and "troops" are actual human beings.  But, neither can he brush it off because the questioner called him "psychotic".

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


Agreed (4.00 / 1)
Better to characterize him as "out of touch".  That was a devastating criticism of GHW Bush in 1992, when he didn't seem to be familiar with a supermarket scanner.  It made him seem out of touch during a recession, and was one of the things that killed him.  I think McCain is vulnerable in the same way.  Plus, his complete ignorance of most aspects of domestic policy are an Achilles heel in a recession.

That's the key to me--out of time, out of touch.  Iraq is the icing here because it will reinforce the out-of-touchness (and, frankly, not-interestedness) on domestic issues.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.


[ Parent ]
"Living in the Past" (0.00 / 0)
Will probably work too.  here we get a two'fer, because he is still stuck in the Vietnam Era (worked well for Kerry) and refighting old battles, plus he is too old to care as much about the future.  That ought to work with young people--vote for a person who has a stake in your future becauase he will share it with you.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
McSame (4.00 / 6)
Being embedded in a red state, with many red relatives and acquaintances I've gotten some practice at dealing with people who want to make a big deal out of Rev. Wright. What's been effective for me is not to try to defend Wright but to instead pivot to McCain.

The basic pivot is to ask if they really believe that Obama hates white people and whether Obama's preacher outweighs the fact that John McCain is for endless war in Iraq and is for starting a war with Iran.

"You mean to tell me that Obama's preacher would make you vote for a man who sang "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran and who said that he'd be happy to be in Iraq for a hundred years?????  McCain is Bush all over again with a few different wrinkles!! McCain would dismantle Social Security and get us into war with Iran and you want to talk about a rowdy preacher!!!"

The above has generally caused a look of consternation and of puzzlement. I often follow that up with the point that Republicans are always inviting you to consider some supposedly decisive character flaw in Democratic candidates because they really really don't want you to consider the issues that matter.  


Good Approach (4.00 / 1)
And, you know, if they just have to come back around to Wright again, you can always bring up McCain flip-flopping on the Confederate flag back in South Carolina during the 2000 primary.  First he called it "a symbol of racism and slavery", then he called it "a symbol of heritage."

Then you can say something like, "Which would you rather have?  Someone who knows people who are somewhat confused about race and racism, or someone who is actively engaged in sowing confusion about race and racism"?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
That's reassuring (0.00 / 0)
Nice to see that people dislike McCain for relatively substantive reasons, and not stupid nonsense like "he has a black baby" or something.

This makes me feel better about the possibility that Obama can win on a referendum on the Iraq War, and won't have to settle for a 50+1 strategy.


I see McCain (0.00 / 0)
as a crotchety old man with a bad memory

But How (0.00 / 0)
does that distinguish him from the rest of the GOP?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
the poll numbers on age will go up for McCain, (0.00 / 0)
I'm guessing people will be pretty startled the first time they see John McCain & Barack Obama on stage for the first debate...   a young, tanned & handsome man vs the limping and broken old codger.   I'll make a prediction here that McCain will ask the moderator to repeat a question at least once during the debates (his hearing is totally shot and those ear aides don't always do the perfect job.)

The biggest danger of McCain that we must adress is (0.00 / 0)
his claim to be bipartisan. Now, everyone has heard of McCain-Feingold or McCain-Lieberman some bill or other that supposedly maverickly defies the flatearth Republican brand.

Its a myth.

This is his greatest strength against (the also running as bipartisan) Obama, he'll just say "kid, I was passing bipartisan legislation when you were in preschool" and Obama needs to prepare for this with the truth about that supposed bipartisan record.

An example: most Independants wrongly think he is ok on global warming. As good as a Democrat. Wrong! In fact he put his name with Lieberman on the very worst and most toothless of the climate/green energy bills last year, to dilute the various bills to the max, then did not show up to vote!

The truth about this record is what we need to googlebomb into the factosphere: he may get his name on bipartisan legislation but he does not vote for it.

You think congress was stuck in Washington gridlock last year with Bush vetoing our every piece of legislation?
Well McCain is already vetoing our Democratic bills! Even the ones with his name on them!

John McCain vetoes every Environmental Bill already.


that's funny (0.00 / 0)
Obviously, anyone who thinks that Obama is a Muslim, even after the Rev. Wright story, is both as dumb as rocks and was never going to vote for a Democrat anyway.

Not to depress people, but that made me think of when Lieberman pulled the "Nobody wants to end the war more than I do" bit - what Sirota calls the Iraq Blurring Strategy. Lieberman was just able to avoid getting tagged with the Bush failure aura. Of course he did this by targeting conservatives and independents and largely doing so with the less engaged low information voters... who are the ones that might still walk into a voting booth believing that Obama is a Muslim with a crazy black separatist Christian preacher. It's almost a dual Heisenberg uncertainty + Colbert certainty thing - it doesn't have to be logical that Lieberman is simultaneously for/against ending the war or that Obama is a simultaneous Muslim/Christian... what counts is that you feel it in your gut that both are true at the same time.  

"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."
-Lawrence Summers


Forget the age thing. (4.00 / 2)
Smearing a whole contingent of Dem supporters as doddering incompetents is not the way to win an election. It's justifiably seen as simply mean spirited and desperate. If anything, Dems are supposed to be on the old peoples' side, not dissing them every chance they get. Besides, people knew Reagan was a wacky old fool but still liked him (for reasons that entirely escape me).

The effective attack is pretty simple: we have a real choice this time around: real change or more Bush. We can stay another 100 years in Iraq with McCain until the blood of our young and all our national wealth has drained away to the Middle East, or we can find new ways to win peace and justice. We can let Wall Street gamblers subvert our economy or we can return the national wealth to the people who really create it. We can continue to allow a corrupt Republican Party to steal from the 95 percent to give their money and their rights to the top 5 percent, or we can learn from Teddy Roosevelt and FDR that real national strength starts with a level playing field.  

And so on.


Somewhat disagree (0.00 / 0)
We older folks are acutely conscious of how we are losing our faculties, such as hearing, or at least how friends and associates are, and aren't necessarily more favorably disposed towards someone in his 70s.  Coupled with his position on Social Security, it is still potent.  It just has to be done with some sensitivity.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
But... (0.00 / 0)
"[older folks] aren't necessarily more favorably disposed towards someone in his 70s."

I didn't mean to suggest that his age is an advantage. But if a kid like Obama and his merry band of blogogeeks appears to be attacking on the basis of age, that will change. People of advanced years -- as it's said in Spanish -- may be aware of declining faculties, but they sure as hell don't want to hear that they, irrespective of their individual abilities, can no longer do anything important or difficult. The examples to the contrary are too plentiful to even list.

The age attack is poison. It should be absolutely avoided and disavowed. Besides, McCain would have been no better a choice 30 years ago, so the attack is not only mean spirited but dishonest.


[ Parent ]
Agreed - dissing McCain on the basis of his age (0.00 / 0)
is a bit like dissing Clinton on the basis of gender, or Obama on the basis of race.

Hitting him at his strength it a better approach - and his age is not a strength.  That's why taking him down on the maverick/reformer image is critical.  Same for taking him on with regard to his supposed national security strength.  Its fine to talk tough and spin out nationalistic hyperbole - but somehow, you've got to pay for it; somehow you've got to be able to show that you have the military personnel to implement those grandiose plans.  He has positioned himself as an anti-Rumsfeldian - but with the resources to back up his war-mongering rhetoric - he has de facto accepted Rummy's position - we'll go to war with the (broken) military that we have, not the one required.

Besides - it isn't like one needs to hunt around for ways to point out McCain's flaws.  He has already made numerous gaffes on tape - from saying that he's confused by economics, through singing "bomb Iran", to stumbling over the religious affiliation of Al-Qaida.

The only place his advanced age is an issue is in his choice for VP and that's pretty minor in my book.



"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
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