Nearly two years of presidential politics are finally coming to an end and it appears John McCain--out of "gimmicks du jour"--has decided to spend much of the final stretch blaming his failing bid on the Republicans' favorite whipping post: the media.
The campaign this week accused the LA Times of protecting Barack Obama because editors insist on honoring promises made to their sources. Late last month the venerable New York Times was in the cross hairs and, before that, campaign manager Rick Davis dubbed as "salacious" the media's vetting of Sarah Palin that so clearly hadn't been done by McCain himself.
In a FOX News interview earlier this month, campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds complained about media scrutiny of "Joe the Plumber"--the newest character in the three-act farce the campaign has become. Of course, McCain's "old buddy Joe" and the veracity of his narrative would have been merely a passing blip on media radar had the campaign not thoughtlessly forced him front-and-center in the final presidential debate as just another prop in their play.
Bounds huffed and puffed about "[Obama's] allies in the media"--otherwise known as journalists doing their job--but in so doing, he forgot McCain has a penchant for throwing otherwise ordinary persons under the bus by not properly vetting their "compelling" narratives before pitching them headfirst into the gladiator arena of national politics. If the campaign had done its job the way journalists are trying to do theirs in this election, the nation never would have heard of Sarah Palin or Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher.
We can hardly fault a struggling campaign for attempting to discredit the media and label them as biased, liberal or "in-the-tank" for Obama. Systematic liberal bias in the mainstream media is a dubious cultural myth, of course, but conservatives have successfully framed political discourse for decades by propagating it among a credulous base. This time, however, it is terribly disingenuous, if not utterly desperate, to denigrate journalists for honoring sources and doing their jobs. With less than a week before the election, complaining about a liberal media bias is as futile a tactic as is it trite. But more importantly, it belies a more significant and insurmountable problem for the campaign: apostate conservatives.
Traditional media conservatives abandoned John McCain like rats deserting a sinking ship. Andrew Sullivan questioned his integrity, Peggy Noonan and Kathleen Parker his judgment. William Kristol advocated McCain fire his entire campaign and start from scratch and even Charles Krauthammer seemed perplexed by his frenetic behavior while admitting Obama passes the Reagan presidential-mettle test. Stinging as those resounding critiques may be, the final nail in the campaign coffin may have been hammered in by endorsements.
Andrew Bacevich endorsed Obama in March and Wick Allison did it in September. Then there were the two iconic Christophers: Hitchins and Buckley, son of National Review founder William F. Buckley who is widely credited as the father of modern conservatism. The nation also heard earlier this month from the Chicago-Tribune, who endorsed a Democrat for president for the first time in the 161-year history of the paper. And this was all before the middle of October. As if it couldn't get any worse for McCain, none other than Colin Powell offered a full-throated, unequivocal and irrefutably measured endorsement of Obama on Meet the Press.
This repudiation by much of the right-of-center punditocracy spells doom for a candidate who was never a darling of conservatives to begin with--particularly among the evangelical right. Has McCain already lost the election? No. There still exists a shrinking possibility for a McCain squeaker, though getting there will be an uphill war (not battle) at this point. But with so many of their own admitting to McCain's inadequacy and his opponent's strengths, Republicans will not be able to blame a mythically liberal media for their failure to energize voters.
I have long considered the specter of a systematically liberal media to be a fable borne of right-wing polemics and paranoia. Invented as a strategy to win elections by fomenting distrust among the electorate, it later became an excuse for Republican failures. And when used to perpetuate a patrician v. plebeian mentality, it's a script perfect for aiding campaigns that win and justifying those that don't.
The Republican party historically casts themselves as the underdog party of Jesus, small government and real American patriotism, claiming to fight for the common man and branding academics and journalists as biased, elitist pigs (instant snobbery, just add education). They then rehash the hackneyed line about liberals and how much better they think they are than the working-class, and the result is a seemingly impervious battleship of electoral dominance.
This year, however--after Republicans beat the drums to an unnecessary war in Iraq and poorly prosecuted another in Afghanistan, after their Reaganomic stewardship led us to the most volatile economy we've seen in 80 years, now that their president has left America's international image and reputation in tatters and they've chosen a hopelessly clueless standard bearer and an impossibly unqualified VP nominee--some harsh reality seeped in and the vessel has started to sink, leaving many heretofore stalwart supporters of this party and this campaign to reverse course or jump ship altogether.
If McCain fails to pull this off on Tuesday, as seems likely to be the case, there will be a lot of blame to be shared by many groups. An imaginary liberal media, however, will not be one of them.
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