09/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Friday Talking Points [44] -- McCain House Party!

John McCain said something ridiculous to a reporter yesterday.

I hasten to point out that the previous sentence should have been a major media headline at least twice a week for the past three or four months. McCain has been saying downright ridiculous stuff throughout the entire campaign and the media, up until now, has largely given him a free pass on it.

But I'm certainly not looking this gift horse in the mouth. For weeks now, I have been practically begging someone -- ANYone -- to ask John McCain this exact question: "How many houses do you and your wife own?" Politico finally asked. John McCain blew the answer. Yet another gaffe from McCain, but the difference this time is that the media chose to run with it.

Politico was probably prompted to ask this question by a Big Labor effort to point out how wealthy the McCains truly are. This effort, led by the SEIU, the AFL/CIO, and Brave New Films, got the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award here just last week, I should mention. It seems their efforts have now paid off handsomely.

Now, sober and intelligent people will bemoan how trivial the media is when it comes to vetting our possible presidents. They're probably right, but (as Don Rumsfeld would say) we go to an election with the media we have, not the media we would like to have. The media, in general, love what they consider a "good story." This means that they're usually for the "underdog" in the race, rather than the "frontrunner," because then the race remains close... breeding further "good stories." And they have been running with the "Obama can't 'seal the deal'" story for weeks now (ignoring the story that he has led in the polls the entire time), so they're ready for a new storyline. "Obama fights back" fits the bill perfectly.

You can almost hear the McCain advisors telling him "Obama's about to pick his running mate, and then there's the convention, so this story will die out after a day or two -- don't worry about it." But while they are doubtlessly telling him that in private, they have been going absolutely bonkers in public. Because they realize full well the damage this can do to McCain. They have been spooked into prematurely "tossing the kitchen sink" at Obama, with everything they can possibly think of (Tony Rezko, eating arugula, vacationing on a "private beach" in Hawaii even though they're all public, and even rumors of the return of Reverend Wright). All this while defending McCain as having "really only four" houses, while Obama's one house is a "frickin' mansion." Oh, and playing the "prisoner of war" card with a vengeance.

But the media, fickle as they are, don't seem to be buying any of what the McCain folks are selling. Perhaps it's because McCain has all but shut them out, after his new campaign team (with the Karl Rove Seal of Approval) decided to deny them access to the candidate. The media is even pushing back on the "POW" references now -- something that would have been unthinkable mere weeks ago. USA Today shows how much the dynamic in the media has changed in the past two days:

McCain, who has portrayed Obama as an elitist, is the son and grandson of admirals. The Associated Press estimates his wife, a beer heiress, is worth $100 million. Obama was raised by a single mother who relied at times on food stamps, and went to top schools on scholarships and loans.

So the McCain campaign is reduced to screaming "Rezko Rezko Rezko!" while nobody's paying attention. The desperation quote of the week from the McCain team comes from an interview with the Washington Post yesterday:

[McCain spokesman Brian] Rogers called the house story "by far the most personal attack" of the campaign...

Um, yeah. If you've been in a "cone of silence" since 2006! Is he serious? The "most personal attack" of the entire campaign is pointing out how many houses the McCains own? Wow. Rogers goes on to show Obama how this personal-attack stuff should be done, calling him Obama an "arugula-eating, pointy headed professor-type." But remember, mentioning how many houses the McCains own is far more "personal" than that.

Or something. Sometimes it is hard figuring out how Republicans think, I have to admit.

But their hopes that this story is going to die down after a few days is what is truly delusional. Obama has been weak among blue-collar whites, especially in Appalachia, and especially in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. And this issue is absolutely tailor-made... whoops, "tailor-made" might be elitist... let me try again... this issue absolutely hits them where they live. Yes, that's much better! So don't expect it to go away any time soon. Two days into the fracas, Obama has his second ad up on the subject. He doesn't appear to be backing down from the issue at all, which is a very welcome sign.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

This week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to a group effort by Senator Barack Obama's War Room. These guys were really starting to make me nervous the past few weeks (even earning them the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award in Friday Talking Points [42], two weeks ago), since while they seemed able to rise to McCain's attacks at times (and other times fell far short), the main complaint I had was the time it took them to get their act in gear. A McCain ad would appear, and days and days would go by before the Obama camp fought back.

This is a sure way to lose a campaign. Bill Clinton set the gold standard for War Room response rates in 1992, as every time something negative came out about Clinton (most famously the "bimbo eruptions"), the Clinton camp would -- within the hour -- be choking news reporters' fax machines with rebuttals, fact sheets, truth-checking data, and other tidbits the reporters could use -- in the same news cycle the bad news broke in. This helped derail the attacks, and forced reporters to present "both sides of the story" right as the news was breaking.

This time around, however, the Obama folks got it right. From a USA Today article:

Politico asked McCain "how many houses do you and Mrs. McCain have," and the political news website published his answer ("I think -- I'll have my staff get to you") at about 6:30 a.m. ET. By midday the Obama campaign had made a TV ad, slated events in 16 states, circulated audio of the response and posted a YouTube video of Obama calling the remark proof of McCain's "gap of understanding" between his world and the real world.

Now that is most decidedly more like it! You have to own the news cycle on this stuff, and Obama's crew nailed it this time. For such lightning-fast response times -- to a gaffe that was just asking to be pounced on -- Obama's War Room gets their first ever Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Let's keep up the good work, folks!


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

There seems to be some question of whether Joe Lieberman is still a Democrat or not. Or maybe it's just the mainstream media being lazy, I'm not sure.

Lieberman's name was run up the flagpole as a possible running mate for John McCain this week, and I saw (on more than one instance) national broadcast network news refer to him as "a Democrat" or "a registered Democrat." Funny, I thought he was now in the party of "Joe Liebermans for Joe Lieberman" or something, but I'm going to take the networks' word for it... because it allows me to award him his third Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

He really should get "most disappointing for the entire year" -- for breaking his promise to his constituents (made during his last campaign) that he would campaign for the Democratic nominee for president. This, as anyone can tell who has seen a single photo of John McCain in the past four or five months (with Lieberman surgically attached at the hip), was a big fat lie.

But he gets the award this week in specific for agreeing to speak at the Republican National Convention. Joe should just go ahead and become a Republican after the election, because if there is any justice in the universe (Harry Reid, I'm talking to you!), then Lieberman will be stripped of all his seniority in the Senate next year.

The Associated Press got it right with their little Freudian slip this week, calling him:

"...Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential prick in 2000 who now is an independent."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Ahem.

So Joe Lieberman, who knows no shame, gets a third Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Senator Lieberman on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions, although it really wouldn't be polite to use the same language the AP used....]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 44 (8/22/08)

Since I won't be going to the Democratic National Convention next week (the DNCC turned down my request for a press credential... go figure...), I am magnanimously offering some suggestions for all good Democrats who will be attending. This week's talking points can be used by anybody who steps in front of a television camera during the convention, or by anyone giving a speech from the podium.

Of course, we're going to lean rather heavily on the whole McCain "housing crisis," since it opens up all sorts of avenues (like this amusing image from the DNC) to portray John McCain (and Republicans at large) as "out-of-touch elitists," which they so richly deserve (pun intended).

Feel free to suggest your own talking points for the convention... with bonuses given for whittling them down to something that would fit on a bumpersticker!



   John McCain is a joke

This is one of those times I'm really sorry Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live are all on vacation. Because it is a truism that when you become the butt of late-night comedians' jokes, you have absolutely lost the "framing" battle.

Stepping into this void are two enterprising folks from the Huffington Post. John K. Wilson riffs on Jeff Foxworthy's bit with his "If You're John McCain, You Might Be A Rich Guy" list, and RJ Eskow weighs in with his list of "John McCain's Got a Lot of Houses" jokes. The funniest from these (both of which are worth reading in full) are at the top of the talking points list this week.

"If your annual expenses for servants are five times the median income per person in America, you might be a rich guy."

"Know what else? John McCain doesn't know if any of his houses share a border with Pakistan."

"Hey, John McCain can't remember how many houses he has! It's not his fault, though. He had the number written down but he left it in his other plane."



   Charles Keating. The Keating Five. Did I mention Charles Keating?

McCain's team has announced that "the gloves are now off" (were they ever on?) and that Tony Rezko is now fair game for them to use against Obama (was he ever not, in their opinion?). Luckily, there's a convicted felon in John McCain's past, and in Cindy McCain's past real estate deals, as well. His name should be repeated every chance you get in the next week.

"Tony Rezko? I'm sorry, for a moment there I thought I heard you asking a question about Charles Keating! You remember the Keating Five scandal, don't you? When John McCain was accused of corruption on behalf of his buddy Charles Keating? And those real estate deals Cindy McCain had with Keating? Oh, excuse me, that should really be 'convicted felon Charles Keating,' shouldn't it? Amazing how many times we've heard the media talk about Tony Rezko, without Charles Keating's name coming up once, isn't it?"



   Michelle and Barack trust each other with their money

Cindy McCain still hasn't released her full tax returns to the press. This should be seen as the next phase of this debate, and should be hit hard in the next week, by everyone who has the chance. There is no better way to paint the McCains as out-of-touch elitists than this issue.

"Why won't Cindy McCain allow America to see her tax returns? What is she hiding? Why does she file separately from her husband? Don't they trust each other with their money? Barack and Michelle file jointly, as a married couple, and they've released their tax returns for all to see. Cindy McCain must be hiding something -- maybe just how filthy rich she is, or maybe something else -- who knows?"



   Country-club Republicans

Barack Obama's second ad has an excellent phrase in it: "country club economics." Shove this one in to the hilt, and use it to define the whole party, not just McCain:

"I think middle-class Americans are getting pretty tired of country-club Republicans trying to pass themselves off as 'regular folks' and 'Country Club McCain' is just one example of that. If you ask hard-working American voters, I think they'd tell the Republicans to take that baloney back to their country clubs, because they'll be voting for the guy who hasn't had everything handed to him on a silver platter in life."



   McCain loves tax cuts for millionaires

The key to this one is the word "millionaires." Rinse and repeat, as they say.

"Of course John McCain is for tax cuts for millionaires. But that's about it -- most of his tax cuts (which are really the George W. Bush tax cuts) go to millionaires like himself. Barack Obama is for a $1,000 tax cut for middle-class taxpayers, and McCain's plan only gives them a tiny fraction of this amount. Republicans are always for cutting taxes on millionaires, but Republican tax cuts never seem to make it down to the middle class. Obama's plan guarantees middle class tax cuts, and will also end the special treatment for millionaires Bush wrote into the tax code."



   Million-dollar condo for the McCain kids to play at the beach.

This one is just priceless (so to speak). Hmm... priceless... this could easily be turned into a MasterCard spoof commercial, now that I think about it. This one is so good, it's worth writing John and Cindy McCain's words down on an index card, just in case you get the chance to use it.

"At the same time John McCain was telling the American people (quote) 51 million homeowners are doing what's necessary: working at second jobs, skipping a vacation, and managing their budgets to make their payments on time (unquote) out on the campaign trail, Cindy McCain was buying a second condo at the beach. Seems the one the McCains had wasn't big enough for the whole family. I wish I were making this up, but I'm not. Cindy said, in an interview where she talks about buying a second multi-million dollar condo in the same place, (quote) When I bought the first one, my husband, who is not a beach person, said, 'Oh, this is such a waste of money; the kids will never go.' Then it got to the point where they used it so much I couldn't get in the place. So I bought another one. (unquote) The elitism in that statement is just flat-out stunning. In the first place, how many wives would say 'I bought' some real estate? Every single married person I know would say 'we bought' instead. Secondly, life must really be so tough out on the campaign trail for the McCains that they just can't survive with only one multi-million dollar condo, but instead have to have a separate one for the kids. Must be nice to be so out-of-touch with the reality most Americans are facing."



   Cindy even lied about Mother Teresa

Cindy McCain has had to take some recipes she plagiarized off her husband's campaign website already this year. But now it appears McCain's campaign had to go back and correct the story of how she adopted a child -- something you'd think she could remember accurately. Unless she were manipulating the story to make it sound better, of course. Where have we heard that before on the campaign trail (you can't see it, but I'm ducking from sniper fire as I type this), hmmm?

"Earlier in this campaign, Cindy McCain told the story of how Mother Teresa herself talked Cindy into adopting a Bangladeshi orphan. Now, the fact comes out that Mother Teresa was actually in Mexico at the time. Whoops! Maybe you should ask her about that the next time you interview her, what do you think? Check with the Christian Science Monitor, because the McCain campaign website has already scrubbed the story from their pages."


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground