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A Campaign Without Ideas

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Posted on Sep 11, 2008

By Eugene Robinson

    There was a time when Republicans campaigned on their ideas, programs and values. This year—lacking ideas, programs or values—John McCain and Sarah Palin are running for the White House on an elaborate fictional narrative of victimhood. Their supposed persecutors are Democrats and the news media, and the aim of this whole charade is to keep Americans from talking about ideas, programs and values.

    Every day, the McCain campaign brays anew with over-the-top indignation at “the outrageous attacks” on Palin’s family. The McCain people don’t cite specifics, because there are no specifics to cite. What newsworthy Democrat has ventured any personal criticism of Palin or any member of her family? What serious news outlet has done any such thing?

    I hear McCain’s amen chorus screaming, “Lipstick on a pig! Lipstick on a pig!” But they’re well aware that Obama was unambiguously talking about McCain’s economic ideas, not his running mate. It seems incomprehensible that the McCain campaign would make so much noise about an allegation that clearly doesn’t hold a drop of water—until you realize that the noise is the whole point.

    As long as people are talking about barnyard beauty tips, they’re not talking about substance. Any day spent arguing about meaningless ephemera is a small but significant victory for a campaign that has nothing to say.

    It’s not in McCain’s interest to talk about the 46 million Americans who don’t have medical insurance; Obama has a plan to get most of them covered, while McCain promises a modest tax credit and his best wishes for good health. It’s not in McCain’s interest to talk about the economy; Obama wants to renew our sense of shared enterprise and responsibility, while McCain is happy to stick with the Republican philosophy of “I’ve got mine, suckers.” It’s not in McCain’s interest to talk seriously about the occupation of Iraq; Obama was prescient in calling for a withdrawal date, while McCain outdoes even George W. Bush in insisting that our troops stay where they are no longer even wanted.

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    The most important fact about the political landscape this year is that 80 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that McCain’s only chance of winning is to obscure the fact that on the issues voters most care about, he essentially proposes to stay the course.

    So McCain stopped talking about experience and started echoing Obama’s mantra of change, change, change. No one is supposed to remember that when he was courting his party’s conservative base he bragged that in his Senate votes he supported Bush 90 percent of the time. Only the party faithful are supposed to be mindful of the fact that McCain is, like Bush, an actual Republican.

    Running for and against one’s party at the same time is not an easy trick to pull off, however. The contradiction is too big to hide—it’s like a huge, lipstick-smeared Yorkshire boar wallowing in the middle of the room. At some point, people are going to notice it unless you draw their attention elsewhere.

    That’s the function of the McCain campaign’s daily screams of feigned outrage. Creating the false impression that Democrats and journalists are unfairly attacking Palin serves another purpose as well: It helps create the impression that legitimate and necessary questions about her record—such as her one-time support for the Bridge to Nowhere or her history of seeking the congressional earmarks she now claims to reject—are somehow out of bounds.

    To mix things up, sometimes the campaign pretends that McCain is the one being persecuted—for his age, usually. It’s all just noise, intended to drown out meaningful debate.

    If you scream bloody murder every day, however, people eventually stop taking you seriously. News stories about the lipstick remark stated forthrightly that the McCain people were misrepresenting what Obama had said. At some point, these tactical lamentations become not worth reporting at all.

    And there will be at least four key moments when the McCain-Palin campaign will be unable to avoid the issues. Obama and McCain will hold three debates; Palin and Joe Biden will hold one. The television audience for these encounters is expected to be enormous, perhaps the biggest ever.

    Americans will be presented with a straightforward question. Do they want a Republican in the White House for four more years, continuing to take the country in the same direction? Or not?
     
    Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
   
    © 2008, Washington Post Writers Group


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By Jess Bart-Williams, September 12, 2008 at 8:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This has to be the 10th article I’ve seen on “not reporting the issues.”  How about covering campaign issues instead of complaining about not covering campaign issues?  Or is that the latest shade of lipstick?

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By Jim Yell, September 12, 2008 at 5:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is a big difference between Patriotism and Militarism. Unfortunately a large part of the population apparently doesn’t know the difference.

Maybe they will figure it out when there is an armed soldier on every street corner.

Does that mean that I don’t think we need an effective military? No, unfortunately we need a well behaved, a well trained, a well paid and compensated military. It is the lest we can do as a country for people willing to go to battle when necessary.

Unfortunately we have had most of 8 years of an administration that refuses to be responsible, uses the military as it it were a private militia and a congress that can not take a stand against militarism, because they aren’t willing to say there is a difference between defence of the country and militarism.

McCain wants to hide behind his having been a very abused POW. He deserves consideration for his service in the military, but he does not deserve the Presidency because of this service. If he wants to be President he must have some program beside enriching the already obscenely rich and letting labor starve. He has no program except to see himself sworn into office.

We are just finishing eight years of a President who did the same thing and we are on the verge of bankruptcy, economic collapse, and a collapse of civil society.

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By Shenonymous, September 12, 2008 at 5:31 am Link to this comment

What the media needs to do is to ask George Bush how he likes his years in office and his administration being crapped on by McCain and Palin?  I think it is hysterical that they are doing that job for the Democrats so superbly.  Oh yeah. All Obama has to do is to remind the public and the media to listen to Bush’s own party and their candidates to hear how his administration and years in office has been an abortion, uh, better watch that word… has been a malformed monstrosity and that THEY need to CHANGE it.  Oh yeah.  Isn’t that the most laughable situation we have had in years?  I mean I wish George Carlin were still alive to hear that one.  He must be rolling over in his grave laughing.  Well we will do it for him. Oh yeah.

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By jackpine savage, September 12, 2008 at 5:09 am Link to this comment

The Obama campaign needs to run this ad:

A clip of McCain calling the media “his base”, and then a clip of McCain’s recent complaints of media bias.  And then something to the effect of, “If John McCain’s base questions his decision making skills…”

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By Shenonymous, September 12, 2008 at 4:27 am Link to this comment

Hardly a goddess, someone without any valid credentials for national leadership let alone the world.  But then deification is what you want this office to be and obvious what you want Palin to represent.  Perhaps you enjoy bowing and kissing ass, oops I mean ring, but I’d bet the rest of Americans do not.  I get cramps just thinking about doing it.  This office only lasts a maximum of eight years if reelection occurs.  It is not the royal position imagined and never will be.  This country was founded on anti-royalist propositions and rights.  Lest you forget.  If you want to give up your freedoms then go ahead and vote for McCain/Palin.  The godless (uh, goddessless) constitution gives you that right.  Dripping sexuality? what a laugh.  Is that what you go to bed to do, have wet dreams?  Is that what you think politics of the world is all about, romantic wildness, a woman with a nuclear bomb in her hands (ala the neo-huntress),  what a crock.  Get a grip.  This kind of mythologizing is the most bull crap I’ve heard yet on this site.  A cartoon if ever there was one.  Just the kind that the nazis dreamed up.  Talk about reality!  Be careful where you walk, the sh*t is very deep around you.  Or maybe it is just in your mind?

Obama is principled and will bring the rational kind of change absolutely needed for this country and bring some reason back to running it.  The last eight years has been a nightmare and even the Republicans are seeing that with the daily aspersions being cast by McCain’s campaign against George Bush’s attempt at being the “baron” but who is being sacrificed on the funeral pyre of failed politics.  That is the result of imagined hero worship.  It is retribution for the common man!

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By Purple Girl, September 12, 2008 at 3:38 am Link to this comment

Palin is not the Lipstick, nor intellegent enough to be callled a Pig. Far more accurately Palin is a Housefly wearing lipstick. She was bore from the maggots of the Neo Cons realm of the Republican party. Her personal ambitions make her hang around Garbage and Shit. She Buzzes around landing on issues of national interest only to vomit and crap on them. “Lipstick on a Pig”- that was a compliment!
She has no idea what the VP does, she has no concept of Fannie & Freddie, she lies about her conncetion to big Oil, Her ‘Bridge to No where’, Her allegience to the USA (Successionist),and even her ‘Mommy’credentials are in serious contention (endangered that childs life on the day he was born!Attempting her Own Late term Abortion?), her level of ‘Compassion’ only extends to the end of a rifle barrel as she shoots wolves from a plane!Her Faith has the audacity to hold that the ‘End of times ’ is near…What kind of Domestic & international Policies can come from such a short sighted futurist. She beleives in War as ‘God’s Plan’- What kind of ‘Christian’ dare assume to know Gods Plan. What kind of ‘Christian’ dare place God on THEIR timetable. What kind of ‘Christian’ want to see the majority of mankind destroyed so that THEY may be ‘Raptured’ .What knd of ‘Christian’ uses the Jewish Faithfuls for their own nefarious agenda? What kind of ‘Chrisitans’ are these…Ones who have no faith in the ‘Almighty’- so they have to take Charge of the Stratedgy. Ones who feel the ‘Almighty ’ needs a nodge or help from mere mortals. Ones who Hold their Idol Jesus above all others, Including God (they aren’t waiting for God to descend nor pass Judgement- they Now call this Deity Jesus- Idolatry!And placing THEIR Idol Above Even God ( Jesus SON OF GOD)- 1st commandment.Who think there is a * after ‘Thou shall not kill’ condoning ‘Holy’ Wars and murder.Those who think ‘Coveting you neighbors’ Oil is also exempt.
Frankly considering Palins political action and policies, Her personal Actions and Priorities and Her Religious ideologies and possible actions..I gotta wonder WHO Palin actually serves.
Her Politics serves Corp powers, above & beyond the needs of her yet Unborn child (reason she failed to seek immediate medical attention when her water broke- she was giving a speech to Big Oil).The Arrogance of her ‘Faith’ is far more akin to serving One who requires Humans to Do IT’s dirty work because IT is far too weak and Powerless. One who is Unable to Create, but is elated by Mass destruction.
By all accounts this ‘Faith’ guides her in her Public & Private life and decisions.This religion where people speak in a ‘Tongue’ no creation of God can understand- thus perhaps it is not a ‘Tongue’ of God’s making.
It is time All who are Truely Faithful come out against these Deceivers hiding behind a Holy Book-Proponents of Destruction and NOT creation.That “Love Thy Neighbor” means all of Humankind, and that Gov’t/Corps who fail to follow that credo in their Business Stratedgies are an abomination to Man & God.Gov’t and Industry ARE mere TOOLS for Humankind- developed and maintained BY and FOR US!
It’s time Real Pro lifers explain that it denotes ALL Of LIFE - not just 9 months in a Human Females uterus!

Palin is not just Unqualified, a liar and a fraud- she is a National (and international)Security threat on the Grounds of her Religious Doctrine which appears to attract only the arrogant and Hateful to serve the Jealous and Weak ‘Fallen One’!

Ok I’ll Say it ...These ‘End of Dayers’ these ‘Armegeddon’ facilitators, these ‘Rapture’ self anointed ‘Special’ ones are SATAN WORSHIPPERS!

I see God when i look into the eyes of a new born Foal- Sarah Sees God in a New oil Pipe line!

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By writeon, September 12, 2008 at 12:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think we’ve moved into the post-democratic era. What this means is that politics and issues don’t matter all that much anymore. It they did they’ed probably be banned, but the next best thing is to make them ‘irrelevant’.

The President has become an icon, or a symbolic, human representation of those values we most cherish. In some ways the president has become a kind of ‘God’ manifest on earth. Up until a couple of centuries ago kings were regarded as individuals annointed by God, the devine right of kings to rule wasn’t seen a joke, but taken deadly seriously, people fought wars over this central issue.

I believe the president is evolving into this kind of figure in our culture. Palin is a Goddess who epitomizes what many of us would like to be in our dreams; beutiful, brave, wild, a huntress, at home in nature, strong, dripping sexuality, fertile…

This extraordinary ‘fairytale’ is so powerful and so dangerous, as we move step by step away from harsh reality and choose a fantasy figure to lead us towards what exactly? Towards an illusion, an image of the world, we would like to be true, but deep down we know isn’t real. It’s a fantasy.

But is Obama the kind of politician who has the convinction and strength to shake people out of this daydream? I don’t think so. Eventually reality bites back hard and forces us to open our eyes to the world around us, unfortunately, the road to this enlightenment is often paved with suffering, hardship and destruction.

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By Shenonymous, September 12, 2008 at 12:34 am Link to this comment

That is the big question.  Why is it the Republican party is allowing McCain to attack the Bush administration’s 8 year history as so dreadful and needing change.  It seems as if they are claiming to have invented the word change themselves!  While we all know the Bush administration for eight years has been the most abominable and atrocious this country has ever had, is it completely unbalanced and deranged that the candidate of their own party depreciates and condemn it to the huge degree it is now doing.  What is really going on here?

Why is George Bush allowing McCain and company to derogate and belittle all of his policies.  This hypocritical condemnation is a diversion for the reality that underlies what is going on.  And what is going on is an attempt to fool the public into thinking that McCain will be a different Republican, more like the Democrats that are now more popular with their unyielding program of change. 

The deceit is truly amazing to let Bush be the sacrificial lamb on the altar of the Republican agenda which is a war on human rights, that has eaten away at constitutional rights that guarantee rights of the average American, gnawed at social programs for the middle class and underprivileged, fiscal irresponsibility that slants everything to the rich, erosion of social justice, low taxes for the rich and no support for the poor who do all the backbreaking labor.  Proof of their agenda is found in the all legislative products of Republicans in Congress that have whittled away at common American social programs or in a constant attempt to grind down funding for the programs that would advocate for a strong middle class and provide means for the poor to grow out of their impoverished means for a moderately decent life.  The Republicans are engaged in a ghoulish Medea Supper of George Bush.

Personally I find it a fitting end to Bush’s regime that he be eaten by his own tribe.

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By Caryl S. Foster, September 12, 2008 at 12:30 am Link to this comment

Eugene,

Thanks for calling a pig a pig whether or not it wears lipstick. The politics of distraction is an art form elevated to the highest level by the masters of this lowest art….Karl Rove Disciples.

How ironic that Rovians have been hired by Senator McCain to do the same thing against Senator Obama in 2008 that they did on behalf of George Bush against Senator McCain in 2000.

I take that back. Not ironic but truly sad that Senator McCain disrespects himself by employing the same people who destroyed his first presidential campaign for the express purpose of having them use the same unethical tactics as part of his vain attempt to win his second run at the Presidency.

Well Senator McCain, sorry to say as it worked against you in 2000, it will work against you in 2008.

We Expected Better Senator McCain!

Caryl

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