Wednesday, November 05, 2008

One Recrimination and Three Things to Watch

Now that the McCain campaign has lost, the long knives and finger pointing have begun. Ya know something? It's been less than 24 hours and I don't suspect that anyone really gives a rat's ass who is to blame. It doesn't change the result.

I am going to offer only one recrimination, because I think it speaks to the larger problem that Republicans have to overcome. John McCain made one absolutely crucial mistake in this campaign, which was this: he accepted the framing of the debate that the MSM and the Obama campaign offered and spent the entire election arguing on their terms.

A pertinent example of how this played out -- McCain and his handlers let people who didn't support Sarah Palin create the narrative for her portion of the campaign. Why, precisely, were the interviews with Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric so consequential? Because the McCain campaign let them be. We could see what was coming. We had every reason to know that the networks would edit Palin's responses in an unflattering manner. This is standard procedure. But instead of putting Palin out there more frequently, on local channels, or on cable interviews, or with talk radio broadcasters, they accepted the self-appointed role of the the MSM.

Another example -- since Obama didn't want to talk about Jeremiah Wright, and the MSM didn't either, McCain dutfully pulled it from the table. Well, considering the central role that Rev. Wright has played in the President-elect's life, it sure the heck seemed like it shouldn't have been off limits. I can only assume that McCain didn't want to be accused of doing something dishonorable or racist. Well, he faced those accusations anyway. Would this association have made a difference? We'll never know. Meanwhile, a 527 rushed out a Wright ad in the last week of the campaign, and I was treated last night to watching Tom Brokaw and David Axelrod discussing how dishonorable the McCain campaign was for running the ad, even though it hadn't. If you're going to get blamed anyway, there's no good reason to keep your powder dry.

The next Republican candidate will have options. And the option I'd recommend is to go over the heads of the MSM. Take your message directly to the people, whether it's over the internet, through alternative media outlets or on television spots. Your message may not get to the general audience unscathed, but you can reach the audiences who are receptive to your message and make sure they hear it without mediation.

Now, three quick things to watch in the coming days:

  • The fate of Patrick Fitzgerald. I have written about this issue a number of times in the past and it still matters. I don't harbor any dreams that somehow Tony Rezko is going to turn state's evidence and send Obama to the federal pen. But cleaning up politics in Illinois matters greatly. Patrick Fitzgerald is working on getting the information needed to prosecute the corrupt governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. He's also working on matters that could eventually point all the way back to the real power in Illinois, which is in the mayor's office. Obama could pretty easily protect his pals. He has pledged not to get rid of Fitzgerald. If he does, you'll learn something pretty ugly about the new Leader of the Free World.

  • The early hires. The first pick out of the box is not a good one -- it's Rahm Emanuel, the former Clinton hand and current congressman/button man, for Obama's chief of staff. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this guy has the potential to be an H.R. Haldeman type. Obama needs an effective, cool-headed executive in this role. Bill Clinton to his credit chose Leon Panetta, who was exactly the right sort of guy. Obama doesn't need a hot-headed, take no prisoners partisan. But that is who he has hired. It doesn't send the right message. I'll be watching the next few choices closely. They will tell you a lot about how Obama will govern.

  • Watch the lame duck session closely. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will certainly feel emboldened and they are likely to try to get a head start on the next four years in the upcoming lame duck session, with the first order of business being another "stimulus" package that will be a festival of pork. Obama could establish a healthy precedent by talking Pelosi and Reid out of this idea. I hope he will.


Anonymous said...

I think you are missing the point of the Emanuel pick, and ironically, it is tied to your third "thing to watch". Emanuel was an effective counselor to the Clinton White House for the full eight years, so he knows how to do the heavy lifting around the WH. As a current member of the House, and a guy who clawed his way into the Congressional leadership very quickly, he is also a very adept operator in the halls of Congress. Lastly, he strikes me as a guy who would take being called a prick as a compliment. While the challenges going forward are many, perhaps the biggest immediate problem Obama will face is dealing with the Democratic leadership on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Who better to play bad cop to Obama's good cop than Emanuel?
If Obama was facing a Republican lead Congress, I would agree with you that Emanuel is too abrasive, but as you correctly point out, Obama needs to put the smack down on Pelosi/Reid early and often, and Emanuel can assist with that like nobody else.
BTW, this is right out of the Daley family play book, which isn't always a bad thing.


Mark Heuring said...

Maybe I'm wrong about this, Rich, but my understanding is that the Chief of Staff's primary role is to make sure things operate smoothly in the executive branch. He/she certainly has a role to play regarding Congress, but typically there are others who deal specifically with Congress. To my mind, Obama's most specific weakness is his lack of executive experience. I'd rather he have a seasoned executive in this role, rather than a partisan operative. But he's the President-elect, so I'll have to defer to his judgment on this.

Anonymous said...

Obama can appoint whomever he wants to, he can be whatever he wants to be.

If he turns out to be Obama the candidate (i.e. more moderate) my guess is that he has the potential to be a great president. If he turns out to be Obama the partisan (as his record indicates) the guess here is that he'll overeach beyond his mandate.

As much as it pains me to say it, the choice is his, not the conservatives, and there's really nothing (short of the fillibuster, which will more than likely be a shaky one at best) that anyone will be able to do about it, at least until the next election cycle.

Someone wrote that America is going to get a taste of Chicago style politics. It will be interesting to see what that means...

Anonymous said...


A bit off topic, but keep an eye on Paul Ryan, a Republican congressman from Janesville. He is good. Won nearly 70 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Could be Wisconsin's next Governor or perhaps replace the old fart, Herb Kohl, in the senate in 4 years.

And what the hell ... how could 2 million people from Minnesota vote for Franken? That is beyond troubling.

Mark Heuring said...

I’m with you on Ryan, anon. I’d love to see him run for Governor – he could take out Doyle and be a contender for the big prize round about 2016 or maybe 2020. He’s only 38, I believe, so his time is coming, and soon. Even my friend Rich, the house lefty here, likes Ryan and has said as much.

As for 2 million Minnesotans voting for Al Franken – yeah, it’s troubling, but as long as 2 million and 1 people voted for Norm, we’ll get past this. And while it’s way too close for comfort, I have no reason to suspect that Norm will lose the recount. The Secretary of State here is a partisan hack with a history that includes ACORN, but he’s got all eyes on him and if he tries to do anything untoward, the hounds of hell will be unleased upon him.

my name is Amanda said...

I had to smile when you mentioned ACORN, as if association with that organization explicitely speaks evil and wrong-doing! ACORN works to register low-income voters who feel disenfranchised, among other things that are positive for society - affordable housing, living wages. Canvassers working for ACORN participated in voter fraud, in order to meet their quotas - which is deplorable, and which violates the democratic process, but which does not speak to the merits of the organization as a whole.

The rules of any institution/program are bound to be manipulated in certain instances, in matters of selfishness, or desperation, or even laziness. It seems to me the willingness to allow these exceptions (but to prevent where possible, and punish when necessary), in order to promote the interests of the majority in need, is one of the main differences between the Left at the Right.

I'm obviously biased toward my party, but I just felt compelled to throw that out there.

Also - It's been my impression that choosing Sarah Palin was McCain's mistake - not putting a leash on her. She scared away a lot of moderates/undecideds. Conservatives would still have voted for McCain if he would have chosen a moderate Republican running mate, rather than vote for Obama - I'm curious to know whether you agree with that thought.

Hammerswing75 said...

I think you're exactly wrong on the Palin pick. Sure, that's the line being peddled by the media, but that's a big hint right there. There are people trying mightily to discredit her because she had a hugely positive effect on the ticket. The enthusiasm gap would have been a gaping chasm without her on the ticket and Obama would have won in a landslide.

Palin possesses many positive attributes that make her a fantastic leader. If she is canny enough to survive this smear campaign and continues to get more experience she will be a force to be reckoned with.

Mark Heuring said...

Thanks for stopping by, Amanda - I've seen you comment on my brother's blog and I appreciate the visit.

My two cents on ACORN -- they clearly have set up an organization that encourages their people to register people fraudulently. It's sort of a non-profit version of an MLM, frankly. You can point out the good things they do, but do they overshadow the institutional incentives that lead to fraud? I personally have a very difficult time with that, but your mileage may vary.

As for Palin -- if I accepted the caricature of her that I saw on my television screen, I'd probably have rejected her, too. But it was a caricature. If you're so inclined, take a look at what she's actually done as a governor in Alaska. She is clearly strongly religious, but she's been fairly libertarian in her approach to governing.

Would having a moderate Republican have helped McCain more? I don't think so. McCain was viewed with great suspicion among members of the traditional Republican base and Palin fits that demographic much better. Tell me -- if he'd picked Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman, would you have given McCain a longer look? Would any of your friends? Realistically? I doubt it.

The next generation of Republicans is coming. Palin (age 44) is one of them, along with Governor Jindal of Louisiana (age 39), Cong. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (age 38) and others. They don't all agree but they are a strong group and a leader will emerge to carry the Republican banner. It will be interesting, after 4 years of Democratic rule, how these young leaders will be viewed.

Night Writer said...

I'm with Hammerswing on this one; no Palin on the ticket and that's one less vote McCain would have received. It was only after she was added that McCain started to close in the polls, and without her he never would have had a chance. Personally I would have gone down swinging with a Libertarian or Constitution Party vote and I think a large chunk of others would have as well.

The campaign should have let her get out there and slug it out for good or ill; as Mr. D pointed out re McCain, it was going to be hostile reception anyway from the media but it would have given her to opportunity to define herself rather than leave it to the talking heads.

Funny how any criticism of Obama was quickly branded "racist" while the Big O's minions hammered sexist attacks on Hillary and Palin ad nauseum. Here's a link to a glossary of terms the "sophisticates" used to describe the Governor:

Palin was McCain's own "Surge" opportunity and he wasted it. Just as with the real Surge, all the "experts" said it couldn't work.

Anonymous said...

Here's a quick question/observation: Now that Obama has appointed Rahm Emanuel, a guy who is about as pro-Isreal as Ariel Sharon, to be his Chief of Staff, are Conservatives going to cling to the notion espoused by noted Conservative commentator Joe the Plumber, that a vote for Obama is a vote for the destruction of the Jewish state? Just wondering.


Mark Heuring said...

I can only speak for me, Rich. On that score, it's a good sign. I've been concerned about Obama in re Israel mostly because of his friendship with people like Khalidi and the undeniable strain of anti-Semitism in portions of the African-American community. Put it this way, I'd be a hell of a lot more nervous about Israel if we were looking at President-elect Jesse Jackson. But we aren't. So I'll watch and see what he does.

my name is Amanda said...

Thank you for your thoughts; I'm surprised to learn that Republicans would have opted for the Constitution or Libertarin ticket if Palin hadn't been the GOP runningmate. I remain doubtful in regard to how Undecideds approached that situation, but will take your word for it on the Republican side!

Night Writer said...

Amanda, I don't know that "Republicans" would rather vote Libertarian or Constitution Party than vote for McCain, but "Conservatives" will.

The Strib had a headline the other day about how the Republicans could re-connect with the voters (they simply recycled the same article they wrote about the Democrats four years ago). One of the primary ways is to not be the incumbent party; that helps. If they want to see where the energy in the Party came from this cycle, though, they have to look at the Ron Paul supporters (who were generally the younger demographic) and the thousands that showed up for Palin at the campaign stops. These are the groups who think there should be more to your principles and policies than winning an election.