Friday, August 01, 2008

Central Casting: It's About Substance

Back in 2004, I saw an hour-long program on C-SPAN2 of someone interviewing Daily Show host John Stewart. The interview focused primarily on Mr. Stewart's thoughts on that year's election campaign, and one statement he made impressed me enough that I remember the substance of it even now. He was asked if he could ask President Bush one question, what would it be.

His response: You have many individuals who support you fervently and with great passion. I don't understand it; and I want to understand. What am I not getting?

I am not a big fan of any candidate this year. But there is one candidate who is lauded and praised and hyped to a degree that is unparalleled according to my memory. Hagiographic may be the appropriate term, although - according to one ad from the other candidate's campaign - we may have skipped canonization and lept to apotheosis.

And I do not get it.

People tell me (with some frequency) that this candidate is just the most fantabulous speaker of modern times. But as my creative writing professor just as frequently warned: show, don't tell. I watched every debate save one (I think). I didn't see it or hear it or experience the light that dawns on the elect. I've also watched and listened to too many election-related speech exerpts and appearances from this year's campaign to have magically missed the epiphany.

What am I not getting? I am told Progress, I am told Change, I am told Hope. I am told that a totally new and different species of politician has stepped up upon the centuries-old planks of the presidential stage. And I don't get it.

Will someone tell me what it is I am missing?

Below I have included an exerpt from an article that currently appears on This is not a smoking gun, this is not a haha, gotcha! type thing. I include it here because it simply illustrates in a benign, meaningless way what I am getting: a politician who looks and who acts and who quacks just like every other politician. For fun, I have appended a few short musings to the end of the exerpt. Enjoy.


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama responded Friday to recent race card attacks by Sen. John McCain, saying it's a "typical pattern" for the Arizona senator's campaign.

"I was in Union, Missouri, which is 98 percent white -- a rural, conservative [city]. And what I said was what I think everybody knows, which is that I don't look like I came out of central casting when it comes to presidential candidates," he said in an interview with Florida's St. Petersburg Times newspaper and Bay News 9.

"There was nobody there who thought at all that I was trying to inject race in this," he said. "What this has become, I think, is a typical pattern from the McCain campaign, whether it's Paris Hilton or Britney or this phony allegation that I wouldn't visit troops..."

First question, serious: Has the McCain campaign really been hounding Britney Spears or Paris Hilton?

(Aside: It irks me when people call her just "Britney." It sounds gossipy and familiar, like how a hairdresser might say it. I don't want a president to do that. Please stop.)

Second question, semi-serious, regarding central casting: If the comment wasn't about race, was he referring to his ears?


patsbrother said...

UPDATE! Ask and ye shall receive!

The following editorial from the New York Times says it all:


We know that operatives in modern-day presidential campaigns are supposed to say things that everyone knows are ridiculous — and to do it with a straight face.

Still, there was something surreal, and offensive, about today’s soundbite from the campaign of Senator John McCain.

The presumptive Republican nominee has embarked on a bare-knuckled barrage of negative advertising aimed at belittling Mr. Obama. The most recent ad compares the presumptive Democratic nominee for president to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton — suggesting to voters that he’s nothing more than a bubble-headed, publicity-seeking celebrity.

The ad gave us an uneasy feeling that the McCain campaign was starting up the same sort of racially tinged attack on Mr. Obama that Republican operatives ran against Harold Ford, a black candidate for Senate in Tennessee in 2006. That assault, too, began with videos juxtaposing Mr. Ford with young, white women.

Mr. Obama called Mr. McCain on the ploy, saying, QUITE RIGHTLY, that the Republicans are trying to scare voters by pointing out that he “doesn’t look like all those other Presidents on those dollar bills.’’

But Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, had a SNAPPY ANSWER. “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck,” he said. “It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.’’

The retort was, we must say, not only contemptible, but shrewd. It puts the sin for the racial attack not on those who made it, but on the VICTIM of the attack.

It also — and we wish this were coincidence, but we doubt it — conjurs up another loaded racial image.

The phrase dealing the race card “from the bottom of the deck” entered the national lexicon during the O.J. Simpson saga. Robert Shapiro, one of Mr. Simpson’s lawyers, famously declared of himself, Johnny Cochran and the rest of the Simpson defense team, “Not only did we play the race card, we dealt it from the bottom of the deck.”

It’s ugly stuff. How about we leave Britney, Paris, and O.J. out of this — and have a presidential campaign?


I do not believe this tripe.

COMPARING individuals equals race-baiting? Saying X is like Y gives Senator Obama and the New York Times "an uneasy feeling" that justifies calling someone (essentially) a racist pig? Unnecessarily calling someone a racist pig is justified yet saying that someone unnecessarily brought up race is "contemptible"? Because someone else used the same words regarding their VICTORY? This makes Mr. Obama a VICTIM?


Going back to the original article I mentioned: Mr. Change really wants us to believe that telling voters that Republicans are trying to scare them by saying he "doesn’t look like all those other Presidents on those dollar bills" DOESN'T refer to race?

Even though it has been a while since I've been active on this blog, I'm already calling SHENANIGANS.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I've tried to follow this last little bit of "race card" stuff and I can't figure it out. It sounds like a lot of campaign workers pointing at each other like little kids who are fighting over the last cookie. And, in all seriousness, if the "central casting" comment is what is considered the "race card" these days, then our society has evolved leaps and bounds since the OJ trial.

The Britney and Paris ad is brilliant by the McCain camp -really the first effective ad they've launched, and anyone who saw the ads run against Ford in Tennessee should absolutely know what is different about them.

As to "what you are missing" about Obama is the fact that almost no one is happy about the way things are being run at any level (local, state, federal, business, union, etc) in this country. Most folks feel ground down with the way things are, and they've been getting that way for some time. Gore and Kerry both lost political campaigns against a Republican who didn't seem to have good command of the English language because they were overly wonkish, out of touch and uninspiring.

Along comes Obama, who, in addition to being eloquent (IMHO), hits on a message of change that resonates with enough people to cause excitement. He then rolls off speeches about unity and reconciliation, and throws some policy in that gets people on board. Folks like me have waited a long time to hear a Democrat talk that way (he nailed just about everything I thought about race in America in one speech in Philadelphia), and I'm the cynical type.

On the other side we have John McCain, who had already spent his 'maverick credibility' before he was even a declared candidate, who tries to distance himself from the current administration on trivial matters, talks up the same false choices that I can't stand the current administration for bringing up, and essentially promises 4 more years of the same crap that's been pissing me off since about 1996.

He's still running as the 'experienced' candidate while the experience he's talking about is his complicity in the failed policies and general incompetence of the US government for the last 20 or so years.

DADvocate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DADvocate said...

The fact is that Obama did play the race card. He plays it more smoothly and gently than Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton but he played it, and has more than once over time.

The NYT's comparison of Harold Ford is an unfortunate one for them. Ford is as crooked as the day is long. For the first time since she became eligible to vote (1972) my older sister voted for a Republican for Senate rather than vote for Ford. My sister is a died in the wool Democrat whose daughter interned for Clinton/Gore in the White House.

All the NYT proves in their editorial is their already widely acclaimed bias.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Oyster disagrees with my analysis of the McCain ad. I remain unconvinced, but I can understand that folks may be tempted to make comparisons between this one and the Ford ad in Tennessee - especially since it sounds like the same guy came up with both ads.

For Ford's corruption, I'm not too versed on that particular issue, but at least he doesn't have a diaper fetish like some senators.

As far as the race card is concerned, I think I'm using a different operational definition of 'race card' than everyone else. When a black man identifies himself as a black man, is that 'playing the race card?' Is pointing out the fact that some people will not vote for a black man because he is black 'playing the race card?' Maybe I'm missing something.

patsbrother said...

Republicans are trying to scare you by pointing out that I don't look like all those other presidents.

Read: Republicans are trying to scare you by pointing out I am black.

Read: Republicans are racist. Don't listen to them. Vote for me.


I don't care if it counts as "the race card." What worries me is that he says these things and then acts shocked that someone would suggest that he was even broaching the subject of race.

I wonder what his definition of "is" is.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Yeah, I reckon Obama was just brining up the currency thing out of the blue, right?

Gotta dance with the one who brung ya.

DADvocate said...

If you want to just look at the dollar bill reference, you have a slight point. The McCain ad you reference was in response to Obama redesigning the Presidential Seal. Fair game.

Plus, Obama's began playing the race card way before that. In April - "When people tell me they've all stressed about racial discord, well, you know, try slavery for a while." As if he's tried slavery.

In June, Obama said, "They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?"

I just love it when someone accuses the anonymous "they" of something. He must be talking about "the man."

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Doubtful. Underdog messaging requires having a nebulous and undefined "they" out there somewhere working against the underdog and their supporters. This is true from sports motivation to advertising to political campaigns.

Everyone selling anything is working against the "they," and it is no surprise to see it in a political campaign. That Obama has been able to use it more effectively than past Democratic candidates is not cause for a charge of "race baiting."

Especially when there actually has been a nebulous and undefined "they" everywhere from talk radio to barrom conversation to phantom chain emails attempting to scare folks away from Obama because he's young, has a funny name, is inexperienced and, yes, because he's black. I know because I've heard them and recieved the emails.

And let's not forget, the right wing and many Republican candidates were able to successfully sell the "they" message against Democrats, liberals and progressives to win elections. What was surprising was that the right and the Republicans were able to do this even while they controlled Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court.

Dante said...

Ironic that you would defend the "they" as something everyone "selling" something does so soon after condemning the right as "a bunch of marketing majors with nothing to sell but a brand name that used to mean something." Perhaps you're projecting your own party's problems onto the other side? Or does Obama have some actual accomplishments tucked away from plain sight that give him more than a brand name to sell?

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

The Obama "brand" is more effectively able to "sell" the "they" message because the Obama campaign is based around the idea that the policies the nation has been following for the past many years are failed policies.

McCain and Clinton were both "accomplished" members of the establishment (part of the "they") that has landed the nation into our current situations.

The Obama campaign isn't so much using an old brand as creating a new one. What they are "selling" is a plan for things that will happen, which places less emphasis on past accomplishments.

For a young, outsider, underdog candidate, there's really no other way the sales pitch works.

The problem with the GOP marketing majors (and the origins of my main criticism) is three-fold: 1) using false information to sell something (the "not-one-drop of oil spilled in the Gulf" lines). 2) selling the same plan over and over again and not delivering on that plan. 3) Using the "they" or underdog message to explain their mediocre accomplishments when they controlled Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court.

DADvocate said...

Saw this at Instapundit. The first person to compare Obama to Paris Hilton? Obama himself. "I mean, I'm so overexposed, I'm making Paris Hilton look like a recluse."