Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 8, 2008

LOSING THE PUNDITS, ONE BY ONE.... John McCain worked pretty hard, over the course of many years, to earn the adulation of major media figures. This year, he's working equally hard to drive them away.

In recent weeks, we've seen fairly strong denunciations of McCain from Time's Joe Klein, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, and the New York Times' Thomas Friedman. Today, it looks like the Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby, hardly a reflexive liberal, has joined the club.

....McCain's swipe at Obama's tax plan was something other than straight talk. As a share of the economy, Obama's plan would create an overall tax burden similar to the one that existed in Ronald Reagan's time. It would not choke off job creation; rather, it would slow the growth of the deficit and soften inequality. But the really depressing thing is that McCain himself once knew that. He opposed the Bush tax cuts before he supported them, saying that they would deepen inequality. But now he touts a tax reduction that is larger and more radical than even President Bush proposed, and he slams his opponent for holding the view that he himself held until recently.

McCain used to be a real straight talker. On campaign finance, spending earmarks, Iraq and immigration, he has fought bravely for his principles; and that record might have been a trump against an opponent who has taken almost no such risks. But we are now witnessing what might be called McCain's Palinization. McCain once criticized Christian conservatives as agents of intolerance, but he has caved in to their intolerance of a pro-choice running mate. McCain claims to be devoted to his country, yet he would saddle it with a vice president who is unprepared to serve as commander in chief. In the same sad way, McCain has caved in to his party's anti-tax fanatics. The man of principle has become a panderer. The straight talker flip-flops.

Now, I suspect the response from the McCain campaign would be something along the lines of accusing Mallaby of media elitism, no matter how sympathetic Mallaby has been to McCain over the years.

Regardless, Mallaby's op-ed is spot-on, and his work often helps shape the conventional wisdom. Here's hoping others start noticing that the "man of principle has become a panderer."

Steve Benen 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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what a horrible sexist attack.

oops, wrong candidate.

what a horrible attack on a former p.o.w.

Posted by: mellowjohn on September 8, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Good heavens, I never thought I'd say this, but we might be better off limiting the franchise to the pundits. 2008 may be a watershed in proving that our present experiment in democracy can't work.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on September 8, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Palin's first gaffe?


Posted by: G C on September 8, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

How many divisions does Sebastian Mallaby have?

Posted by: John McCain on September 8, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Sorta off topic, sorry.

As to the media, where are they on this story? A US citizen was tortured at the RNC. He speaks out. Indy media, especially photogs, were detained and arrested, medics were targeted for abuse.

Where is THIS story??

Posted by: MsJoanne on September 8, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

man of "principle" has become always been a panderer.

Posted by: PapaJijo on September 8, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm, I guess the strike tag doesn't work...

Posted by: PapaJijo on September 8, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

"McCain's Palinization"

Oh my gosh, there's a meme we can believe in!

Posted by: Curmudgeon on September 8, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I think this is the way Obama should come after Palin. Forget about attacking Palin directly. Go after McCain for making such an irresponsible pick, not taking the time to vet, etc.

Posted by: Jake on September 8, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

the "man of principle has become a panderer."

He's opened Panderer's Box and Palin and the fundies are flying out like demons.

That's Just What I Said

Posted by: Dale on September 8, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

The problem, as many have noted, is that the Dem leaders are congenitally incapable of attacking first.

If you are always in the mode reacting to the attacks from the other side, you will be perceived as a wus, and lose. Ask Kerry.

Posted by: gregor on September 8, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

"Conventional wisdom"? I just came from the CNN.com site where the question was asked-"Have you made up your mind who you will vote for?" Just reading the replys made my blood boil. There was no reaction to the last 8 yrs of Bush/Repub Congress abuse of this Country nor any mention of who is offering the right vision for getting us up and running again. Everything but. I don't think there is any "conventional wisdom". The issues are too boring for those who really suggest they care. Schmid is right-It's about personalities and their perception. That's the "conventional wisdom" that the Repubs are banking on.

Posted by: fillphil on September 8, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Mallaby parrots the WaPo party line that McCain commendably took a risk in not opposing the Iraq war. Firstly, it was not a risk in the Republican party - he would not have got the nomination without supporting the war. Secondly, why should anyone be given credit for a position that was and is wrong?

Posted by: skeptonomist on September 8, 2008 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

"The Palinization of McCain." I like that. It has a good ring to it. Maybe now we can begin to realize why McCain has been such a boot-licking Poodle of the Pentecostals now---and start referring to "it" as the Palin/McCain campaign.

And MsJoanne, why the shocked surprise? It's just a part-n-parcel extension of "the Iraq Meme." After all, we did away with human rights and created paramilitary torture methodologies over there---so we could bring them over here....

Posted by: Steve on September 8, 2008 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Will the WaPo follow MSNBC/NBC's lead and demote Mallaby for saying something critical of God's Party and The Emperor in Waiting, Generalissimo John S. McSame III?

Posted by: Doofus on September 8, 2008 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

McCain's swipe at Obama's tax plan was something other than straight talk.

If only there were a term for saying something you know isn't true...

Posted by: Gregory on September 8, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone know why the GOP always gets to have their convention after the Dems'? So they always get the "last word" and the last poll bounce?

Posted by: Speed on September 8, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Ok. Imagine for a moment that McCain’s only rational reason for choosing Sara Palin as VP is because she is his SOUL MATE PORK BUSTING CRUSADER, just like McCain.

Consider that if that was stripped away, how will McCain answer the following question: “Now that its clear, that Governor Palin was not a Pork Buster as you’ve claimed, but instead her state is one of the biggest Pork consumers in the country, why did you choose her as your VP?.”

There is no answer to this question. Um… Foreign Policy… Oops no… Um… The economy… Ummm… Errrr… Moose Burgers. FACK. Ok she’s a HOT evangelical superstar CHICK and she was the only way to throw a losing campaign into chaos. Alls we need to do is hide her from the press for 2 months. We can do that…

With those thoughts in mind, do you know any investigative reporters that can answer the following question? How does Palin’s Alaskan Pork during 1.5 years as Governor compare to 1.5 years of pork in states like, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Florida, and other swing states.

The reason I ask, is I see some reporting, that could become some very compelling campaign advertisements.

Posted by: troll_bait on September 8, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

In a related story, the WaPo has announced that Sebastian Mallaby will no longer be allowed to write about John McCain without clearing it with Steve Schmidt.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on September 8, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

The Daily Show did this best with its "Reformed Maverick" bit.

Posted by: jibeaux on September 8, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK


I'm with you. I watch Free Speech TV (FSTV, on dishnetwork, channel 9415), LINK TV, and other indy media. I honestly could not believe what I saw the police doing to American citizens who were simply exercising their constitutional rights. I saw the physical abuse of independent film makers and protesters, the "pre-emptive" raids on protesters and videographers homes, the confiscation of much of their picture and video evidence of abuse by the police, the physical abuse and arrests of independent journalists, (but NO major network journalists, of course). The brutality of the police as they fired rubber bullets and used batons, pepper spray, teargas canisters and concussion grenades on peaceful demonstrations was so far out of bounds. BUT NO major network picked it up. The Rovian police-state is in full action. The media is an intimidated tool of the party. And too many Americans are apathetic. Now is not the time for apathy. I spit at you apathy. If the people do not rise up now, it will be a sad, sad day for our country. The leaders in this country now torture our own people (we had to see it coming, did we think it was just going to be used on 'them'?), and they kill killers in other countries while justifying themselves, in part, because the people we kill "kill and torture their own people". rove, cheney, bush, rice, rumsfeld, et. al are SICK, very sick people. McBush has to be stopped, or we are only in for more. You can visit the Democracy Now! website and get full details if anyone wants to read more.

Posted by: OptiMysticalCynic on September 8, 2008 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

This "man of principle" idea is one that has become ingrained in the public's mind through the numbness created by sheer repetition.

It should be obvious to a blind man that McCain will say and do anything to get elected - even more than George W. Bush.

But his temper and his impetuousness that are much worse problems - much worse.

Posted by: PowerOfX on September 8, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Mallaby writes that "McCain himself once knew that", pretending that McCain is confused rather than lying. In fact, as we know, the McCain campaign is based on lies, both in attacking Obama and in defending itself. It's time to make this an issue, not just waiting for the media to wake up and speak truth. The media will talk about the lies if the Obama campaign makes the an issue, using the strong words "lie", "lying", and then "liar".

There are enough well-documented facts here to show that lying is their policy. Show that, and they're naked, without honor or credibility. Obama has been honest, and this has meant paying a price. Time to cash in and get what he's paid for.

Posted by: LieBlaster on September 8, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK


Maybe this will put it into perspective: St. Paul official, including Mayor Chris Coleman, "required the Republican Party's host committee to buy insurance covering up to $10 million in damages and unlimited legal costs for law enforcement officials accused of brutality, violating civil rights and other misconduct...St. Paul officials, led by Mayor Chris Coleman, insisted the committee use its private donations to purchase the insurance policy. They had some leverage because the party had named St. Paul as the location for the convention before striking the city services agreement in January 2007."

Firedog Lake and Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald had great coverage of the protests, and the pre-emptive, unconstitutional raids of homes prior to the convention. Here is a link to a video of an unresisting man being mobbed and tasered by about a dozen policeman:


Posted by: Keori on September 8, 2008 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Spot-on? Good God, no! McCain distorted endlessly during Campaign 2000. Mallaby and his colleagues didn't say so at the time--and pretend this year's dissembling is new--because they were on McCain's side during that campaign. Or maybe they're really that clueless.

During that campaign, McCain routinely misstated about both Bush and Gore. In early January 2000, the Bush campaign made a formal complaint on one basic point--a complaint which was fully justified, and was even discussed by a few reporters. McCain just kept on BSing, though. And the Mallabys just kept on enabling him. Now, Mallaby is shocked--shocked!--at the thought that McCain isn't honest.

Posted by: bob somerby on September 8, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

What a smear job! Who knew Mallaby was a communist?

Posted by: TBone on September 8, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Conventional wisdom"? I just came from the CNN.com site where the question was asked-"Have you made up your mind who you will vote for?" Just reading the replys made my blood boil. There was no reaction to the last 8 yrs of Bush/Repub Congress abuse of this Country nor any mention of who is offering the right vision for getting us up and running again. Everything but. I don't think there is any "conventional wisdom". The issues are too boring for those who really suggest they care. Schmid is right-It's about personalities and their perception. That's the "conventional wisdom" that the Repubs are banking on.

But when you consider the Dem party voting blocs of Blacks, Hispanics, Unions... are these blocs of voters really being driven to vote for the candidate offering the best vision?

I hardly think so. Seems both parties take advantage of voting blocs who believe the Party operates in their specific interests, and the Repubs also have to attract a large segment of independents to make up for their ~10MM registration shortfall. How better than to appeal to personalities and perceptions? It's just politics.

Posted by: pencarrow on September 8, 2008 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

With less than 60 days to go, I fear that there isn't enough time for the pundits realization that McCain isn't who they wanted him to be to filter out to most of the public. We don't have any Walter Cronkites out there anymore who can actually turn great numbers of middle america when he realizes he's been mistaken.

If it takes the pundits, who theoretically pay attention to these developments over time, how long does it take to sink in for the casual observer for McCain's 'straight talk' brand to fade?

Unless Obama wakes up, and gets on the offensive. And we're all there with him.

Posted by: short fuse on September 8, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK
If only there were a term for saying something you know isn't true...
Yeah, that would be really handy.

Like, "double-plus not-true", or something like that.

Posted by: kenga on September 8, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

These pundits are only the tip of the iceberg really. A friend of mine, life long Republican that he is (and one of those Republicans that I can respect), has quit his job as department head of a Republican voter registration foundation here in L.A. Being a well-educated man, and one who prides himself in being smart and well-read, he can't take the institutionalized stupidity and growing lack of integrity seeping into the Republican party. He's had enough.

Posted by: JWK on September 8, 2008 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Other pundits getting McCain's lies include CNN's Jack Cafferty


and The Washington Post's William Cohen


Posted by: ballard on September 8, 2008 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

This is what I don’t understand. McCain has pandered to whatever position was politically correct for him no matter what position he held previously. It’s like the MSM just ignores this and promotes everything McCain says as truth now no matter what his record indicates. To somehow suggest that this right wing neocon corporate, “every lobbyists favorite senator on a leash” is an agent of reform or change or is somehow bipartisan because he sponsored two bills with dems (and later flip-flopped on his positions) is absurd. If the voting public has no memory and is as ignorant and stupid as McCain treats them then we are all in big trouble.

Palin is an insult to voters as a VP pick…are you kidding or what? To even be considering her as a serious candidate for the heartbeat away candidate is ludicrous. 6000-10,000 people she represented as Mayor and now as the Queen of pork for Alaska virtually owned by big oil…it’s a big oil corporate pair of Bushies by another name, getting a free ride by the press. Thank god I know that cell phone users are not being polled so the polls don’t reflect the super democratic majority all voting for Obama…but that still doesn’t excuse the McCain insult called a campaign.

Posted by: bjobotts on September 8, 2008 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

The thing about making President* Bush's tax cuts permanent, as Hon. Sen. McCain proposes, is that Mr. Bush, with majorities in both chambers, had a very hard time getting these through, even with sunsets and a projected budget surplus of roughly $4 trillion. Now a President McCain will have ungodly deficits, two wars and a Democratic Congress (recently POed by his lying his way into the White House). Good luck with that.

Posted by: jhm on September 9, 2008 at 7:20 AM | PERMALINK

Look, I know it's custom to call what you agree with "principled," but Maverick isn't the authentic principled McCain at all. Maverick has always been a giant phony.

Earmark reform is inconsequential nonsense. He laid his Senate seat on the line for 0.002% of the budget! Country First!

McCain - Feingold was half to rehabilitate himself after the Keating Five, and half to give the Republicans a fundraising advantage. Country First!

Maverick basically grandstanded over some inconsequential procedural votes, but the outcome of the Bush Administration is almost exactly what Bush wanted. McCain was there, every step of the way.

Posted by: Aatos on September 9, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

The way I see current events and what John McCain has done to his personality and philosophy, I have the impression that he's like a little boy following his domineering mother by holding onto her skirt! This is how I see McCain and Palin.

Posted by: Tiger on September 13, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK
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