Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

September 19, 2008

COUNTRY FIRST.... Over the summer, the McCain campaign, after experimenting with a series of poll-tested mottos, starting emphasizing, "Country First." It was a relatively subtle test of patriotism -- McCain, the argument went, puts country first, while that other guy doesn't really love his country.

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, Barack Obama took on the motto directly:

"[L]et us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America -- they have served the United States of America. So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first."

And almost immediately, the motto seemed to disappear.

Today, McCain tried to revive the line, telling voters at an event in Minnesota, "That's how we see this election: country first or Obama first."

I'm certainly not in the habit of giving the McCain campaign advice, but I feel compelled to point out how truly vacuous this is as a slogan. The problem isn't just that the motto is cheap and misleading -- though it is cheap and misleading -- it's that the motto isn't even persuasive.

Truth be told, McCain pretty much forfeited the whole "country first" line on Aug. 29, in Ohio, when he introduced Sarah Palin as his running mate. Conservative writer David Frum wrote at the National Review that "country first" is a "good slogan," but added, "If it were your decision, and you were putting your country first, would you put an untested small-town mayor a heartbeat away from the presidency?"

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson added soon after, "[W]e are reminded, if we did not realize it before, that the three things not to expect from a McCain presidency are caution, prudence and a willingness to always put the nation's interests above his own."

But moving beyond this disqualifying factor, "country first or Obama first" doesn't actually mean anything. If you're a middle-class family in Ohio, you're health insurance sucks, your wages have been stagnant for most of the decade, and you can't afford college tuition for your kids, McCain is effectively telling you, "I'm patriotic, and Obama is arrogant." It's the height of stupidity -- don't vote for Obama, not because he's wrong, and not because his ideas won't work, but because he has an ego (unlike McCain, who's running for the nation's highest office because of his inferiority complex).

McCain was smart to move away from this "country first" inanity last month. It's foolish to bring it back now.

Steve Benen 4:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

They seem to be out political stunts for the moment and dont have a good handle on what will work to get them back on top of the polls. clearly experience was not working, then mccain tried change but that is falling apart as he forgot that meant changing the way the gop conducts business not changing his position every 5 minutes. Now they are falling back on a patriotism attack. They are just grasping for any potentially effective message. we are going to see a lot of inconsistency from them as they cant decide the best was to proceed.

Posted by: Gaucho Politico on September 19, 2008 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

As a presumptuous celebrity once said, "I think it's a pretty clear that Senator McCain is a little panicked right now."

Posted by: Stephen Stralka on September 19, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

If executive experience is so important that Sarah Palin's mayoral/guberntorial service trumps the legislative service of Obama & Biden, & McCain really believes in putting the "country first," why didn't he defer to Guilliani, Romney, or Huckabee in the primaries, all of whom had far more executive experience than he?

Posted by: Walsh on September 19, 2008 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think "country first" is a very persuasive slogan for a nation that is deeply in debt, in a financial freefall, mired in foreign wars, 3% of the world's total population and addicted to oil. It can probably be written off as yet another example of Republican topsy-turvy "up is down" logic.

Posted by: PTate in MN on September 19, 2008 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Win or lose, I've decided to not spend a dime in any red state for the next four years. These assholes want to return to the dark ages? Let's help them get there.

Posted by: MissMudd on September 19, 2008 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Or, he could say: Country First or Wall Street First? Who is paying for the mistakes of the financial geniuses on Wall Street? Who put country first? And, someone please define: Country. What is Country?

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
peace,
st john

Posted by: st john on September 19, 2008 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

I am telling you, Mccain is losing it. Anyone wanna bet? before the end of the month, he is going to drop the N word.

Posted by: Akinola on September 19, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

You can't support policies that hurt your country and still call yourself a "patriot."

It's the first refuge of a scoundrel.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on September 19, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, I gotta respectfully disagree with the notion that McCain's arguing that he's patrotic and Obama is arrogant. It's red meat sloganeering, not anywhere near that nuanced. McCain is saying he's patriotic AND OBAMA ISN'T. He's UNpatrotic. UNAmerican (shhhh! ONE OF THEM!) It's a dog-whistle to satisfy the irrational fears some of these folks have of voting for...a Dem? A liberal (which Obama really isn't, but with these folks anyone to the left of Hitler is a pansy)? An African-American? A "secret Muslim?" Arrogance doesn't enter into the equation. Get rid of the word "first," and the slogan becomes what it's really meant to say: "Country...OR OBAMA."

Posted by: slappy magoo on September 19, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: Orwell on September 19, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Not sure why you say the slogan went away immediately after Obama's convention speech when it was heavily emphasized at the Republican convention just four days later. That said, the problem with the slogan is that it more aptly describes the other guy. Obama was the community organizer and law professor when he could have chosen much more lucrative paths. McCain, by contrast, went for the money and power.

Posted by: Nick on September 19, 2008 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

I always read "Country First" on two levels. First was the repubs trying to erase 20 years of 'Party first'. The other read had it as a dog whistle to the 'Obama is a secret Muslim who wants America to lose' wing of das base.

The first rationale was laugh out loud ridiculous, so I put more stock in the second.

Posted by: JoeW on September 19, 2008 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

the moment i heard obama say that in his speech, i said to myself "there's a 30-second commercial spot."

so if mccain wants to bring it on, great, bring on the 30-second spot, which makes mccain look very, very small.

orwell, c'mon man, you gotta try harder than that: no pep, no pizzaza. we're unimpressed.

Posted by: howard on September 19, 2008 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

“I didn’t decide to run for president to start a national crusade for the political reforms I believed in or to run a campaign as if it were some grand act of patriotism. In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to be president.”

~ John McCain, Worth The Fighting For, page 373

Does this jive with putting country first?

Hell, I love my country. It's parts of my government that makes my stomach churn, like the perpetuawarriors, and the new federal agency wealthcare!

I also am really getting afraid that not enough folks are recognizing or realizing that John is suffering from vascular dementia.

He "reinvents" himself because he truly can't remember his old self. He did favor deregulation of the banking system. Now he's saying he's for the largest federal agency (wealthcare) to bailout the financial house of cards that is blowing in the hot winds of a global fiscal meltdown??

Ouch. Even I am lapsing into mcCainisms!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on September 19, 2008 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

McCain's eye twitch is back. It seems to recur when he feels pressure, or anger, or (the best word, really) panic. The guy needs some rest. Take it from that black comedian. You know, the one who introduced McCain at the RNC a few weeks ago.

Posted by: paxr55 on September 19, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Sure. "Country First" But not to the point of paying a little more income tax to pay for the war. Let's not get carried away.

Posted by: Emily on September 19, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

It's all so confusing--I thought it was God first, or was it family first...?

Posted by: Neal on September 19, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

War is good business
So give your son
I'd rather have my country
Die for me

-- Jefferson Airplane, 1968

Posted by: SecularAnimist on September 19, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Country first" means McCain would rather listen to Sugarland than Pink.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on September 19, 2008 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

steal a little and they throw you in jail. steal alot and they make you king.

Anyone else see the "country first" film that ran the first night of the RNC? It featured a segment on a soldier in Iraq that threw himself on top of a grenade to protect his buddies. It was one of the most disgusting pieces of propoganda I have ever seen or heard. It made me sick to my stomach thiking about the memory of the poor guy being exploited like he was. Very similiar to Pat Tillman propodanda.

Posted by: grinning cat on September 19, 2008 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

This is the sort of thing that allowed McCain to dominate after the Republican convention. Obama needs to keep MCcain's feet to the fire constantly and not get bogged down playing his game. This is just another distraction.

Posted by: Saint Zak on September 19, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

As a copywriter, I've had to crank out a fair number of frankly godawful slogans in my lifetime, and while I agree that it's a pissweak slogan, I can understand why they went in that direction.

They can't run on substance or policy, because much of what they're proposing is standard Republican drivel. As Obama would say, 'more of the same'.

They think that their candidate has a compelling bio, so they want to make this a personality contest. So they then seek to sum up the difference between the two candidate's CVs. Hence, 'Country First'. (This is also why they trash Obama's stint as a community organizer, because for the purposes of the campaign they don't want to acknowledge that such work is selfless or altruistic. It spoils the clear distinction they're seeking to create.)

But what confuses me is that they appeared to have moved on from this to a 'The Two Mavericks' stance, positing that John and Sarah will move into DC, kick ass and take names.

My guess is that Palin has been so thoroughly discredited as anything other than vindictive, avaricious small-time politician, that holding to this stance isn't feasible. The Palin bubble grew very quickly and popped even quicker. She's now a drag on the ticket, so back to Noun Verb POW and McCain's bio, and back to 'Country First'.

Posted by: Rapid Eddie on September 19, 2008 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I was going to tell you exactly where to get off, Steve Benen, but the 6' x 9' U.S. flag made in China in which I had wrapped myself accidently caught fire from the official Wal-Mart "Through the Night with the Light from Above" giant patriotic sparkler I was carrying, and in my ensuing struggle to disentangle myself from the burning polyester bunting, I tripped over my own soapbox and separated both shoulders.

Posted by: God Bless America, you Commies! on September 19, 2008 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

It's Mexico and illegal aliens first for both of these rather unsavory presidential candidates.

Illegal aliens, incidentally, account for a grossly disproportionate share of mortgage failures, in case we are really looking for blame rather than playing politics.

Posted by: Luther on September 19, 2008 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

What the McCain campaign means by elitist and arragant is really 'uppity', and any one from the south recognizes that!

Posted by: captain dan on September 19, 2008 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

Rachel Maddow's piece on 'Obama and the Fly' (aka McCain/Palin) should be held up as the best piece of journalistic levity this week..

What a breath of fresh air to see Obama sponteously swat and laugh and just to see an utterly humane moment...

Thanks so much for that. I sure needed it after what's happened this week. :-)

Posted by: on September 19, 2008 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

er, that's supposed to read 'spontaneously', but never mind!!

Posted by: on September 19, 2008 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

He didn't just bring it back. He modified it so now it's no longer subtle, and it's directed beyond Obama and at the voters. Country first or Obama first. That's your choice, apparently. You don't want to put your country last, do you, you commie bastard?

Posted by: Jeff on September 19, 2008 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

hah hah, anymouse @9:39.

Agree most emphatically: That was a brilliant bit of reporting on Maddow.

And spontaneous has entirely too many syllables.

Posted by: paxr55 on September 19, 2008 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Country First"; that sure sounds Fascist to me!

Posted by: The Galloping Trollop on September 19, 2008 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

You choose: "Change for our country, or more of the same for McCain."

"McCain would rather lose his honor than lose an election."

Country first or Obama first. Same difference.


Posted by: oppressmenot on September 19, 2008 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

“I didn’t decide to run for president to start a national crusade for the political reforms I believed in or to run a campaign as if it were some grand act of patriotism. In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to be president.”

~ John McCain, Worth The Fighting For, page 373
------------------------------------------------

"Country First" or McCain First?

Americans can safely retire John McCain and put America First.

-------------------------------------------------

Posted by: MarkH on September 19, 2008 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

I believe McCain's slogan "Country First" refers to the song rotation on his iPod - which means, of course, "Western Second".

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on September 19, 2008 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

He just beating around the Bush. McCain needs to pull the trigger. Shitcan Palin, and replace her with an real live pig.

That will guarantee a bigger firestorm in the mainstream media and when Nov 4th rolls around, people will say "I know that pig is just a pig, but who the hell is this Obama character?"

Posted by: Boronx on September 20, 2008 at 2:04 AM | PERMALINK

surprisingly lazy and full of *it benen strikes again.
"country first" refers to the self discovery of john mccain, which he clearly stated before 40 million people at the rnc:

I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's.
I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.
benen may think that "inanity", and obama may think 'country first' is all about him
The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.... So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.
that's only because benen and obama either don't know what john mccain means or are twisting it's meaning on purpose.

so either benen is too stupid or too full of *it to be taken seriously ?
washington monthly, bring back kevin drum

Posted by: nitish on September 20, 2008 at 7:42 AM | PERMALINK

surprisingly lazy and full of *it benen strikes again.
"country first" refers to the self discovery of john mccain, which he clearly stated at the rnc:

I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's.
I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.
benen may think that "inanity", and obama and his followers may think 'country first' is all about them. benen and obama either don't know what john mccain means or are twisting it's meaning on purpose.

so either benen is too stupid or too full of *it to be taken seriously ?
washington monthly, bring back kevin drum

Posted by: nitish on September 20, 2008 at 7:46 AM | PERMALINK

DID McCain ever move away from his "Country First" slogan? I certainly heard a lot of it at the Republican convention, along with chants of "Zero, Zero" whenever Obama's name was mentioned, and "Drill baby drill!"

Posted by: T-Rex on September 20, 2008 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Illegal aliens, incidentally, account for a grossly disproportionate share of mortgage failures

Prove it.

Posted by: Gregory on September 20, 2008 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Steve: how about the fact that McCain actually invokes his opponent's name in the slogan? That's wild to me. As far as I can tell, you have to go back to Harding to find a presidential campaign slogan built on deriding the other guy. Pretty telling as to McCain's strength on the issues, no?

Posted by: mattplav on September 20, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Several possibilities:

Country first. City last. (This works pretty well with the whole Palin, small-town = good meme)

Country first. Western second. Jazz never. (Similar to the above)

Country first. You second. (Give it up to your shadowy puppet masters.)

Country first. And I'll tell you what's good for the country. (A bit like the previous. Still totalitarian and completely UN-libertarian.)

Posted by: Jesus was a community organizer; Pontius Pilate was a governor. on September 20, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly