As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

We All Need to Focus More On McCain

Digby thinks I'm being a little pollyanna-ish about prospects for November. She makes some excellent points. I'm glad we're having this kind of public discussion, even if it is a bit meta. Allow me to revise and extend my remarks.

I wasn't trying to say that the failures of traditional media in general are irrelevant; not in any way. There is a long-term crisis on that front, and the great work done in the blogosphere on this fundamental problem is urgently required. It's of course partially a function of news organizations needing to become profit centers and shutting down costly foreign bureaus, finding it easier to put two talking heads in a room together than do actual reporting, etc. The herd mentality and the hewing to familiar tropes and narratives takes effect from there, and it's important to push back.

I'm looking at the particular case of this election, and the expected shielding of McCain by his media constituency from criticism. Clearly that's happening; we just got the first major newspaper article about John Hagee after six weeks of silence. But I'm just not sure he's going to be able to explain away this 100 years comment or his warmongering in general. Today the man who asked him the question writes that the answer was perfectly consistent with McCain's expressed purpose for an open-ended commitment in Iraq:

While splitting hairs over the meaning of campaign rhetoric, all ignore the fact that McCain advocates an open-ended presence in Iraq, and the consequences that would follow from such a commitment.

McCain's words left little room for interpretation. By saying that he was fine with staying in Iraq for 100 years, he made clear his commitment to staying the course and, further, to remaining in Iraq for years after the country is pacified, assuming that's ever possible.

Everyone who was there that night got it: we weren't getting out anytime soon.

Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker summed it up when he wrote, "what the context shows, I think, is that yanking that sound bite out of context isn't really all that unfair. McCain wants to stay in Iraq until no more Americans are getting killed, no matter how long it takes and how many Americans get killed achieving that goal -- that is, the goal of not getting any more Americans killed. And once that goal is achieved, we'll stay."

When offered the opportunity to backtrack later, McCain only dug himself in deeper, upping the ante to 10,000 years, or a million. He may as well have said "forever" when he confirmed his 100 years remark and added that he would support permanent bases in Iraq three days later on NBC's Meet the Press.

If McCain were running away from this posture that would be one thing, but just the other day he said to a radio host that ‘No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have.’ We're in the beginning of April, with virtually no pressure on McCain, and he continues to say poisonous statements like this which will simply kill him in November (Just this morning he screwed up Sunni and Shiite AGAIN). And clearly his success or failure in the election will rise and fall on the situation in Iraq; when his speeches about the success of the surge are interrupted by reports of Americans dying from mortar attacks inside the Green Zone, there's no possibility of spinning that away. And with the events inside Iraq today, with Muqtada al-Sadr again threatening to lift his cease-fire and gathering full support from Shiite clergy to keep his mlitia intact, the outcome of those events are indeed in peril.

I agree that Democrats in general could be doing a better job of defining McCain at this time, but it's not like rich Media Fund donors are the only ones obsessed with the intra-primary fight. Indeed the entire rank and file is, both offline and very particularly online. Take a stroll through your favorite blog and see which posts catch the most comments if you like. I have certainly never called for complacency; far from it, I think that now is the time for a unified front against McCain. But the same people bitching that the donor class isn't getting their act together are poring over the latest SUSA or Rasmussen tracking poll. The primary is not just sucking up big-money oxygen, but all of it; and we all need to be accountable for that.

Still, there are positive side effects to this extended primary with respect to mobilizing and organizing on the ground in practically every state. I'm from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and I don't remember it being majority Democratic in my lifetime until now. Some like Jon Chait have dismissed this benefit but it's unquestionable that primary voters get turned into general election advocates and activists, and there's no more effective time to register voters than right before an election. What's clear is that the excitement on the ground is with the Democratic candidates. And McCain's fundraising numbers throw this into sharp relief.

If anyone thinks McCain raising $15 million in March is good news — and crucially, just $4M of it from online and direct mail — then they’re probably part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
What stands out from the announcement is the sense that they’ve thrown in the towel when it comes to fundraising for John McCain 2008. . . . They’re also taking public money in the general, foreclosing any chance of the grassroots funding the campaign if Obama breaks his public funding promise. . . . [McCain is] relying on the same weakened high-dollar model that fell short for every Republican candidate in the primary, and barely bothering with the untapped potential of the Internet[.]

This tells me a few things. (1) Our candidate is going to have an ENORMOUS money advantage in the general election, Freedom's Watch and 527s be damned. (2) McCain has extremely little grassroots support. John Kerry raised almost half as much online the DAY after he clinched the nomination back in 2004. That means McCain may not have the volunteer forces to carry out any kind of decent GOTV program, a stark contrast to these Obama organizing fellowships. And (3) the fundamentals underlying the election are such that Republicans aren't keen to bank on McCain EVEN CONSIDERING his position today, which is quite a bit better than the position of Republicans in general.

So yes, we have to work like hell to force these stories on McCain into the mainstream (Cliff Schechter's book in particular appears to be a goldmine). But I'm taking more of a can-do approach. Progressive change hasn't ever come easy, and won't this time either. I prefer to relish the challenge at this juncture.

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