The newest bit of controversy on the campaign trail has been provided by the McCain campaign (really, he’s still running, don’t let the 3rd or 4th-place standing fool you). Let’s go to the clip:
Note that the reaction of this noble, upstanding war veteran is not to admonish his supporter for insulting one of his fellow Senators, but rather to laugh and then discuss his numbers against Hillary Clinton (with a nice little reference to the “Democrat” party thrown in, which I won’t go into here, but may later). Consider this for a moment.
There are two potential ways I could address this. One would be to simply decry the overall descent of political discourse into name-calling and mudslinging. That seems too easy, though, and it’s not like today’s campaigns are any worse than the campaigns of the early Republic. Indeed, at least modern campaigns have the theoretical restriction of slander laws.
No, I think I’ll try to imagine a similar incident in which another candidate was insulted in an equivalently crude manner, and what would happen. And I don’t mean something along the lines of asking a Democrat “how do we get this asshole out of office?” in 2004. Asshole isn’t a charged enough word. But say that either Richardson or Obama were the Democratic frontrunner, and a voter asked McCain or Romney “How do we beat the (insert ethnic slur here),” followed by said candidate giggling and calling it “an excellent question.” One imagines the fallout would be rather substantial, even campaign-crippling. Remember this guy?
Yet weirdly, not only has McCain’s campaign not suffered in the polls (though it’s early, we’ll see what happens), they’re using the incident as a fundraising tool. You read that right. They’ve decided that CNN’s coverage shows their inherent pro-Hillary bias. After all, why run that clip unless they’re afraid that McCain would beat Clinton? As such, you should give lots of money to the McCain campaign, so that he can win the Republican nomination and put that uppity Democratic bitch in her place.
A few weeks ago I posted about the recent history of subtle Republican appeals to racial hatred. So it’s not exactly surprising to me when they go for this sort of lowest-common-denominator tactic. It is striking, though, how blatant they’re being about this one, and how easily they’re getting away with it. Surrogates of the Clinton campaign may well have been overstating a bit when they implied that the other Democratic candidates were ganging up on her at the debate because she was the only woman on stage, but the underlying point was no less true. Nowhere have I yet read any prominent reporter or columnist calling McCain for being sexist, only “too candid.” How much of this is due to underlying misogyny, as opposed to the media’s bizarre crush on McCain or their astonishing inability to ever call Republicans on their bullshit is hard to say. Most likely it’s a bit of each.
For a nice way to finish this off, let’s turn it over to CNN. I’d give you a bit of a preview, but I really can’t do justice to how gawdawful this is.
There you have it, folks. For a man running for President to tell one of his supporters to refer to a fellow Senator with respect is not a sign of character, it would be “buckling,” and “would look ridiculous.” It’s going to be a very long election year.