#33 The Make-Believe Maverick(s)

On September 10, 2008

Hello Everyone,

As many of you know, I have been closely observing this presidential campaign from its beginning 19 months ago and, as a novice, written regularly on what I see.

Here’s my latest observation: questionable assertions that are repeated and go unchallenged are taken as truths. Think the “Swift-boating” of John Kerry (I wasn’t paying close attention then).

A corollary seems to be: assertions which are taken as truths are seldom revised based upon new evidence.

These surely come as no surprise to students of propaganda techniques – or, perhaps, of American political campaigns.

How do these two observations apply to the current campaign? It seems simple to me now.

Sen. McCain has morphed into a “Make-Believe Maverick” – pretending to be a real maverick to distract voters from the fact that he is a REPUBLICAN. Frank Rich has it right.

Maverick has simply become his code word for “Un-Republican.” Like the Un-Cola. It’s marvelous to witness the contortions the man is putting himself through. He’s simultaneously attempting to run as an Un-Republican while trying to energize his very- Republican base. Sixty days is a long time for even the best contortionist to hold a pose.

Let me digress for a moment.

As a first-time observer, I stumbled across the “questionable assertion” phenomenon during the Democratic nominating process earlier this year. It was innocent and unintended, not devious and sinister, but alerted me to the problem nonetheless.

It occurred as part of the reporting of the Democratic contest in Texas in March. You may recall that the unique Texas “two-step” involved both a primary and caucuses on the same day. As usual, the primary vote was “called” shortly after the polls closed. All of the media immediately reported that Sen. Clinton had “won” Texas. The results from the caucuses – which Barack won handily – were not available for a few days. When everything was said and done, Barack actually won Texas. He got 99 pledged delegates to 94 for Sen. Clinton. So, he won Texas according to the party’s rules.

Yet, to this day, the conventional wisdom continues to be that Sen. Clinton won Texas. Incredibly, for weeks even the Obama website reported it incorrectly.

Before I get to the central reason I’m penning this piece, let’s consider why this “questionable assertion” phenomenon occurs.

I think there are at least two reasons. First, observers frequently fail to “look it up,” a favorite exhortation of a long-time colleague of mine. That is, they don’t go back to primary source documents or other credible evidence to check on the facts.

In the electronic media, there seem to be only two programs that practice the dictum to “look it up.” Meet the Press has a set itself apart for decades because of its adherence to this discipline. It comes as a surprise to people of my generation that The Daily Show with John Stewart is now the other one. He looks it up, too. I commend it to you; there are serious insights embedded in all the silliness.

Secondly, psychology comes into play. As Robert Cialdini writes in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, all of us (yours truly included) fall into the “commitment and consistency” trap. That is, once we have taken a public stand (“John McCain is a
straight-talking maverick”) it becomes a commitment. We will insist on maintaining and defending that position despite subsequent evidence to the contrary. We have a deep need to appear consistent, to ourselves and others. The narrative is set in cement.

Which brings me back to my main point.

Although Sen. McCain has been a maverick in some ways in the past – meaning that he has, from time to time, stood in fundamental opposition to the Republican Party – he does no longer. He is now simply trying to use this device to distract voters from the fact that he is every bit as much a Republican as Pres. Bush and V.P. Cheney.

To confirm that we need to look no further than the “two inevitables” – “death and taxes.” In this case, sadly, “war and taxes.”

The $3 trillion Iraq War is every bit as much Sen. McCain’s war as it is Pres. Bush’s.

According to the New York Times, Sen. McCain impulsively contemplated war with Iraq immediately after 9/11 – perhaps even before President Bush did. And Sen. McCain sold it aggressively to the American people.

“Within a month [of 9/11] he made clear his priority. ‘Very obviously Iraq is the first country,’ he declared on CNN. By Jan. 2, [2002], Mr. McCain was on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea, yelling to a crowd of sailors and airmen: ‘Next up, Baghdad!’”
(See attachment.)

Congress did not pass the Iraq War Resolution until 9 months later, in October 2002.

The $3 trillion estimate comes from my Amherst classmate, Nobel-Prize-winning economist, Joe Stiglitz, in his recent book.

Sen. McCain now also supports Pres. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, after first opposing them.

On the two biggest issues we face – death and taxes – Sen. McCain is certainly no maverick.

It is fascinating to witness someone who has actually overcome the human urge to be “consistent.” It may bother, him, but evidently, he wants to win no matter what.

By constant repetition of the maverick theme, Sen. McCain is trying to convince voters that he is not a Republican – that he, and now his running mate, are anything but Republicans.

But, I agree with Barack – the American voters are too smart for that.

I am also confident that the voters will understand that Barack is for ending the Republican’s $3 trillion war and that he will start to rebuild America with that “peace dividend.”

In his attempt to propagate his image as a maverick, Sen. McCain recently doubled down by gambling on Sarah Palin. She may also prove to be just another make-believe maverick, too.

As the voters and the media get to know her, what will we find? I’m sure that a lot of people are scrambling to “look it up” on Sarah Palin. For instance, what’s the real story on her purported opposition to the “Bridge to Nowhere?” Many in the press are saying it is a lie.

In the meantime, Sen. McCain has doubled down on this one, too, by featuring that claim in his new commercials. The astounding thing is that Sen. McCain probably hasn’t looked it up either. He still doesn’t know what he bought in his desperate, last-minute roll of the dice.

Will the “Bridge to Nowhere” become the “flip flops” of this campaign? Will giant models of bridges show up at Palin campaign rallies much like giant sandals showed up at Kerry’s?

Will other questionable assertions prove their undoing? We’ll have to wait and see.

Sen. McCain has directly challenged the media – who have been so kind to him for so long – to look it up. I’m sure they will oblige.

We’ve all seen this movie (or opera) before – someone wants something so badly that they overreach. Maybe the Bridge to Nowhere is the perfect metaphor. Or, maybe the metaphor will involve pit bulls. Who knows? We’ll see.

Barack’s Temperament

Recently, I have heard from a few of you who are worried that Barack is not being aggressive enough. That he’s on the defensive. That the momentum has shifted.

My advice – trust Barack. He knows what he’s doing. He’s proven it time and again.

This morning, I even took my own advice. I went back and looked up an Obamagram I wrote on November 8, 2007, when the momentum had shifted – like it does in all ball games. In it I said, “The conventional wisdom is that the game is over. Because that’s what the national polls say. I think that’s dead wrong. And let me tell you why.”

On MSNBC on Monday, Keith Olbermann tried to get Barack to say that Sen. McCain is “lying.” Barack’s too disciplined to say that. Olbermann, in trying to be helpful, urged Barack to be more aggressive in the face of the Republican’s aggression.

I imagine that Barack understands that the Rove-style Republicans are trying to bait him into getting angry. But Barack is too savvy for that.

I have long said that Barack’s temperament is one of his principal qualifications for being president. He is steady, consistent, measured, considered, prudent and disciplined. Emotionally mature. That doesn’t mean he’s not tough. Just ask Alice Palmer – the Democratic State Senator whose seat Barack, using sharp elbows, took in his first election.

Sen. McCain and apparently Sarah Palin seem to be the opposites of Barack. Impulsive, angry, inconsistent, and willing to roll the dice. urge those of you who are nervous to keep the faith. We have by far the better man. I trust him and believe he knows what he’s doing. He will have to grapple with his own need to be “consistent” – like whether or not to stick with the slogan “change” that has been rendered meaningless as Tom Friedman so persuasively argues in his column today (see attachment).

And, like Barack, I trust the American voters, too. They’re not stupid. In the end, they won’t be distracted by Sen. McCain’s questionable assertions, contortions, and distortions. Ultimately, they will see him as a Make-Believe Maverick and a gambler who can’t talk straight.

Please pass it on.


adobe pdf file Click here to download this article in PDF format.


adobe pdf file Attachment: Response to 9/11 Offers Outline of McCain Doctrine


adobe pdf file Attachment: From the Gut


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