Via Howard Kurtz, actually, here's one of the best pieces I've read recently on McCain. It's from Kevin Drum on 3/24, and I'll quote it in its entirety:
McCAIN'S CRED.... Via Steve Benen, MSNBC analyst Chuck Todd tells us why John McCain can get away with routine demonstrations of abject ignorance, like his recent proclamation that Iran is supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq:Even if he gets dinged on the experience stuff, "Oh, he says he's Mr. Experience. Doesn't he know the difference between this stuff?" He's got enough of that in the bank, at least with the media, that he can get away with it. I mean, the irony to this is had either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama misspoke like that, it'd have been on a running loop, and it would become a, a big problem for a couple of days for them.
Italics mine. Let's recap. Foreign policy cred lets him get away with wild howlers on foreign policy. Fiscal integrity cred lets him get away with outlandishly irresponsible economic plans. Anti-lobbyist cred lets him get away with pandering to lobbyists. Campaign finance reform cred lets him get away with gaming the campaign finance system. Straight talking cred lets him get away with brutally slandering Mitt Romney in the closing days of the Republican primary. Maverick uprightness cred allows him to get away with begging for endorsements from extremist religious leaders like John Hagee. "Man of conviction" cred allows him to get away with transparent flip-flopping so egregious it would make any other politician a laughingstock. Anti-torture cred allows him to get away with supporting torture as long as only the CIA does it.
Remind me again: where does all this cred come from? And what window do Democrats go to to get the same treatment the press gives McCain?
That's a great summing up. As to how we wound up in this mess, let's turn to Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler on 3/24:
WE DON’T TRY HARDER: In this morning’s New York Times, John Harwood authors a fairly standard piece about John McCain’s current advantages. But at one point, Harwood offers an unintentional, stinging indictment of liberal and Dem Party leadership:HARWOOD (3/24/08): Democratic operatives have prepared a sustained attack against what they call myths underlying Mr. McCain's reputation for straight talk. ''It's going to take a while to tear that down,'' said Jim Jordan, a consultant who will lead a Democratic Party advertising campaign to aid its nominee. Lamenting the Clinton-Obama fight, Mr. Jordan added, “That's why it would be nice to get this over with as soon as possible.”
That highlighted statement is revealing—and sad. Speaking of McCain’s undeserved “reputation for straight talk,” Jordan makes this pitiful statement: ''It's going to take a while to tear that down.''
If only people of Jim Jordan’s ilk had thought of that ten years ago!
As everyone on earth must know by now, McCain has been relentlessly pimped—as an authentic straight-shooting straight-talker—for at least the past dozen years. This pimping hasn’t been done by the RNC; it’s been done by the mainstream press corps. No one has ever really disputed the claim that the mainstream press corps pimps McCain hard. Indeed: All the way back in May 1998, Brother Chas Pierce wrote a tongue-in-piece profile for Esquire, entitled “John McCain Walks on Water.” Once again, this was May 1998—a year before the start of McCain’s first White House run. But even then, Brother Pierce was rolling his eyes at the way the big pundit corps pandered:PIERCE (5/98): By any standard, McCain has become a star in that increasingly elastic firmament in which politics is emulsified with modern celebrity. His national profile never has been higher. His influence—particularly among the nation's chattering classes—at times seems comically powerful. He sends Don Imus into stammering flummery, and he turns Tim Russert into a puddle on the floor. During the 1996 campaign, when McCain was Bob Dole's most effective surrogate, Michael Lewis of The New Republic wrote about McCain more rapturously than he'd once written about his second wife's derriere.
“The nation's opinion makers have come to regard him as more than simply a reliable source of informed commentary,” Pierce wrote. “Instead, they look to him as a source of moral witness.” Again, Pierce wrote this in the spring of 1998, long before the full-blown fawning which defined press coverage of McCain’s first White House run. The press corps has always fawned to McCain. And everyone always has known this.
Everyone has always known this—except, of course, for your Dem Party leadership. Only now, in the spring of 2008, do these slumbering city mice announce that “it's going to take a while” to tear down McCain’s reputation. Voters have heard that McCain is a saint for ten years. Today, Jordan gears for the fight!
But this has been the shape of Dem Party leadership over the course of the past two decades. This also reflects the type of “leadership” which has come from liberal and progressive “intellectual elites.” To all appearances, these elites just don’t really care—they don’t really care who wins our elections. They’ve mal-adapted that old Avis slogan. We’re number two—and we don’t try harder.
The RNC (and the rest of the conservative world) would never have tolerated the sanctification of some Big Major Democrat of McCain’s type. But liberals and Dems have stared into space as McCain has been endlessly vested with sainthood. By any normal interpretive standard, our liberal/Dem elites just don’t seem to care. Judged in any normal way, they don’t care who wins our elections.
We’ll be exploring these themes all week. We’ve been number two—and we haven’t tried harder! Why is that? we’ll ask all week. Why is Jordan gearing up for a fight about McCain’s public profile long after the fight has been lost?
Somerby's the best source I've found for documenting the fraud of the original "Straight Talk Express" over which so many journalists still gush. Basically, back in 2000, when McCain was trumpeting that everything would be "on the record," he'd occasionally ask for something to be taken off the record, or the press, liking McCain, would cover for him even when his remarks was newsworthy. I'm hoping Somerby will recap some of his greatest hits (if not, I'll dig up my favorite). Regardless, this is the biggest challenge we face in this election season, and it'll be the same whether it's Clinton or Obama as the nominee. The press loves McCain, and they will cover for him to ridiculous lengths. The SNL sketches depicting the press fawning over Obama were comedic exaggeration, but that fawning's highly relative. Obama fandom among the press is nothing compared to their worship of McCain. Howard Kurtz, who gushes over McCain quite a bit, has repeatedly insisted that the press was shamed by the SNL sketches and 'toughened up' on Obama as a result (over shallow versus substantial issues, of course, as noted by John Amato, Glenn Greenwald and Digby). We need to create the same shame over McCain. Kurtz belatedly recognized the seriousness of McCain's "gaffes," although he could have found out the same if he merely read major liberal blogs or had simply bothered to take seriously the Americablog post he initially dismissed in disgraceful fashion (ignoring Obama's response, among many other things). Kurtz is the norm in this respect.
Sadly, when it comes to our major pundits, and far too many journalists, there's plenty they should feel ashamed of, but let's start with this. As I've written before, the press always tries to play kingmaker, they don't mind lying to do so, and their judgment is consistently disastrous. Let's consider that they picked Bush not once, but twice, and despite the devastation Bush has left on a staggering number of fronts, some of them are still reflexively disparaging even moderate liberalism, denouncing the most tepid of oversight, and bucking for a third Bush term in McCain. We can't really afford our three trillion dollar war or nine trillion dollar national debt either, but we definitely can't afford any more of the radical, reckless Bush/Cheney regime. Let's accurately report matters, challenge McCain on everything, and press the media on why they aren't doing the same.
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)