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Obama's Glass Jaw: the Media and the Debate - Three Articles

Obama's Media Army

Thoroughly Beatable Barack

Obama Woos Gun-Toting God Nuts

Obama's Media Army

April 23, 2008

Nothing in the hysteria over last week's Democratic debate – including the unprecedented opprobrium press critics heaped on the ABC moderators – should have come as any surprise. That doesn't make it any less fascinating a guide to current strange notions of what is and is not a substantive issue in a presidential contest, or any less striking an indicator of the delicate treatment Mr. Obama's media following have come to consider his just due.

Moderators Charles Gibson's and George Stephanopoulos's offense was to ask questions Mr. Obama didn't want to address. Worse, they'd continued to press them even when the displeased candidate assured them these were old and tired questions.
  • "Akin to a federal crime . . . new benchmarks of degradation," The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg declared, of the debate.
  • "Despicable. . . . slanted against Obama," Washington Post critic Tom Shales charged.
  • A "disgusting spectacle," the New York Times's David Carr opined.
  • The questions had "disgraced democracy itself," according to columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News.
The uproar is the latest confirmation of the special place Mr. Obama holds in the hearts of a good part of the media, a status ensured by their shared political sympathies and his star power. That status has in turn given rise to a tendency to provide generous explanations, and put the best possible gloss on missteps and utterances seriously embarrassing to Mr. Obama.

The effort and intensity various CNN panelists, for instance, expended on explaining what Mr. Obama really meant by that awkward San Francisco speech about bitter small towners clinging to their guns and religion – it seems he'd been making an important point if one not evident to anyone listening – exceeded that of the Obama campaign itself.

Still, no effort in helpful explanations was more distinguished than that of David Gergen, senior CNN commentator, who weighed in just after the first explosion of reports on Mr. Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright. About this spiritual leader – whose sermons declared the September 11 attacks to be America's just deserts, who instructed his flock that the United States had set forth on a genocidal program to kill black Americans with the AIDS virus, who held forth as gospel every paranoid fantasy espoused by the lunatic fringe about America's crimes – Mr. Gergen said, "Actually, Rev. Wright may love this country more than many of us . . . but we've fallen short."

It was an attempt at exculpation, as regards Rev. Wright, that no one has equalled, though many have come close. Not least Mr. Obama, who spends considerable time arguing that the press has focused on a few "snippets" taken from years of sermons.

Mr. Obama's apparent inability to confront, forthrightly, the pastor's poisonous pronouncements and his own relationship with him is, of course, the cause of all the continuing questions on the subject. It had not been in him, for instance, to say publicly that for a pastor to have preached that the U.S. government had embarked on a project to inject blacks with AIDS was an outrage on truth and decency. He delivered a celebrated speech on race, one generally hailed as a masterwork, that was supposed to have explained it all. It was a work masterly, above all, in its evasiveness. Even its admirers, prepared to swallow his repeated resort to descriptions like "controversial" for the pastor's hate-filled rants, couldn't quite give Sen. Obama a pass when it came to his beloved white grandmother, or to the not so beloved Geraldine Ferraro, both of whom he suggested were racists in their own right.

These issues – the unanswered, the suspect – which outraged press partisans have for days attempted to dismiss as trivia and gossip, largely forgotten by the public, are unlikely to be forgotten, either today or in the general election, nor are they trivial. This, Messrs. Gibson and Stephanopoulos clearly understood when they chose their questions. Mr. Obama's answers told far more than he or his managers wished.

Offered a chance to explain the meaning of his remarks about the reasons people living in small towns cling to guns and religion, he went on to repeat them all over again in different words. What there was in those remarks, what attitudes shown, that had offended people, he had still not grasped. In short, what he had said that day he'd meant to say. "What you are, picks its way," as Walt Whitman told us.

The way has been a long one for the candidates, and what they are is, indeed, picking its way on the campaign trail and during events like that instructive debate. About which, we now learn, there is to be a protest campaign against ABC and the moderators, mounted by assorted journalists and bloggers.

We are at the beginning of a contest likely to repeat itself through November: between that part of the press prepared to put hard questions equally, and all the rest, including those who'll mount the barricades when their candidate is threatened with discomfiture. Let the wars begin.

Ms. Rabinowitz is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.

Thoroughly Beatable Barack

By Jed Babbin

Though Hillary Clinton probably can’t, John McCain can certainly defeat Barack Obama. Obama’s weakness has nothing to do with his race, his liberalism, or his inexperience.

The Greeks had a term for it: hamartia. The one flaw -- different in every man -- that makes him imperfect, vulnerable and gives his adversaries, if they discover it, the ability to bring him down. Achilles’ was his heel. Obama’s is his political glass jaw.

The supposedly-brilliant Democratic wunderkind can’t take a punch. Like a Hollywood actor, he’s only comfortable, quick and charismatic as long as the crowd is oohing and ahhing. But the moment that he is challenged -- as we first saw in his presser after he lost the Ohio primary in March and again last week in the ABC debate -- the mask shatters. What we see is what we would get with an Obama presidency: a man whose range is so small and ego so huge and fragile that when taken out of his comfort zone, he not only fails to shine, he barely is able to speak.

In that post-Ohio presser, the reporters who had previously been a source of adulation were themselves riled by a Saturday Night Live skit which portrayed them as they had been: fawning over Obama. (In the skit one actor-reporter offered him a pillow.) And then, when he lost to Clinton in Ohio, reporters dared to actually ask a few questions that required more of him than to smile and mutter “change.”

Obama was flustered, angry, and terminated the event with a sharpness that startled some of the participants. Last week, he showed another side.

In the last debate against Clinton before the Pennsylvania primary, Obama had a very bad night. He ducked and weaved, demonstrating an amazing shallowness on critical issues. On capital gains tax, he said he’d raise it to a “fair” level, shrugging off the questioner’s statement that the proven result of capital gains tax hikes is a reduction in collected tax revenues. He, and Clinton, are suddenly big fans of the Second Amendment, but he (and Clinton) both spoke favorably of gun control laws. The former chief of the Harvard Law Review didn’t display much understanding of the Constitution. Or of the Supreme Court case that’s about to decide the constitutionality of the DC gun ban.

Obama may be able to float like a butterfly but he also stings like one. At a rally later last week in Raleigh, N.C., Obama was critical of Clinton, saying, “Sen. Clinton looked in her element” in the debate. And then he did something as shocking and juvenile as we’ve seen a pol do since the last time Bill Clinton stuck his thumb in a lady’s waistband and snapped her panty hose.

Obama was speaking critically about Hillary Clinton and -- unable to control his impulse -- he smirked and made an obscene finger gesture (in a manner well-known to high schoolers) with his middle finger against his nose. (To those who doubt, see the video and judge for yourself.) Everyone saw what he meant: the crowd understood. And so did Howard Dean and John McCain.

The Pennsylvania debate and aftermath drew a frustrated plea from Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. In a CNN interview last Thursday, Dean practically begged the superdelegates to put him out of his primary misery. “I need them to say who they’re for starting now…We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time,” Dean said. Not just campaign time and fundraising time. But healing time?

Dean -- having done much to create this Frankenstein-like primary season -- has, like the mad Baron, realized what he has done. He may not have forseen the Obama phenomenon or the fact that Hillary Clinton couldn’t close the deal on Super Tuesday. But even the man who brought primal scream therapy to televised campaigning sees open, not-soon-to-heal wounds separating the biggest Democratic constituencies: black voters and the most liberal of Democrats overwhelmingly for Obama versus women and more moderate Dems for Clinton.

Dean’s party is split neatly down the middle, in a battle growing rougher by the day. Which is why he is pleading more for time to heal than time to campaign against John McCain. But Hillary Clinton isn’t going anywhere, and neither Dean nor any of the other party elders can either stop her or compel superdelegates to decide the race. Both Hillary and Obama have gone negative in the days before tomorrow’s Pennsylvania primary. Healing is delayed, indefinitely.

Which leaves Sen. John McCain able to throw sharp above-the-belt jabs at Obama to keep the Democrats divided. On Sunday, McCain raised Obama’s long-time association with former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulous, McCain said that Obama’s defense of his relationship with Ayers “borders on the outrageous.” Having done the damage he desired -- like any good fighter pilot -- McCain headed back to base saying he didn’t question Obama’s patriotism. “But,” McCain added, “his relationship wit Mr. Ayers is open to question.”

When Pennsylvania Democrats vote tomorrow, they’ll be placing their bets on who can survive a 15-round fight with Sen. John McCain. Sen. McCain wants to fight the fall campaign by Marquis of Queensberry rules. In his own words, McCain is older than dirt and has more scars than Frankenstein. He can throw a pretty good political punch.

Obama is young and unscarred. And he can’t take a punch. John McCain can beat Obama even if Hillary can’t.

Mr. Babbin is the editor of Human Events. He served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in President George H.W. Bush's administration. He is the author of "In the Words of our Enemies"(Regnery,2007) and (with Edward Timperlake) of "Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States" (Regnery, 2006) and "Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think" (Regnery, 2004). E-mail him at

Obama Woos Gun-Toting God Nuts

By Ann Coulter
April 16, 2008

The Democrats' "Fake-Out America" adviser, Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, must be beside himself. Despite Lakoff's years spent training Democrats to "frame" their language to stop scaring Americans, B. Hussein Obama was caught on tape speaking candidly to other liberals in San Francisco last week.

One minute Obama was bowling in Pennsylvania with nice, ordinary people wearing "Beer Hunter" T-shirts, and the next thing you know, he was issuing a report on the psychological traits of normal Americans to rich liberals in San Francisco.

Obama informed the San Francisco plutocrats that these crazy working-class people are so bitter, they actually believe in God! And not just the 12-step meeting, higher power, "as you conceive him or her to be" kind of God. The regular, old-fashioned, almighty sort of "God."

As Obama put it: "(T)hey get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The rich liberals must have nearly fainted at the revelation that the denizens of small towns in Pennsylvania have absolutely no concern for the rich's ability to acquire servants from Mexico at a reasonable price.

We don't know much about Obama's audience, other than that four fundraisers were held on April 6 at the homes of San Francisco's rich and mighty, such as Alex Mehran, an Iranian who went into daddy's business and married an IBM heiress, and Gordon Getty, heir to the Getty Oil fortune.

It is not known whether any of Getty's three illegitimate children attended the Obama fundraiser -- which turned out to be more of a McCain fundraiser -- but photos from the event indicate that there were a fair number of armed (and presumably bitter) policemen providing security for the billionaire's soiree.

In 1967, Gordon sued his own father to get his hands on money from the family trust -- and lost. So Gordon Getty knows from bitter. It's a wonder he hasn't turned to guns, or even to immigrant-bashing. God knows (whoever he is) there are enough of them working on his home.

These are the sort of well-adjusted individuals to whom Obama is offering psychological profiles of normal Americans, including their bizarre theories about how jobs being sent to foreign countries and illegal-alien labor undercutting American workers might have something to do with their own economic misfortunes.

It's going to take a lot of "framing" for Democrats to recast Obama's explanation to San Francisco cafe society that gun ownership and a belief in God are the byproducts of a psychological disorder brought on by economic hardship.

It is an article of faith with the Democrats that they must fool Americans by simulating agreement with normal people. The winner of the Democratic primary is always the candidate who does the best impersonation of an American.

But then, after all their hard work making believe they're into NASCAR and God, some Democrat invariably slips and lets us know it's all a big fake-out. They're like a gay guy trying to act straight who accidentally refers to Brad Pitt as "yummy!"

The Democrats' last phony American (or perhaps I should say "faux American") was John Kerry, who famously said that if "you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Kerry claimed this was not an accurate reflection of his feelings about the troops, despite a four-decade record of contempt for them, including accusing American troops of being baby-killers during the Vietnam War.

Rather, he said, it was a "botched joke." (In Kerry's defense, he was the opening act for Randi Rhodes' stand-up comedy show at the time.) But as with his military records, Kerry refused to allow his joke-writer to release any of the jokes cut from that speech.

In case there was any confusion, other Democrats immediately clarified their position by going on television and saying -- as Rep. Charlie Rangel did -- that our troops are people who don't have the option of having "a decent career."

These Democrats can't even pull off attending a NASCAR race without embarrassing themselves. In August 2004, Kerry exclaimed: "Who among us does not love NASCAR?" And then, about six months ago, Democratic congressional staffers to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., sent out a memo urging aides going to NASCAR races to get inoculated before attending.

Obama had been so careful until now, "framing" his message as "change" -- rather than partial birth abortion, driver's licenses for illegal aliens, tax hikes, socialized medicine and abandoning mandatory minimum prison sentences for federal crimes.

His message is "change" -- not that his wife has not been proud to be an American for most of her life.

He is for "change" -- and don't mind the crazy racist loon who has been Obama's spiritual mentor for two decades.

One can only hope that Obama got his shots before bowling in Altoona, Pa.
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