Election 2008

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Cheryl Senter/AP

Democrats Offer Obama a Reality Check

September 16, 2008 07:58 AM
by Liz Colville
More Democrats are scrutinizing the way Barack Obama has been conducting his campaign and suggesting how he should proceed in the next seven weeks.

Focus on the Presidency

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Since Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was introduced as Ariz. Sen. John McCain’s running mate, Ill. Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign has found itself distanced from the media spotlight that many thought Sen. Obama had enjoyed for much of the summer. Many political pundits took note of the coverage after three major network news anchors accompanied Obama on his July trip to the Middle East and Europe. Andrew Tyndall of the nonpartisan TyndallReport.com told NPR at the time, “This is a completely unusual, asymmetrical treatment of two candidates who are normally given equal footing.”

The McCain campaign also reacted to the summer media coverage with the ad “Celeb,” which called Obama the “biggest celebrity in the world,” using footage of his well-attended speech in Berlin in July and of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Following Sen. McCain’s selection of Gov. Palin, the McCain campaign can be said to have wrested considerable press coverage—negative and positive—from Obama. Some have asserted that the coverage of Palin has been inaccurate and not thorough, with Media Matters Action Network citing several news stories about Palin’s policies that did not accurately reflect her work while in office.

Meanwhile, the McCain camp and many Republicans have claimed that the coverage of Palin has been sexist. Following a story about Palin in the National Enquirer, McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt said the “news media are ‘on a mission to destroy’ Ms Palin, and lumped the media and tabloids together in his blast against The Enquirer,” according to The Australian. The women’s group WomenCount, founded by a fundraiser of Sen. Clinton, also came to the defense of Palin following what they saw as sexist media coverage of the vice presidential candidate.
But rather than dwelling on Palin and the continual discussion of her in the media, many Democrats have advised in opinion pieces that Obama shift the focus back onto the presidency, and on issues such as the economic crisis plaguing Wall Street.

David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, introduced a new chapter of the Obama campaign with a September 12 memo that suggested a “No Nore Mr. Nice Guy” approach to the final weeks, as the National Review’s Byron York put it. Plouffe wrote that Del. Sen. Joseph Biden would be a big part of the Democrats’ new phase, adding, “We will respond with speed and ferocity to John McCain’s attacks and we will take the fight to him, but we will do it on the big issues that matter to the American people.”

Opinion & Analysis: What Obama should be doing

In Slate, Mickey Kaus asserts that Obama and his supporters have been focusing too much on what they see as McCain campaign “lies” in ads and speeches and that this is a “loser strategy.” Kaus argues that “Lecturing the public on what’s ‘true’ and what’s a ‘lie’ (when the truth isn’t 100% clear) plays into some of the worst stereotypes about liberals—that they are preachy know-it-alls hiding their political motives behind a veneer of objectivity and respectability.” Further, a campaign against the mainstream media is not the right strategy, Kaus suggests, because “MSM outrage doesn’t sway voters anymore.”

“McCain’s made great progress with independents by going against his party,” Kaus adds. “Obama can do the same thing. Obvious areas of potential anti-Dem apostasy: Charter schools, firing incompetent teachers, class-based affirmative action, welfare. At least express some doubts about liberal legalism or the headlong rush to immigrant semi-amnesty.”

Time magazine’s Mark Halperin said on ABC’s “World News Sunday” on Sept. 14 that the Democrats are “plenty concerned” about the Obama campaign and want the focus to move back from Palin to McCain. Many believe that Obama’s “surrogates” have to “go after McCain” the way McCain’s team has focused on Obama, and that Obama must focus more on the economy.

Following news that former President Bill Clinton has been advising Obama more closely, Politico’s John F. Harris speculates on what Clinton’s advice—as yet undisclosed—might be. Derived from his research and published work on Clinton, Harris notes that among other things, Clinton may be advising Obama to temper his campaign’s emphasis on his much-discussed life story. “Clinton is always skeptical of politicians who try to win races on the basis of their life story or supposed personal virtues. Those can be nice side dishes (“The Man from Hope”) but they can’t be the main entrée. Voters just don’t care that much about you.”

Despite the Associated Press’s reputation for neutrality, five of its reporters came up with a “to-don’t list” for Obama following the Democratic National Convention. Among the suggestions were for the candidates to relearn how to talk to each other: “Both sides have good and useful things to say if they don’t get shouted down.” Another was a popular call for Obama to reject nuances in favor of concrete statements. “Barack Obama should not confuse the campaign trail with a college classroom,” Tom Raum writes. “He shouldn’t agonize, Hamlet-like, over every thorny issue.”

Reference: Election 2008

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