Filtering Out the Background Noise

Filtering Out the Background Noise


In a column for Pajamas Media, conservative scholar and essayist Victor Davis Hanson fights back against the trickle of conservatives who’ve bailed on John McCain. Hanson notes that the “nasty McCain campaign” isn’t particularly loathsome in historical context and that Barack Obama supporters have smeared McCain and Palin just as harshly.

He touches on a lot of points, but here’s the one that interested me:

Obama, as I have said ad nauseam, has brilliantly prepped the battlefield to such a degree that a Farrakhan endorsement or surrogates calling Palin a quasi-Nazi or a bimbo, or smearing McCain as near senile is irrelevant; yet one screamer in a crowd of tens of thousands is proof of McCain’s and Palin’s racism and hatred.

I have been irritated at the way Obama supporters have used a few ignorant McCain supporters to tar the entire McCain campaign. I don’t excuse McCain for taking the low road on a few issues, most notably the spurious “Obama is Ayers best friend” attack, but if what someone shouts at a McCain rally can be used as a proof of McCain’s unsuitability to be president, than why isn’t – to pull from Hanson – Farrakhan’s endorsement of Obama relevant? I mean, if what unsanctioned supporters say can be used against a candidate, doesn’t that leave both candidates open to the accusation that they are unfit to serve?

The Obama campaign has excelled at righteous indignation since early in the primaries. The McCain campaign has just looked silly when they’ve tried the same maneuver. But Hanson’s column reminds us that, when it comes to what does and what does not offend you in a campaign, your partisanship will likely account for 90% of your reaction. As someone who isn’t easily offended, I’ve spent much of the campaign scoffing at both side’s episodes of mock outrage.

I won’t let the fact that a few McCain supporters are ignoramuses or even racists affect my vote. I will let matters like the choice to run deceptive ads about Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers affect my vote – but that’s a separate issue. I am being careful to separate what the campaign’s themselves say and do from the background noise of what unsanctioned supporters say and do. It’s far too easy to treat elections as a matter of us vs. them. But I’m not looking to join a team.

  • George Mauer

    It is not about a few ignoramuses affecting your vote.
    If you think that these are still isolated incidents the likes of which are happening on both sides that’s one thing. If on the other side you’re starting to get a feel that there is indeed something particularly vitriolic brewing under the surface at these McCain rallies then you have to start questioning McCain for not addressing it in a lot harsher terms than he has so far.

    So the question is, with all that you have read on the issue, do you believe the negativity at these rallies is overblown or is there something to these stories after all? And if you’re with the latter conclusion than the implications are obvious.

  • Justin Gardner

    but if what someone shouts at a McCain rally can be used as a proof of McCain’s unsuitability to be president, than why isn’t – to pull from Hanson – Farrakhan’s endorsement of Obama relevant? I mean, if what unsanctioned supporters say can be used against a candidate, doesn’t that leave both candidates open to the accusation that they are unfit to serve?

    Who claimed that he was unsuitable to be President because his supporters were acting like idiots? I don’t know if anybody I’ve read in the past week or so has said that, although I tend to stay away from the lefty blogs so they might be making that claim.

    What I have personally had a problem with is the fact that McCain can’t recognize that the Ayers strategy promotes an idea in the minds of his supporters that Obama is a terrorist sympathizer when nothing could be further from the truth. So it should be no surprise then that McCain is seeing more anger and more calls for violence at his rallies. People are literally afraid of Obama, and it’s because their candidate is scaring them.

    And let’s be clear here, Hanson is grossly understating AND overstating the issue. It’s not just one supporter, as I pointed out this weekend. It’s becoming more of a pattern in part because of the messaging coming from the McCain campaign. Do you really think that the Virginia GOP Chaiman would have been emboldened to talk about a link between Obama and Osama in front of a TIME reporter if McCain hadn’t laid the groundwork with Ayers? Puh-leez.

    Are McCain and Palin promoting racism and hatred? Racism no. Hatred? Again, no, but when you focus on issues of character and associations, you’re certainly not helping quell hatred in your base.

    What’s more, Hanson continues to push the idea that this is a valid strategy when it’s obviously and clearly ill-conceived. On the other hand, he completely ignores the Palins’ connections to the AIP.

    I gave credit to McCain when he started defending Obama to his supporters. As a candidate, you have to repudiate false claims or incendiary remarks from your supporters when you hear them. And both candidates have a good track record on that. But comparing consistent audience reaction to a candidate’s attack messaging with an unprompted endorsement by Farakkhan (or even Hamas) is pretty thin gruel.

  • Mark Logan

    Alan, obviously neither campaign can be responsible for the outbursts of supporters. However, that’s not really the basis of the criticisms of the McCain campaign.

    I think most of the criticisms have not been aimed at the outbursts themselves, but rather at the facts that A) the McCain campaign’s attacks have created an atmosphere conducive to such vitriol and possibly violence, and B) that McCain and Palin have not done anything to rein in these kinds of outbursts when they occur.

    That changed last week, when McCain on a couple of occasions urged supporters to be respectful and contradicted supporters who made outrageous claims (e.g. Obama is an Arab). That’s the kind of behavior that we ought to expect from a candidate, and something that had been lacking previously from McCain and Palin. In fact, I’ve yet to see Palin respond in a similar way.

    Many Obama supporters are concerned that Obama’s race makes him a special target for the whackos, and the prospect of violence against Obama seems more real than in previous elections. So there is a high level of sensitivity to attacks that seem to inflame violent passions (e.g. Obama pals around with terrorists).

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    All good points. I will say that it is very difficult to meassure the affect of the Ayers attacks. Are they causing this wave of nastiness or is the wave of nastiness due more to the fact that McCain supporters are getting desperate? If we want to discuss the “conditions” each campaign has created, I would point out that the Obama campaign has done a fantastic job of creating the condition where every attack against him is labeled as “nasty” or “swiftboating.” That’s not to excuse the Ayers attacks, but I can understand the frustration of McCain supporters like Hanson.

    As for this specific issue, the question is: is McCain inciting anger or is the anger an outgrowth of conditions outside of McCain’s control? I don’t have enough evidence to make that call, so I won’t let this aspect of the campaign affect my vote — unless I can conclusively blame McCain for the actions of his supporters.

    And, Justin, don’t read too much into the word choice of “unsuitable.” I didn’t mean “unqualified,” I was just looking for a shorthand way to say people are using the outbursts from supporters as another reason why not to vote for McCain.

  • Steve

    There is a reason Obama received Secret Service protection earlier than any other candidate in U.S. history.

    To paraphrase Cindy McCain, I get a cold chill down my spine when I hear a stereotypical redneck call Obama a “terrorist” because history reveals that it often doesn’t take much for that type of person to grow impatient with democracy and resort to self help.

    This nation has a long history of progressives being subject to violence by their conservative brethren. Thus, the ramification of a crowd of excited McCain supporters shouting racial epithets is very different from that for Obama supporters yelling “McSame.”

  • wj

    I think alan makes a valid point that the nastiness at McCain or Palin rallies may well be due to desperation on the part of their supporters. But by the same token, the Ayers ads may reflect the same feeling of desperation on the part of the campaign. Certainly it is not in line with the kind of camapign I expected from McCain.

  • Dollface

    I think everyone has made some really great points. As owner of a “lefty” blog as you put it, Justin, I must say that the argument isn’t that McCain shouldn’t be President due to the outburts of his supporters. If anything, what I want to know is why McCain’s campaign is running ads associating Obama with “domestic terrorists,” thus sending a message to the masses that Obama is dangerous and untrustworthy. Sarah Palin even stated that she believes Obama “pals around” with terrorists. If that isn’t an official endorsement of this bogus theory, then what is?

    I’m disturbed by the racism and hatred towards Obama on a fundamental level. As an admitted Obama supporter, I obviously worry about how this will affect the election results. Even though nothing will change my vote (I’m pro-choice and feminist — sorry, John, you’re just not the candidate for me), I still expect McCain to do the right thing: he should vehemently condemn the ignorant statements his supporters make about Obama.

    I think what concerns me most is the fact that racism is a factor in this election. No matter what party you support, as a decent human being this should upset you. We need our elections to be more fair and clean. Enough with the false ads that only spread ignorance, rather than combat it.

  • patrikios

    I do think it is desperation. That plus bad advice and bad decisions.

    I am not going to blame McCain for the statements of some ignorant losers at his rallies, or even for disinformation spread by people such as Sean Hannity or Mark Hyman from Sinclair Broadcasting. But I think McCain’s campaign, and Palin in particular, did go too far on the Ayers thing.

    To win, McCain needs to send Sarah Palin back to Alaska and run on issues rather than personal attacks. McCain should choose an experienced running mate like Tom Ridge, and fire advisers (e.g. Rick Davis, Steve Schmidt) who are reinforcing the idea that he can’t win on the issues. On the other hand, McCain CAN’T win on the issues unless he makes it clear HOW his economic and foreign policy approaches are different from those of the Bush administration.

    Also, if he dumps Palin and runs to the center, he can more effectively make the case for divided government (counterbalancing an even more Dem Congress with a GOP president) which is one of the best cases he can make for swing voters who are fed up with both the president and Congress.

    The “old McCain” (the one I supported in 2000) was a centrist and a pragmatist, like George H.W. Bush (who I think is an underrated president). The McCain of 2008 seems like he is being held hostage by the ideologues of his party-the neocons, supply-siders and fundamentalists who had so much negative influence over the GOP in the last 8 years. The Palin pick was evidence of this for me; I doubt McCain would have picked her if people like Kristol, Schmidt et al weren’t pushing her.

    Unfortunately, if McCain chooses the course I am recommending, he will alienate a lot of the base without being assured of winning back the moderates and independents who have gone over decisively to Obama in the past 2-3 weeks. Essentially, he is in a Catch-22: even if he can win back swing voters with a qualified VP and a more centrist economic and foreign policy, the base is likely to feel betrayed and believe that their initial hostility toward McCain was correct.

    To any Republicans reading this, I am not concern trolling. I am just suggesting a way that McCain can salvage his campaign (and his reputation).

  • Chris

    As I said in other comments, the racial undertones of the McCain supporters isn’t from just a couple of people. Nearly every single person I’ve talked to who is a McCain supporter has repeated that junk to me multiple times, so don’t try to slough it off to the fringe supporters. the base of the GOP believes that stuff enough to repeat it over and over again till they are convinced that they are correct.

  • Mark Logan

    Alan, I think you’re right about the Obama campaign doing a good job of framing attacks against him as “nasty” and boxing McCain into the “negative campaigning” box. That’s good campaign execution, IMO.

    McCain made a strategic decision to go negative early with the celebrity theme. It worked for a while, bringing Obama’s negatives up and his positives down. But negative campaigning comes with costs. Obama’s team did a good job of making the McCain campaign pay those costs.

    When Obama supporters first started making noise about McCain’s negative attacks, many of my Republican friends shrugged and said “that’s just politics,” and some of my Democratic friends cringed because they were “tired of Democrats being whiners.”

    But over the longer term, Obama’s decision to protest the negative attacks has paid dividends. Public opinion has solidified around Obama as the more positive candidate who talks about the issues and McCain as the more negative candidate who focuses on an attack strategy.

    Previous Democratic candidates have not done a good job of making Republicans pay for negative campaigning. Obama’s team has done a good job of this.

    And now, of course, McCain is well behind in the polls, and his only hope of catching up (albeit a slim one) is more attacks.