The Hack Thirty

Karl Rove’s Media Birds Chirp About Obama’s ‘Arrogance’

Glenn Greenwald

Displaying the startling prescience and unconventional insights that have long been the hallmark of his magazine, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait wrote on June 30:

The best aspect of a McCain presidency is that, while it would probably follow the policies of George W. Bush, it would put an end to the politics of Karl Rove . . . . In Bush’s Washington, critics are enemies to be dismissed rather than engaged. A McCain presidency would promise to dismantle the whole Rovian method that has torn open such a deep wound in the national psyche.

From The New York Times Editorial Page, yesterday:

On July 3, news reports said Senator John McCain, worried that he might lose the election before it truly started, opened his doors to disciples of Karl Rove from the 2004 campaign and the Bush White House. Less than a month later, the results are on full display. The candidate who started out talking about high-minded, civil debate has wholeheartedly adopted Mr. Rove’s low-minded and uncivil playbook.

From The New York Times today:

After spending much of the summer searching for an effective line of attack against Senator Barack Obama, Senator John McCain is beginning a newly aggressive campaign to define Mr. Obama as arrogant, out of touch and unprepared for the presidency. . . .
Mr. McCain’s campaign is now under the leadership of members of President Bush’s re-election campaign, including Steve Schmidt, the czar of the Bush war room that relentlessly painted his opponent, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as effete, elite, and equivocal through a daily blitz of sound bites and Web videos that were carefully coordinated with Mr. Bush’s television advertisements.

The run of attacks against Mr. Obama over the last couple of weeks have been strikingly reminiscent of that drive, including the Bush team’s tactics of seeking to make campaigns referendums on its opponents — not a choice between two candidates — and attacking the opponent’s perceived strengths head-on.

There’s obviously nothing surprising about the McCain campaign’s reliance on the standard, personality-based attacks that the GOP uses every election year. It’s long been obvious to everyone outside of The TNR Circle that McCain’s only prospect for winning would be to move the election away from debates over issues (where his positions are widely rejected by the public) and instead demonize Barack Obama as an effete, elitist, effeminate, far Leftist, terrorist-loving radical, and it was equally obvious that McCain — “drooling for power like a fruit bat with rabies,” as Matt Taibbi put it in November, 2006 — would eagerly employ those Rovian tactics. That may be a surprise to long-time Beltway McCain worshipers such as Chait and The Washington Post’s David Ignatitus (who today longed for McCain’s “healing gift,” “this fiercely independent man,” and “not the heroism but the humility”), but not to anyone else.
What is far more notable than McCain’s now almost-complete reliance on Rovian demonization themes is how obediently the establishment media has been spouting and disseminating them. Five weeks ago, on June 23, Karl Rove appeared at a breakfast with Republican insiders at the Capitol Hill Club, mocked Obama
cooly arrogant.” Ever since, that Obama is “arrogant” — and the related sin: “presumptuous” — has become standard, mandated media script. as “the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by,” and labeled him “

It’s now literally difficult to find a discussion of Obama in the establishment press that isn’t based on this personality-based theme — with media stars either expressing the opinion themselves or repeating it as a McCain talking point. Last night, CNN’s Campbell Brown, hosting Anderson Cooper’s show, framed the show this way:

But is Obama vulnerable? Is he arrogant? . . . David, the McCain campaign, Republicans, they are consistently playing up this notion that Obama is presumptuous, arrogant. Can they stick him with this label?

Here’s the front page of Politico today:


This is exactly what happens every single election cycle. The Right spews some petty, personality-based attack, and the chirping media birds then mindlessly repeat it until it’s lodged into our discourse as accepted fact. That’s the media strategy on which the Right is relying to win the election this year again — dictating the songs sung by the vapid, chirping press birds — even as they petulantly and incessantly complain that the same media stars who serve this strategy are stacked against them. Yesterday’s, National Review’s Rich Lowry posted what he called “musings from a shrewd friend” about a Dana Milbank column in yesterday’s Washington Post that repeated every last “Obama-is-arrogant” cliché (”there are signs that the Obama campaign’s arrogance has begun to anger reporters”). Lowry’s “shrewd” friend:

[Obama’s] showing hubris and contempt for the rest of us in how he considers America fundamentally broken and he’s the solution. Messianism is usually a quality you don’t want in a president. This was always the soft underbelly of his candidacy. They’ve gotten too caught up in their own story. What always does in a celebrity? Overexposure. The question now is whether Dana Milbank is the bird leaving the wire and every other bird in the press follows him or not. If this narrative sets in, Obama might have to move up his VP announcement to change the story.

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