Sunday, August 24, 2008

After Barack Obama hype, a backlash

Doing my Sunday afternoon catch-up reading and came across another great Barack Obama column, this by Michael Goodwin of the New York Daily News.

Who says there's no tension between the Daily News and the NYT?

Read on!

After Barack Obama hype, a backlash
Tuesday, August 19th 2008

The headline conveyed urgency: "Obama Ready to Announce Running Mate" said a breathless New York Times.

In language worthy of a Madison Avenue pitchman, the paper reported Obama had "all but settled" on his choice and would launch "an elaborate rollout plan" of events.

Holy hype, Batman. Another day, another inflated report on the routine doings of The One.

John McCain's mocking nickname for Obama came in an ad comparing Obama's grandiose promises to Moses parting the Red Sea. It was funny, but I'm starting to think it wasn't a joke.
The Obama campaign and its media handmaidens are taking their candidate way too seriously.

So much so that they could be setting up a backlash against the hype. No human being can meet the wildly inflated expectations that accompany the rookie senator's every move. It can't help that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Obama "a leader that God has blessed us with at this time."

That's the kind of remark that can turn voters into problems. Most Americans famously resent being told an election is over months before the polls open or that God is taking sides.

Maybe that's why recent surveys show Obama underperforming. Although Democrats enjoy a 10- to 12-point generic lead over Republicans, Obama and McCain are essentially tied.

The dead heat is a concern to many top Democrats, given the national mood. Although polls at this stage can be notoriously fickle, the anti-Republican sentiment is clear when 81% of voters say the nation is on the wrong track. Such a lopsided finding should be an impossible hurdle for any candidate seeking a party's third consecutive term in the White House, as McCain is.

While McCain has complained about media favoritism toward Obama, most recently about NBC News' tilted coverage, maybe he ought to encourage it. Resentment over the media love affair with Obama might be McCain's most powerful weapon.

The fawning coverage exaggerates even routine Obama events, and when he fails to meet giddy expectations, the excuse machine warps into overtime. That, in turn, creates another unappealing layer of media-imposed conventional wisdom.

Take the results of the weekend faith forum. With most commentators saying McCain did better than Obama in giving straight, clear answers to pastor Rick Warren's questions, the Obama camp suggested McCain knew the questions in advance. The assumption was clear: Obama is so much smarter that McCain couldn't possibly win without cheating.

The selection of running mates is following the same script. McCain's camp said he would make his announcement Aug. 29, and that was matter-of-factly noted. But Obama's choice is being treated like the Second Coming, as though this is the selection of a certain vice president, not merely a running mate.

The Times, which delivers an almost-daily front-page assault on McCain, pumped up the timing as though Obama's musings were news. But with the convention less than a week away, Obama can't wait much longer.

And what does it mean he has "all but settled" on a choice? That's a snake-oil way of saying he hasn't made a final decision. And the "elaborate rollout plan" it touted is a fairly routine schedule of joint appearances.

It's all par for the unfair course. The ombudsman for The Washington Post, Deborah Howell, scolded her paper for running three times as many front page stories on Obama as McCain since June and for publishing about 50% more pictures of Obama. She also cited a wider survey of papers, radio, TV and Web sites that show Obama getting more coverage in eight of the last nine weeks.

So The One has been anointed. If I were running the Obama campaign, I'd be terrified. After all, the last person the media declared inevitable was Hillary Clinton.

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