Washington Babylon — August 22, 2008, 9:32 am

Penetrating Campaign Insights from the Washington Post and CNN

“Market share dictates the witless coverage, which is largely for the media’s own amusement,” Chris Lehmann said in an interview posted here yesterday. “You see that all the time on the Sunday political chat shows, which are always about the polls and who is performing better in strategic terms.”

Chris also said of media coverage, “It never seems to matter that John McCain is the wealthier candidate and represents economic interests that are in many ways aristocratic; it’s always Barack Obama who is the ‘elitist.’”

So it was amusing to pick up today’s Washington Post and read this:

Sen. John McCain’s inability to recall the number of homes he owns during an interview yesterday jeopardized his campaign’s carefully constructed strategy to frame Democratic rival Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist and inspired a round of attacks that once again ratcheted up the negative tone of the race for the White House.

So even though McCain’s wealth is hardly a secret, it took a verbal gaffe by the candidate, and information about his real estate holdings provided by the Obama campaign, for the media to figure out that McCain is rich. Meanwhile, the Post story doesn’t focus on the actual facts and issues involved, but on the strategic maneuvering and accompanying political blather:

For a Democratic candidate suffering from a barrage of attacks on his ‘celebrity,’ McCain’s inability to recall the scope of his family holdings was a timely break.

The now-defunct Progressive Media USA, a liberal activist group, had done polling on the potential line of attack and concluded that it alone would have little impact against McCain, whose ‘brand’ as a maverick Republican has proved difficult to crack.

Even if the slip doesn’t resonate broadly with the electorate, it could have meaning for the one group Obama has had the most difficulty with: working-class white voters, said Democratic strategist Tom Matzzie.

The ferocity of the McCain campaign’s response to Obama made it clear how seriously it viewed the potential for damage from the Arizonan’s remarks.

It’s just this sort of penetrating analysis that encourages me to not read the Post (other than the sports pages, movie listings, and comics) between now and the election.

By the way, speaking of inane campaign coverage, I was channel-surfing Wednesday night and — for reasons that I myself don’t fully understand — stopped and watched
CNN’s Strategy Session for a few minutes. The guests included Joe Klein of Time and CNN “political contributors” Alex Castellanos (the hack Republican) and Hilary Rosen (the hack Democrat).

The few moments I watched were centered on the mind-numbing topic of VP speculation (make sure to read Chris’s remarks on that topic in yesterday’s interview). My favorite part was Castellanos’s remarks, who said that McCain was looking for a running mate he got along with — “My guess is that the old fighter pilot wants someone he could be in the cockpit with for four years, that he likes and trusts.” That’s a pretty good guess!

Castellanos also said that the old fighter pilot would be looking for someone “who’ll keep the country safe.” Hmmm. I’m going to need to think about that, being a maverick and all, McCain might go for a nominee who’ll make the country unsafe.

But Castellanos had more insights, adding, “There is one big issue that dominates Republicans now and unites everybody, and it is keeping the country safe. When somebody is trying to break into your house and kill you, you’re going to worry about other issues later. You’re going to worry about keeping the country safe first.”

I know that every time someone’s trying to kill me, keeping the country safe is always the first thing on my mind.

Strategy Session was back last night with another riveting episode: “Obama V.P. Watch Continues.”

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I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

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