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Media guilt: Making McCain into something he's not

Media guilt over McCain

Harold Jackson, the editorial page editor of the Inquirer, toiled in the same political wilderness of Alabama in the 1980s that I myself did, and so he understands the historic nature of Barack Obama's presumptive Democratic nomination for president. In fact, he wants to be excited about it -- really, he does -- but he can't get there.

Remember how Hillary Clinton was inevitable? The cloak has been passed to John McCain. Reading between the lines of Jackson's column today, he seems to combine two phenomena that are politically dangerous for Obama: Doubt among some of his would-be enthusiasts -- especially African-Americans -- that the nation would really embrace a black president, and a feeling in the media of a need to bend over backwards to counter the argument that journalists are in the tank for Obama.

The danger is to build McCain into something he's not, and this piece does that big-time. Let's analyze the key passage:

There are plenty of Democrats who can find something to like about McCain if they search hard enough. He's a fiscally responsible, frequently anti-lobbyist war hero who offered the most comforting words to women Tuesday night when it became clear that Hillary Clinton had lost the Democratic nomination to Obama.
"As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach. I am proud to call her my friend," said McCain. Sure, the comment reeked of political opportunism. But it showed that McCain knows which strings to pull to get irked Democrats to swap allegiance.


Fiscally responsible?

Mr. McCain — who said in February in Wisconsin that he would balance the budget by the end of his first term as president — seemed to reconsider that on Tuesday, saying at a news conference later in Villanova that "economic conditions are reversed" and that he would have a balanced budget within eight years. His economic aides said they could pay for all the tax cuts with spending cuts.
The Democratic National Committee did its own analysis, which it said suggested that Mr. McCain's proposed tax cuts, coupled with the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he wants to continue, would put the budget trillions of dollars into the red.

Here's a key element of that "fiscal responsibility"?

Pouff! $100 billion in taxpayer money! Saved! Just like that! With a flick of the presidential veto pen!
There are a number of problems with this magical budgetary balancing act. First of all, the suspiciously round $100 billion figure is largely a figment of the McCain campaign's imagination. I have not been able to find a single independent budget expert to vouch for it.

Frequently anti-lobbyist? Even Jackson had to add the fudge word "frequently," because anyone knows that's hard to justify:

Even before the start of his current campaign, McCain was reportedly "court[ing]" lobbyists in preparation for a presidential run. The Hill reported on March 8, 2006, that "lobbyists say that McCain has been reaching out to K Street to strengthen his national fundraising network." The Hill also reported that "prominent lobbyists" say McCain was engaged in "a quiet effort by his political team to court inside-the-Beltway donors and fundraisers in preparation for a possible 2008 presidential run." In a February 3, 2007, National Journal article (retrieved from Nexis), Peter H. Stone and James A. Barnes reported that McCain and Mitt Romney are "working overtime to line up influential allies on K Street who can deliver supporters and campaign cash," citing as examples that on "January 22, David Girard-diCarlo, the chairman of Blank Rome, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania, escorted McCain to Pittsburgh and Harrisburg to meet with influential donors and fundraisers. And on January 31, the senator attended a Capitol Hill luncheon at the Monocle restaurant that drew two dozen trade association leaders and potential allies." Stone and Barnes added that in "2005, then-Sen. George Allen of Virginia generated a lot of enthusiasm among GOP lobbyists. By the middle of last year, however, Allen's allure had ebbed, and many GOP clout merchants began to see McCain as their best shot to hold the White House in 2008."

War hero? That's a fact, but in a tumultuous year like 2008, I doubt that alone will propel an otherwise weak candidate into the White House. And while it's true that Obama had some cringeworthy moments with Clinton early in the race -- remember "You're likable enough, Hillary?" -- he's been every bit as magnanimous as McCain toward his vanquished rival in recent days.

Harold Jackson is a friend, so I'm not going to be harsh here, but just kindly advise him to relax a little -- and don't pump John McCain into something he's not, especially when it's not shown by the facts. This is an election where truly the only thing to fear is fear itself.