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August 24, 2008

I think Clarence Page is voting for Barack Obama

First of all, let me apologize to everyone out there who has been relying exclusively on the Editors’ Blog for up-to-the minute news and incisive commentary on the presidential election. Sorry. I know I have a good excuse for not writing more often: flopping down on the couch after a long day of pretending to work. Tim, meanwhile, has been wasting his time being published in rags like the Chicago Tribune and becoming practically a regular columnist for the USA Today. (Though in all seriousness: !!!). Alec backpacked around the world (?) and has started his new job (??); Claire has been busy posting on class of 2012 message boards (this is a joke that is only funny to Claire and me, and even then, not actually funny). OK. Whew. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s hope to get some more blogging action going. In that spirit, let me sink my proverbial teeth into Clarence Page’s proverbially untasty column for the Tribune. Have you read it? Good. Don’t—it’s terrible. Plus, I wasted, like, 3 minutes of my life getting though his boring boring piece just so no one else has to. Let’s take a little looksie at Page’s lead:

“I once heard of a man so rich he didn't know his kids were in college. The story was a joke. But Sen. John McCain, Republican presidential nominee-to-be, brought it back to mind when he forgot how many houses he owns.”
Man, I wish I had been there for that joke about the man who didn’t know his kids were in college. That sounds like a really good one. And did you hear that McCain doesn’t know how many houses he owns?! OUT OF TOUCH WITH MIDDLE-CLASS HARD-WORKING WORKING-CLASS AMERICANS!!11 (Me, to self: "Calm down.") Anywho, after some eye-glazing summary stuff, Clarence does a lie. Not a big lie, but a lie nonetheless. He writes, “In a new TV ad and at a speech in Virginia last week, Obama took on McCain for calling the economy ‘fundamentally strong’…” Now watch this ad. Watch carefully. Listen and watch for the words “fundamentally strong.” It’s tricky, it really is. I told you it was tricky! Because, though McCain never said the economy is “fundamentally strong,” he did say, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong,” which is pretty close. Obama has also misquoted McCain on this, and Page helpfully proceeds the misquote of the quote of the quote, with a quote of Obama’s misquote. It’s all very confusing, I know. But what Page and Obama (and many others) are basically doing is taking a pretty innocuous—and obviously true—statement (“the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”) and morphing it ever so slightly so that it sounds like “the economy is strong,” which isn't true. It’s very clever of them; that’s why those political strategists get the big bucks. (Do they pay them big bucks? I just made that up; I really have no idea.) Ugh, I’ve spent all this time whining about some tiny misquote, and now I have to rush through some of the better parts of the ad. Like saying “country-club economics,” while McCain is riding a golf cart (at a country club!!). Or how that mean ad says McCain said rich=$5 million a year. That was a joke. Not a particularly funny one, in my opinion, but really, he was jk (look at the transcript or watch the video for proof): McCain doesn’t actually think $4 million a year is not rich. My favorite part is the end, when the doesn’t-understand-what-a-joke-is ad cuts to some ugly, angry-looking couple. Yuck, they are uggggly. And why are they so mad? I really want to know. Did they not get into the country club? Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you, Clarence Page. He continues, “After weeks of being criticized by McCain's campaign as a ‘celebrity’ who, contradictorily, is not known well enough, Obama seemed to be raising a new argument: Americans don't know enough about the McCains.” That’s not actually contradictory, Clarence. Do you really not understand the point the McCain campaign is making?—that Obama is all style, no substance and that we haven’t dug beneath the surface of his celebrity. Are you that dense? You’re supposed to be an astute political observer and you don’t understand this basic point? Why I am still typing this? Page then talks about McCain’s new ad, which links Obama with felon Tony Reizko. Then, he makes some boring, but fair point about how McCain, too, is linked to some scandal, the Keating Five. I don’t really know anything about either controversy, but I don’t think it’s fair for McCain to just link Obama and Reizko without any real evidence of wrong-doing. Yeah, so point to Clarence Page. Page continues:
“What's in a house? Or seven? [hahahahahahaha] The real issue here is not how rich the candidates happen to be. Finalists in the presidential race are by their very nature ‘elites,’ having risen to the top through education, wealth, connections or foxlike cunning.”
Exactly! You nailed it, Clarence. For serious. Hit it out of the ballpark. These arguments about “out of touch” elitists, are just so tired and irrelevant. A candidate should be judged on his policy proposals, not on some vague notion of—
“The real issue is whether they are elitists. In other words, are they in touch with your deeply felt values and urgent concerns, dear voter? Or do they think they're better than you? And do they show it?”
Wa??? You just got done saying that candidates are “elite” by definition, and then you’re like, “The real issue is whether they are elitists.” Ughhhh, I thought you got it for a sec, Clarence. Btw: How are we supposed to determine whether a candidate is “in touch?” Based on how many houses he has? Based on if he knows how much arugula costs? Anyway, remember how SWEET Page’s lead was? How it incorporated humor, while also making a serious point? Well, if you can believe it, his concluding paragraph if even better:
“Instead of responding to such questions in a straightforward manner, McCain disappoints us by escalating into a mudslinging battle. Obama is no more eager to talk about Rezko than McCain is eager to talk about Keating. Yet McCain invites memories of his old ‘mistake’ by bringing up Obama's in a sad sign of desperation. In politics, old mistakes never die. They keep coming back in attack ads.”
The thing is, man, if you’re going to criticize McCain for going dirty, I think in all fairness you’ve got to go after Obama for the same thing. In fact, in this little flap, it was actually Obama’s side that started the attack ads. He’s the one who came off as desperate: criticizing McCain for not remembering how many houses he owns, misquoting McCain about the economy, and taking seriously a joke about what it means to be rich. That’s all I’m asking for, Clarence, some intellectual honesty, some objectivity, some fairness. Is that so hard? Clarence? Are you there? Are you still reading this, Clarence?