“That one”

It seems that one of the most interesting parts of the debate last night, for many people, was McCain’s use of the the term “that one” to refer to his opponent. People have indicated that it was rude, dismissive, or even racist. First, I should note that I am willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt. Some of suggested that he had memorized a “this senator… that one…” speech, and just forgot the first part of it. In any case, it seems that for those who watched the debate (I listened to it on the radio), the body language made what might otherwise be seen as a simple misstatement worse.

I don’t think people–and particularly those in the McCain campaign–realize what McCain’s disdain for his opponent communicates to the American people. I can fully understand why there might be antipathy between the two. McCain probably feels more deserving of the office because of his record in politics. (Though I have to admit, I don’t get the “my turn” idea–any more with McCain than I did with Clinton.) And the two have been throwing some jabs at one another in their advertising. But when McCain chooses to disrespect his fellow senator, by extension he is disrespecting the more than half of Americans who are supporting Obama right now, as well as quite a few of those who are “leaning” toward Obama. You can say you can cross the aisle, but when you give a cold shoulder to the person you are competing against, it belies this position.

Perhaps this boils down to the question of whether you are willing to meet with your enemy. I don’t know that these men see each other in those stark roles, but I do know that I trust Obama to get things done with those who do not agree with him, and I don’t see much evidence of that in McCain.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 10/8/2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    And Senator McCain’s rude remark is going to be his undoing, McCain’s Macaca Moment of 2008 … probably not the October Surprise McCain was planning …

  2. indie voter
    Posted 10/9/2008 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Who really cares? Dwelling on something as inconsequential as this only serves as a distraction. With the economy in the toilet, and people losing their jobs and homes, Americans have more important things to worry about. And I really don’t care how the candidates say something, I care about what they’re saying.

    I also seriously doubt that this particular remark will be McCain’s “undoing”. This cannot be compared in any way to George Allen’s “macaca” remark.

  3. alex
    Posted 10/9/2008 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I personally think the candidates positions on the issues are more important. They have laid out some clear differences: McCain wants to continue to cut taxes on the rich, Obama wants to bring us back to the tax structure we had under Reagan. (Though “wants to” is operative here: neither candidate has told us clearly how they have adapted their plans to the new revenue environment.) McCain is a lifelong deregulator, and wants to decrease regulation in our health care system, Obama considers basic health care a right, and wants to set up a safety net for those who have poor healthcare or no healthcare.

    Actually, that’s not quite true: McCain wants extreme government intervention in one case. If your daughter is raped, he and his running mate want the state to mandate she gives birth. Obama is anti-abortion, but believes that the state should not make that extraordinarily difficult decision for a woman. McCain is more willing to use force and threats in foreign affairs, and Obama believes that we have to exhaust every diplomatic possibility first, including meeting with our enemies. McCain admits that he doesn’t know much about economics, and 80% of economists surveyed think an Obama presidency would be more likely to stabilize the economy.

    However, questions of both skill and character are pertinent to the job of president. I want a president who is less likely than the current one to try to mislead the public. McCain has engaged in some of the most dishonorable mudslinging that we have ever seen in a race–rivaling only the kinds of lies the Bush campaign spread about him. They have–as have many Republican campaigns since Nixon, engaged in the “Southern Strategy.” Note that Ken Mehlman–former GOP chair–repudiated the use of the race wedge as a campaign technique, but since he stepped down in 07, the campaign has increasingly employed those tactics again. More directly, McCain has personally approved and defended (!) commercials that imply Obama (for example) favored sex ed for kindergartners, a claim he knows to be false and misleading. I don’t see how anyone could support a candidate who is willing to lie so openly to constituents in order to secure their vote.

    Why does the comment matter? Two reasons. First of all: you ask “Who really cares?” The truth is, I don’t particularly. As I noted, I think it was just poorly chosen words. But some people do care, and I think it is wrong to assume that your opinion or mine is the only one that matters. The same could be said for McCain’s use of the word “gook.” Who cares? Not all Asian-Americans, but a reasonably large number. Obviously, nothingman cares, and I am not going to be so cavalier as to dismiss him out of hand.

    But the point of the post was not that a significant number of people saw this comment and his condescending comment about Fanny and Freddy as racist. I think he’s probably just inarticulate and forgetful, and that was the main reasons for his comments. This would explain why he addressed a crowd a couple of days ago as “my fellow prisoners.” I always like to give folks the benefit of the doubt, even when the Southern Strategy hinges on people like me excusing that behavior. My problem with it was that it was openly and intentionally disrespectful of Obama–his fellow senator–and by extension those who agree with Obama. As a senator, he doesn’t have to respect is opponents, but given that he would have to work with a Democratic congress if elected president, if we want our government to be anything other than stalled, he would have to be able to work with the opposition. He’s done that in the past, but that was–as the Economist says–the “old McCain,” which was most likely a convenient farce in any case.

    So, you may not care how a candidate says something, but a lot of people do. Words matter, particularly in politics. Someones ability to communicate effectively determines how capable they are of governing. Someone willing to lie and unwilling to run a respectful campaign, is in my view unfit to lead.

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