Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bid, no trump

It’s curious that in the instantly level playing field of 24/7 communications in the Internet age, there’s still the idea that a vast geographic distance makes a difference in sending or receiving a message. Because that thinking persists, Sen. Barack Obama’s continuing tour of Europe and the Middle East — he’s in Israel today — has given Sen. John McCain the chance to have the domestic political stage pretty much to himself.

Naturally, Team McCain has been working on how to steal some of Obama’s thunder — the big impact he’s already made in his meetings with leaders of Iraq, Jordan and Afghanistan, and the huge splash he’s likely to make tomorrow when he speaks in Berlin. Right-wing attack dog journalist Robert Novak reported yesterday that:

“Sources close to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign are suggesting he will reveal the name of his vice presidential selection this week while Sen. Barack Obama is getting the headlines on his foreign trip. The name of McCain's running mate has not been disclosed, but Mitt Romney has led the speculation recently.”

It was a somewhat blatant bid to steal a march on the building Obama juggernaut, and it followed by days McCain’s appearance on all the network morning TV shows, and the release of a new and blazingly ridiculous McCain television ad that actually blames the current gas-price crisis on … Senator Obama.

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McCain’s attempt to trump the Obama not-quite-World Tour is likely to fail for reasons basic to both politics and television. Simply put, Obama’s positions (and his consistency of expressing those positions) make for good politics; Obama’s personality, rhetorical gifts and inherent novelty as a candidate make for good TV.

McCain truly has the domestic media arena to himself; the news anchors and producers that could effectively shift the focus to McCain are traveling with Obama right now. It’s not about padding their frequent-flier mileage, either. Whether McCain’s team likes it or not, the anchors’ physical presence sets the locational agenda for what the media decides is important, based on their reading of popular interest and the potential for the visual drama that is TV’s lifeblood. Right now, the anticipated frisson of Obama speaking at the Victory Column in Berlin has captured their imagination.

(And that of the Germans. Jefferson Chase of Deutsche Welle reports today that "[O]ne of Berlin's main city magazines offered its readership cut-out American flags to wave at Barack Obama's planned address.")

True enough, the media focus would move if McCain does announce a running mate this week, but only briefly. The media loves a surprise, and Romney’s name has been bandied about as a veep pick for literally months, along with others. Other prospects that may be more surprising (former homeland security chief Tom Ridge, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty) are correspondingly less exciting and less likely.

McCain the maverick may need to be something of a magician. In the wake of two calamitous weeks, and yesterday’s news of a major gaffe of recent history vis-à-vis Iraq and the troop escalation known as “the surge,” and a misplacing of the borders of Iran and Pakistan, McCain needs the deus ex machina of a rabbit pulled from a hat to move the media’s attention, and much of the nation’s, to his center stage.

The right running-mate choice, though, guarantees him prime-time coverage. Hey —

Maybe he’ll pick George Bush!
Image credit: Bush and Romney: Reuters, via Huffington Post

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