Saturday, September 27, 2008

In Contempt: McCain Wanted to "Demonize the Enemy"?

The early word this morning on last night's presidential debate held that the nation saw stark contrasts between the candidates, but "neither emerged as the obvious winner except to their partisans."

Actually, maybe the perception of a win for Barack Obama isn't as obvious as his left-wing supporters might like. With the exception of an odd post here or there, few Obama backers are ready to say the Illinois Senator hit a home run. Indeed, with the debate a draw, folks are looking for idiosyncracies or anomalies with which to blow up into a major news story. I heard George Stephanopolous say twice last night that "McCain didn't make eye contact," or just thereabouts.

Well, that's it: The left wants McCain's concentration and focus to be the week's big attack meme. Josh Marshall's been leading the partisan charge, for example, saying McCain was an "
angry" old man this morning. That spin's turning to something allegedly more sinister: McCain is being said to have held Obama in contempt, and as Eugene Robinson claims in the interview with Chris Matthews below, McCain wanted to "demonize his enemy":

Steve Benen's now working to get the "contempt" meme viral:

After the initial dust settles on a presidential candidate debate, Phase II begins - the media moves beyond who said what, and starts looking for some overlooked trend to obsess over.

The quintessential example was, of course, Al Gore "sighing" during the first of the three debates in 2000. A few people noticed Gore's breathing the night of the debate, but a day or two later, it became the story. To a lesser extent, Bush's bizarre facial features, and the apparent bump under his suit jacket, became fodder for discussion four years ago.

So, what's the stylistic story from last night? It may be John McCain's willingness to be ... what's the word I'm looking for ... something of a jerk....

The specific and unusual rules of last night's debate were intended to generate more interaction between the two candidates. Jim Lehrer seemed intent, at least early on, to get the two to engage each other directly. Obama mostly spoke to the camera last night, but he didn't hesitate to speak directly to McCain.

McCain, on the other hand, went out of his way, it seemed, to not even look in Obama's direction. Chris Matthews described this as a sign of "contempt," which struck me as the right description.
Benen concludes his piece with a coy disclaimer, offering doubts that the "contempt" meme might generate significant traction.

That's baloney, of course. CNN's already spinning the focus group data toward an Obama "win" last night (when in fact Democrats are overrepresented in the samples), and
some in the leftosphere are working hard to portray Obama as having put McCain down for the count.

I've followed McCain's presidential campaign like an addict all year, and I have never heard it on good faith that John McCain literally holds Barack Obama in contempt.

I saw McCain last night as a candidate at the top of his game, which was a phenomena in itself, considering the stressful week of events, and McCain's breakneck pace in working to ease the financial crisis. The Arizona Senator, frankly, was in the groove in Mississippi, and he wasn't about to knocked off his stride by slick debating tricks or slippery evasions. As
David Yepson argued last night, "McCain never got rattled or flustered, he just constantly stayed focused on the attack."

Not only that, if there's truly been any "contempt" and efforts to "demonize the enemy" this year, that program's been on the left of the spectrum, especially with the full-blown cultural revolt we've seen in response to Sarah Palin's nomination, but also in the earlier efforts to portray McCain as
a bloodthirsty neo-imperial warmonger who would keep the U.S. in Iraq for 100 years, and as a feeble geriatric whose "hair was whiter than his teeth."

The left's hysteria surrounding McCain/Palin continues to build, amazingly. Barack Obama didn't do as well as he should have last night, and his partisans are going to make it even worse for him.