Sure About That? Scherer Edition

Michael Scherer at the Swampland discusses Robert Gibbs (Obama’s Communications Director) and thinks he is playing the age card.  He cites two examples.

Scherer on the first:

Some weeks back, Barack Obama’s communications chief Robert Gibbs joked without any prompting that John McCain might have “misplaced the keys” to his houses. Hardy Har Har.

The second (my emphasis):

This morning on MSNBC, Gibbs returned to the make-fun-of-the-elderly joke well. “Just yesterday, John McCain said we shouldn’t fix blame. He took a breath and then fixed blame. He said the fundamentals of our economy are strong, and he flip-flopped. He opposed the bail-out of AIG, and then he supported it. This guy zig-zags. Look, if he’s driving a car, get off the sidewalk.” (Video here.)

Hardy Har Har. Back in the 2004 presidential election, one in four voters was 60 years old or older. I am sure they find these sort of jokes from Obama’s top message man hilarious. Just hilarious.

Now the first one recall referred to the fact that John McCain couldn’t remember how many houses he owned.  And that attack was leveled at him for being a really rich dude who had no clue about everyday stuff.  But the age think was inevitably part of that one–and may have been signalled in this ad.  So on the first, I would say it’s more ambiguous than Scherer is making it out to be (i.e. Gibbs could have just been hitting the rich dude theme), but I think Scherer may have something on that one.  May.  Or at the least if he didn’t intend it, he should have thought that the losing the keys could be heard in a negative demeaning light.

But the second example…I gotta call BS on that one.  “The guy zig-zags” means that he keeps changing his opinions/views every five seconds (hence the earlier reference to flip-flopping) and that charge has validity. In fact a whole lot of evidence behind it.  Why jump to the conclusion that he meant anything other than the guy changes his mind every other day and that if that were analogized as driving a car it would be zig-zagging.  And if you were in the way of said zig-zagging you would get mowed down, which to play the analogy back means that you don’t want to vote for this guy because his positions are erratic and will get “driven over” politically as a result if he gets “behind the wheel” of government.  i.e. If he’s in the “driver’s seat” of the executive.  [Can I find any more cliches relative to this analogy?  Commenters feel free to add some…we can make it into a contest of sorts.]

Why does the zig-zagging have to be a shot at old people and a subtle signalling of stereotypes about older folks as bad drivers?   This is as dumb in my mind as trying to argue for racism in those old Celebrity McCain ads.

On another note, I find highly amusing the (fairly youthful) Scherer projecting what all old people think.  Who’s stereotyping now homeboy?  Maybe some segment of elders in US society would have interpreted Gibbs in exactly the manner I did–i.e. Gibbs was just referring to McCain’s all over the place campaign and not his age).  Or someone could argue that Gibbs didn’t intend his comment to be a shot at elders in society–but he could later be informed that his words could be interpreted to evoke ageist stereotypes, in which case he could (possibly legitimately) say something like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.  Thanks for the info.  I’ll try to remember to watch my words next time” kinda thing.  Since when did all old folks become super sensitive all of a sudden?

The thing I don’t get in all this PC huffpuffing during the election has been this assumption that all of these surrogates (and sometimes the candidates themselves) are totally 100% consicous of all possible interpretations, particularly the most negative to their words, and intrinsically intended the worst possible interpretation.  In my mind there have been cases where such an intention was operative (committed by all three campaigns, including Hillary’s primary run), but the extrapolation from individual cases to all cases just makes for people looking less than with it.

Edit I: And no, by with it, I don’t mean an age thing–either for elders (implying losing it) or ageist against younger folk (not mature enough).  I just mean individual persons analysis which appears really off base.

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Published in: on September 30, 2008 at 10:48 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. I agree with you about both the zig-zag and housekeys comments, and I think it’s fair to say that the surrogate raised the “age card”.

    However, I would make a few points for your consideration.

    First, since McCain jokes about his own age all the time, doesn’t this immunize the Obama campaign?

    Second, I still think you were unduly harsh on the Clinton surrogates who were very unfairly accused of playing the “race card”. Any willingness to reconsider your views?

    Third, I think there’s a fundamental difference between playing the “age card” and the “race card”. The former raises the candidate’s age, which in the case of a 72-year-old cancer survivor, is a legitimate concern for voters. Age matters. But raising a candidate’s race is in no ways relevant.

  2. Hey brother good to hear from ya.

    I think it’s fair to bring up the age in terms of the guy is 72, has had serious scares with his health and especially in this case has chosen someone wholly unqualified to replace him in the tragic situation of a possible death while in office.

    I don’t think joking about it is a good way of broaching that issue. I don’t think incorrectly stating a guy was doing said thing when it doesn’t seem he was is particularly helpful either.

    Given how our political culture is I don’t know a way the age thing could be brought up in a direct, frontal, and non-demeaning manner. I just don’t think that kind of free discussion has room in our media driven discourse.

    It’s a very delicate one. Because I wouldn’t want to say that a 72 year old person per se couldn’t be president. But given that McCain has been disorganized and has forgotten things he said only hours earlier it is legitimate. But again I think Camp Obama would be dumb politically to raise it directly or even indirectly. I would stick simply with the attacks leveled against the actions/policies.

    And lastly….Clinton. Oh the Clintons. I do think some of them brought up the race issue. We just I guess disagree on that one. Or again at the very least some of them brought up some pretty dirty stuff that they had to know would roil the race waters. And they made a determination to accept those consequences. So be it. But if you are going to put that kinda thing out there, accept the blowback.

    But like Chris Rock said on Bill Maher the other night. If I had to choose between pissing off my wife and a whole race of people—I’m pissing off the latter.

    So I get it. My anger/criticism towards them was more a product of what I thought was a kind of reverse ageism if you like. I thought the disrespect that the campaign continually showed Obama was quite poisonous and unnecessary.

    I think the fundamental flaw with Hillary’s campaign was to have run the wrong strategy from the beginning. If she hadn’t run such an (imo) arrogant campaign she would have never found herself behind in the first place and making these kinds of claims.

    They didn’t have to disrespect the guy. They didn’t have to come with (imo) such a dismissive attitude. But once that took place, how was it not going to look like really rich powerful white people saying a black guy isn’t a real American? i.e. When they called Obama an elitist.

    The same thing has bothered me with the McCain campaign frankly. While it’s true as well that in both cases I think certain Obama surrogates (e.g. Jesse Jackson Jr.) jumped to the reverse racist card too quickly and ham handedly, I guess while I still fundamentally disagreed with it, I have to say I didn’t have and still really don’t have much sympathy for either campaign. I don’t seem them as innocent victims really.

    I’m also not a black man. If I were, I imagine I would quite differently than I do. i.e. I think my anger would be differently directed/interpreted.

    Who knows.

    Peace. CJ


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