- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

Consultants with cracker-jack ideas run elections and advise presidents. It’s a cold, hard fact of the political business. The incipient reality is that lowered expectations lead to an inability to collect critical information. A zealous focus on voting - whether we rock it, get it or altogether dismiss it - is done in total ignorance of the process beyond that.

The ugly truths of campaigns and elections are fully exposed. Despite Sen. John McCain’s promises, seemingly gratuitous guarantees and platitudes on campaigning above the fray, the real deal remains the big-dollar retainer demons in his political closet. You can’t run a “clean” campaign when you barely have a tattered leash on your advisers, the very “peeps” who make your tactical decisions while you can barely elucidate your strategy. These are the cats who run things, upon whose shoulders the burdens of the campaign fall. These are the rascally hacks of Washington who parse polls and make decisions otherwise too uncomfortable or too questionable for an elected official to make.

Beltway insiders and stogie-smoking, Blackberry-tapping critters sweating the dog days of August in expensive suits know what’s up. Consultants make the final decision on the strange ads we’ve see of late: campaign idiocy and monkeyshine at the expense of the electorate. Mr. McCain - too heated now and choleric to notice - signs off on the final copy.

Still, the uncertainty of economic hard times is of no consequence to the hacks who stayed up all night to come up with the sophomoric comparisons between Mr. Obama and sexually promiscuous Caucasian girls chased by paparazzi. Since many of the billion-plus dollars raked in this year eventually fills their pockets - $5 milk, $4 gas and the knuckle-scrape rough of living paycheck-to-paycheck don’t register. They don’t care. It’s simpleton Washington insider rib-splitting and jokes about serious stuff; pranks rather than policy.

We suspect that while consultants sketched and sweated over the concept, a few garrulous bigots pushed for images of “colorful” celebrities. “Why not compare him to someone like LeBron James or Jay-Z?” A few may have nearly convinced; until the smartest, perhaps wisest of the crew (the one who didn’t like the ad concept in the first place), thought loudly about how obviously racist that would seem.

Weeks later, television stations liberally play the notorious Britney/Paris “celebrity” ad beyond what the McCain campaign has probably paid for airing it. Reporters, editors and producers all join in, laughing incessantly at the bad joke. What’s funny about the lack of funny is that “celebrity” didn’t seem much of a problem when Ronald Reagan ran for president or Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor. Nobody said much about lackluster Fred Thompson and his quixotic, hopeless primary run. Questions about experience and leadership acumen seemed irrelevant then. Perhaps it’s because these men all acted in leadership roles on the screen. Mr. Obama should call his agent.

Presidential candidates by virtue of the 24/7 media cycle are celebrities. And national campaigns are really hardcore drills on how well a potential candidate can run a country. The election? It’s a popularity contest. Let’s not drink the hogwash as if it’s not. We prefer the Kool-Aid of common sense.

One could argue that media reaction to Obama “arrogance” is a funky racial equation of white people who have always been bothered by confident black men. It’s not about bringing the man down a notch; it’s about bringing the cool pose of his blackness down by several degrees.

But caricatures are campaign reality - whether that caricature is an editorial cartoon or a dark, seedy Web skit with a James Bond soundtrack. Due to the unprecedented and historic nature of this particular campaign, the role of caricature and cartoon is radically different - based on the legacy of nasty stereotypes and treacherous images of African Americans as buffoonish and “sub-human.” So, no: The New Yorker cover of Barack resplendent in jihad wear and Afro-blasted Michelle brandishing black-power motif with a Kalashnikov wasn’t funny. It merely reminded those of us who’ve been branded with 400 years of “jokes” about how white people sometimes make jokes at black expense.

Our observation isn’t so much an Obama defense as it is a thought on the sociological peculiarities of the campaign trail. Certainly, in his subtle reference to how different he looked from past presidents, Mr. Obama cleverly raised race. Poorly orchestrated? Certainly, because he can’t afford the retort of uneasy white voters already nervous about who is he and what his election represents. Race card? We highly doubt it. You can’t shake the double-standard contrast when comparing outrage over his race hint and the deft avoidance of commentary on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s blatant use of gender to empower women voters.

Colorado Senate President Peter Groff is founding executive director of the University of Denver’s Center for African American Policy. Charles D. Ellison is senior fellow at the center. They host the radio show “Blackpolicy.org.”

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