Ranting at the press is great fun, but usually an exercise for losers, like invoking the spirit of Harry S. Truman on the eve of an election the polls say you’re about to lose.
But not always. Sometimes the press deserves all the fire and brimstone anyone can throw at it. This looks like one of those times. John McCain and Sarah Palin should consider revising their wills, to leave a little something in the sock for the Assisted Living Home for Gloomy Journalists. Without them, neither Gallup nor Zogby nor Rasmussen nor anybody else would be measuring the size of the remarkable Republican bounce.
Pollsters for USA Today give McCain-Palin a 10-point lead among likely voters, a 17-point swing over just the past seven days. Other polls show the first results with John McCain leading the race. We haven’t seen the likes of this since George the Elder overcame a comfortable Michael Dukakis margin and never trailed again. Polls are just snapshots, and no two snapshots are the same. Nevertheless, media indulgence has turned this campaign upside down.
The man we’re all waiting for is clearly rattled. His verbal slip recounting “my Muslim faith” was the kind of verbal slip we all make. He says he’s a born-again Christian, and that’s enough for the rest of us to know. But such a slip reveals how the little lady from the high country rang his bell, how the events of the past seven days have thrown him off his game, provoking stumbles. (Has anybody seen or heard anything lately from the big-talking aluminum-siding salesman who was hanging around with him in Denver?)
The man the harsh, give-no-quarter Democrats thought was the man of their dreams decided he was wrong about more domestic drilling for oil. That broke hearts on the left. Then he conceded that the “surge” in Iraq, whose most fervent advocate has been John McCain, succeeded “beyond our wildest dreams.” That was the vilest heresy of all. Now he wants to keep the George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Maybe one of those cardboard-and-Styrofoam columns in Invesco Stadium fell on him. The mile-high bravado of Denver has vanished.
One of the greater ironies of our time is that the post-convention bounce - and it may be more than a mere bounce - is a gift from the correspondents, pundits and other howling bloviators who set upon Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, snarling, snapping and scrapping like a pack of ravenous wolves. You can read and hear them now consoling each other with speculations that the National Enquirer, once the scourge of “respectable” journalism, will turn up something from the garbage cans of Wasilla and the trash bins of Juneau and Anchorage.
Barack Obama accuses John McCain of not “getting it.” Sarah Palin says it’s Sen. Obama who doesn’t “get it.” They’re all wrong. It’s the bloggers, the reporters, the pundits and the rest of the far-flung media that doesn’t “get it.” It’s not the media’s fault. There is no media conspiracy, vast or otherwise. The average reporter, correspondent, columnist, pundit or editor couldn’t conspire with the entire Harvard Law School faculty to change the oil in his wife’s car.
It’s worse than a conspiracy. It’s a consensus. The newsrooms of the agenda-setting newspapers, the television networks and the newsmagazines have become strongholds of the elites that Barack Obama, he of Harvard Law, insists he is not one of. The young men and women in the newsrooms of flyover country emulate the elites and sometimes dream of one day being one of them.
Once upon a time, we were just “newspapermen” - the word included two sexes, back when there were only two - and we were the sons and daughters of plumbers, firemen, shopkeepers, farmers, cops, steelworkers, over-the-road truckers and a lot of other men of toil and trouble. Most of us were veterans. Some of us were college graduates. Some of us were not. A few of us even went to church on Sunday. When we wrote about ordinary people, we didn’t write about them as sociology. We were writing about our friends and our families, and there were hundreds of us across America.
Sarah Palin and her beliefs, her faith, her values, her on-the-job trials and household tribulations would not have seemed odd, or different, or strange to us. Nor would we have been surprised that Sarah Palin would touch the hearts of the Americans of flyover country. That’s where we lived, too.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.