25 October 2008

On Campaigns, and Telling the Truth

We all know that the currency of a presidential campaign is not reality, but perception. The most important way of measuring the time between now and election day is by counting down the remaining news cycles. The whole goal of a campaign is to put out a persuasive message that will be amplified in the echo chamber of 24-hour news networks.

Something peculiar happens, though, when someone speaks an actual, uncomfortable truth that people don't want to hear. If you disrupt a narrative that is already being stitched into the conventional wisdom, the response seems to be, "Don't distract me with the facts." This has happened at least three times during this long campaign, when surrogates for Obama have spoken the truth, but have either chosen poor words or spoken too bluntly for America to actually consider what they'd said.

Wesley Clark, June 2008: "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." Translation: "Wesley Clark has criticized John McCain's patriotism!" His real point: military service is not the same thing as command experience, and does not entitle one to the presidency.

Jeremiah Wright, 2003 sermon: "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme." Translation: "He said God damn America!" His real point: in the Bible, the prophets pronounced God's damnation on Israel when they did not care for the widows and orphans, or when the rich would grind the poor beneath their feet.

John Murtha, October 15, 2008: "There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." Translation: "How dare he accuse his own constituents of being racists!" His real point: Ummm, actually, most parts of the country are racist. Perhaps all areas. Murtha might've been speaking more truthfully than he imagined when he made this comment. The point is, let's not kid ourselves about the incredible uphill battle that Obama has been waging to win the confidence of working-class whites in rural areas.

So the next time there's a big media dust-up over someone's crazy comment - and you know it'll happen again soon - just pause for a second, and try to think through whether there might be any truth lurking beneath the surface-level outrage.


Anonymous said...

Clark didnot question McCain's patriotism. Instead of slanting comments quote the entire statement!!. You will see,which I'm sure you already have, that Clark prefaced his comment by first stating his admiration for what McCain did for his country. Fred Thompson basicly said the same thing at the Republican Convention, did you hear?/

Matt Rhodes said...

Is that guy for real?

Also, in reference to a previous post, I am writing a paper on the "Christ hymn" in Philippians 2. It is an interesting passage that can go many ways, but one of the ways I think I will go with it is the implicit comparison of Jesus, who does not see equality with God as something to be grasped, with Caesar, who does! It would be an interesting text for Wright to preach.

Another interesting route is to see Jesus being obedient to the way of death and the transformed anthropology that can occur only through divine agency. Then, understanding what "the way, the truth, and the life" means in light of Philippians 2. I suppose the foil with this view of agency in the story of salvation could either be the Garden of Eden and desiring to be like God, the American gov't, or my favorite, Joel Osteen.