John McCain has attempted to distract from Barack Obama’s tour of the Middle East and Europe by attacking his foreign policy record. But he’s failing to take the shine off the Democratic candidate in the US election. The Republican has a problem.
It was the ultimate humiliation for an author. The submitted essay didn’t provide enough information, the newspaper wrote in its rejection. The article could not be accepted as written, the opinion page editor wrote.
The rejection came on Friday in an e-mail and has only now come to light. The newspaper was the New York Times, and the luckless author was Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
These are hard times for him. Rival Barack Obama is scoring campaign points against McCain on his current international tour — which has turned into the media event of the summer in the US thanks to good PR choreography, a backdrop of strong public support wherever he goes and a favorable news environment.
Obama’s brief visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the backing of Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki. Obama’s 16-month US troop withdrawal plan and the prospect of a rapturous welcome in Germany — these are getting top media coverage in America and bestowing superstar status on the Democratic candidate.
The essay McCain had written for the opinion page of the New York Times had been an attempt to counter that trend. The Republican wanted to get a few good headlines and expose Obama’s show as just that they wish.
McCain’s essay was a direct response to an opinion piece by Obama that was published in the New York Times last week. In it Obama had spelled out his vision to withdraw all US troops from Iraq within 16 months. McCain now wanted to counter that strategy by arguing that setting any kind of timetable for a withdrawal was “very dangerous.”
But that wasn’t good enough for deputy Opinion Page Ed David Shipley, who told McCain he would be “pleased, though, to look at another draft.” That’s how newspapers usually try to fend off freelancers.
Huge Success for Obama in Baghdad
The rejection by the New York Times shows that McCain is gradually being forced onto the defensive at home while Obama is scoring points abroad, even though McCain likes to point to foreign policy as a weakness of his Democratic rival.
One of Obama’s biggest foreign policy successes was reported live from Baghdad, on Monday night. After his meeting with al-Maliki, Obama and the fellow Senators accompanying him, Democrat Jack Reed and Republican Chuck Hagel, said the Iraqis wanted an ”aspirational timeline, with a clear date” for the departure of US combat forces. Al-Maliki’s spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh even declared 2010 as a deadline, which is similar to Obama’s 16-month vision.
Such reports must be frustrating for McCain. Everything seems to be going against him these days. In a sign of how difficult his position is currently being seen, there are rumors in Washington that the Republicans might present McCain’s running mate this week — the unusually early timing being aimed at stealing the show from Obama.
A Ranting 71-Year-Old Alongside Shaky 84-Year-Old
McCain has shifted the focus of his attacks to Obama’s foreign policy. On Monday in Kennebunkport in the US state of Maine, he got out of a golf cart with a limping former President George Bush Sr. to disparage Obama as someone “who has no military experience whatsoever.” Obama was “completely wrong” on the Iraq war, said McCain, adding: “I have been steadfast in my position.”
But in the end the image that stuck in the US media was that of a ranting 71-year-old next to a shaky-looking 84-year-old. MSNBC juxtaposed the scene on a split screen with video footage of Obama playing basketball with soldiers in Kuwait. The Democrat made a shot from half-court, the men cheered.
It wasn’t the only problematic scene for McCain. In an appearance on the mellow NBC talk show “Today” he made an embittered, sarcastic, condescending impression. “I’m glad that Senator Obama is going to get a chance for the first time to sit down with General David Petraeus,” McCain said, referring to the commander of US forces in Iraq.
When Obama’s Iraq strategy appeared to be getting a good reception in Baghdad on Monday, McCain’s adviser Randy Scheunemann tried to convince journalists in a conference call that it was a “strategy for defeat.” But the media largely ignored that stance.
Obama dominates the debate, regardless of McCain’s attacks. The Democrat’s international trip has already served one of its main purposes — to defuse McCain’s main argument that Obama doesn’t understand foreign policy. First the Republican criticized Obama for not having visited Iraq since 2006. Now he attacked him for going to Iraq — a complaint that is hard to understand.
To make matters worse, McCain’s party forgot to update the countdown clock on its homepage showing how much time had passed since Obama’s last Iraq visit. On Monday the clock looked as out of date as McCain’s campaign strategy — it showed 925 days.
Homemade Campaign Problems
McCain has only himself to blame for much of his current campaign problems. His political message is inconsistent even though he has worked long and hard to portray himself as a “straight talker”.
His economy program is confused and his top economy adviser, Senator Phil Gramm, had to step down at the weekend after saying the US had become a “nation of whiners” who suffered from “mental recession.”
McCain’s latest TV ad hasn’t helped much either. Its message is that Obama is to blame for the high fuel prices. “Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?” the announcer in the ad asks as a photo of Obama fills the screen and a crowd is heard chanting: “Obama! Obama!”
Obama has become the more interesting candidate for the media. The star reporters of all America’s top networks have been accompanying Obama since Tuesday. The three top anchors are interviewim him, one after another, on prime time, in broadcasts being aired on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night.
By comparison: McCain on Tuesday appeared on the old, creaking stage of the Opera House in Portsmouth in New Hampshire — in exactly the same place where Obama spoke at the start of the primary season in January.
More Coverage for Obama
Since the campaign turned into a duel between Obama and McCain in June, the news programs of US TV stations have devoted 114 minutes to reporting about Obama, compared with 48 minutes for McCain, according to a calculation by the Tyndall Report, which tracks network evening news coverage. Obama has a similar lead in the volume of coverage by the influential political blogs.
The difference was understandable given the fact that Obama was a new face and his candidacy was historic, journalism professor Tom Rosenstiel told the New York Times. But, he added, “in the end it’s probably not fair to McCain.”
Despite its own rejection of McCain’s essay last week, the New York Times denied having a preference for Obama. “We have published at least seven op-ed pieces by Senator McCain since 1996. The New York Times endorsed Senator McCain as the Republican candidate in the presidential primaries. We take his views very seriously,” Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said in a statement.