August 23, 2008
A Noun, A Verb, and P.O.W.
By Mary Lyon
Joe Biden is already a pretty effective giant-killer, and he may just have killed another giant - a giant bummer among Democratic partisans concerned about the backbone of their party. Biden's the guy who yanked the teeth and claws out of Rudy Giuliani last October 30th, during one of the Democratic primary debates. His now-famous and quite devastating remark, in a mere 15 words, shriveled Giuliani's single biggest claim to fame and greatest perceived strength down into pathetic joke status:"There's only three things he mentions in a sentence - a noun, a verb, and 9/11."
That was then. This is now. Barack Obama has shrewdly chosen as his running mate the ONE guy perfectly and uniquely positioned to do the same to John McCain, and that's just one place where he can start. I am longing to hear the updated version of his Rudy-vaccine:
"There's only three things he mentions in a sentence - a noun, a verb, and P.O.W."
We need to hear this, frequently, and we need to be unafraid of it, until America becomes immunized to McCain's annoying and ever-present fallback line that, he believes, entitles him not only to freedom from being criticized, challenged, or questioned, but also to some sort of express ride straight into the White House. Are we simply supposed to issue him the Oval Office keys as a consolation prize for his Hanoi Hilton years because we feel sorry for him or something? Should we shrug off the daily cheapening of the ordeal of a prison-of-war, especially in view of what far more recent victims endured at our hands at Abu Ghraib during a war John McCain pushed from the earliest moments? And as Wesley Clark recently noted - does a decades-old prisoner-of-war experience automatically qualify someone to be President of the United States?
I'm reminded of the classic movie musical "White Christmas," with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. They played bigtime song-and-dance partners who met in the trenches during World War II. Their fate as friends and performing teammates was sealed when Kaye's character rescued the battle-injured Crosby character. From then on, whenever Kaye wanted something from his friend, he'd look at Crosby with sad puppy-dog eyes and rub his arm to simulate a significant and memorable old war wound. Sure enough, Crosby would cave to the shamelessly exploitive manipulation once again, sometimes against his better judgment. John McCain uses that ploy every time he looks into the camera or around a town hall meeting room. His campaign posse rubs our noses in it again and again, almost on Pavlovian dog cue, whenever anyone attempts to poke holes in anything McCain says. It's a tactic that's grown very old very quickly, and it's time somebody said "ENOUGH".
But this is just one point of contention. There's a LOT of material for Messers Obama and Biden to work with, especially with Biden's penchant for hitting back hard and memorably.
So far, we're at least starting to taste some long-awaited red-meat, from Biden's first running-mate speech: "It requires more than being a good soldier, it requires being a wise leader." That's good but not quite great. C'mon, Joe. Rip the gloves OFF. We're starving by now! You extolled Obama for the "steel in his spine." Now is when we need to see yours even more, particularly if Obama himself prefers not to go for much negative campaigning. John McCain can take it. He should expect it. He's a big boy. He knows what happens when one sticks ones neck out this far. The fact that he came back for more this year after what the Bush campaign did to him AND his wife AND their adopted Bangladeshi daughter in 2000 proves it. However, as low as any Democrat might hit in a negative campaign remark or commercial, it would hardly scrape bottom at that depth of Ick.
Now that Joe Biden is the one to suit up in this doubles tournament there are loads of tempting targets at which to smack the ball. Biden already referenced a particularly appetizing one in his debut speech in Springfield. The easy-to-visualize picture of the average voter sitting at the kitchen table trying to figure out which bills to pay and by how much contrasts pointedly with the only dilemma even including the same furniture classifications that McCain will ever know. It's worth repeating that McCain's struggle means having to decide which of perhaps as many as a near-dozen tables in an equal number of kitchens will be his seating preference. That is, assuming he can even keep track of them all. Hey, all's fair. And the man described in glowing terms by David Brooks of all people as a "lunch-bucket Democrat" with actual, tangible, traceable roots in working-class America is ideally suited to define just who the elitist in this contest is.
The comparisons need to be made, and the attacks need to be launched. Hard, swift, and sure attacks that leave both little and a lot to the imagination. Biden's kitchen table example is exquisitely glaring, memorable, and soundbite-perfect for media repetition, at the same time as it lets the imagination run wild with extrapolation that drives the painful point home even deeper. It's about time. Unfortunately, negative campaigning works. The erosion in Obama's lead in most public opinion polls since John McCain started fighting dirty proves it. So if that's the way it is, then let the games begin, and let Joe Biden lead the charge, as low and harsh as he dares to go. As the starving orphan Oliver in another big screen musical puts it, "please, sir. I want some more."
The Obama campaign now has on staff an agent of change in how hard it's going to be willing to hit back. Biden is a virtuoso at it. Let's see that steel in his own spine, and lots of it. And let's hope he shows it with a noun, a verb, and plenty of POW.