By MARTIN SCHRAM
We’ve clearly headed into the homestretch of the 2008 presidential campaign, as America’s surge of 20,000 political journalists is analyzing at full-Gallup. And that is vital because we have only about two years before the first votes will be counted.
The Democratic Party’s vast presidential field has been expertly winnowed to just Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Deciders of the mainstream media have accomplished this by diminishing to near zilch the vital minutes and inches of mainstream media coverage for the others who have greater political experience but lesser luminescence. This winnowing is apparently OK because the others haven’t won any 2008 primaries or caucuses yet.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s once-vast field of prospective presidents also has been reduced to tiers. There is John McCain and Rudy Giuliani and then there is the lesser tier. Except for Mitt Romney, whose religion is getting covered more than his policies and politics combined. (Every piece seems to mention that he is a member of a church that will not be named here.) Of course, Republican also-rans fume that it is undemocratic. After all, folks in Iowa and New Hampshire haven’t even had most candidates sit with them in their living rooms even once … yet!
And now, this just in: We have breaking news on the worldwide industrial beat. Outsourcing — the tool of globalization that has devastated so many U. S. industries has just taken American jobs from yet another.
The U. S. political industry’s production of wing nuts has been outsourced to Australia. Prime Minister John Howard, a certified right-wing nut who is down and under in his own election polls, has begun performing a traditionally American campaign industry job: idiotic statement-maker. For decades and even centuries, America’s left-wing and right-wing nuts have come out of the woodwork, as if on cue, to say something idiotically outrageous about a frontrunner. The job is vital to the U.S. political campaign industry because if wing nuts didn’t say these things, significant politicians might have to squander their potential by taking a cheap shot in the hopes of smearing or at least smudging a frontrunner.
Now they don’t have to. Prime Minister Howard, desperate to make news at home, chose to link Obama with al Qaeda when the Illinois senator, who always opposed Bush’s Iraq invasion, became the latest Democratic hopeful to urge an early troop withdrawal from Iraq. Never mind that Australia’s primetime minister was silent when, say, John Edwards stated his views. After Obama proposed withdrawing U.S. combat forces by March 31, 2008, Howard told an Australian interviewer: “If I were running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.” (Huh? Even terrorism’s evil-doers know America’s presidential election will be on the first Tuesday in November, 2008 — so why circle March?) Australia’s national embarrassment gave Obama a chance to demonstrate coolness under fire. The Illinois senator noted that America has 140,000 troops in Iraq while Australia has just 1,400, mostly in non-combat roles. “So if he is ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq,” Obama said. “Otherwise it’s just a bunch of empty rhetoric.”
Long after Australians send their PM off to box kangaroos this year, we’ll be stuck with this pre-winnowed field and one long year to go. But Obama may wind up thanking Howard for having done him one little-noticed favor — diverting the news media from focusing on Obama’s first major campaign snafu. On the first day of his campaign, at Iowa State University, Obama declared that in the Iraq war “we now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.”
Wasted? Obama rushed to retract in an interview with the Des Moines Register the next day: “I was actually upset with myself. Their sacrifices are never wasted; that was sort of a slip of the tongue as I was speaking.”
It was the sort of mistake that impressive but inexperienced candidates often make when taking their first twirl in the glare of a presidential campaign spotlight. Some pay a quick, politically catastrophic price. (Remember Mitt’s dad, George Romney? The Michigan governor and GOP 1968 frontrunner said he was “brainwashed” by U.S. briefers in Vietnam and his candidacy collapsed.) Obama got a reprieve because his first big blunder came when the one big eye of the American media was focusing on one big mouth Down Under. But frontrunners beware: Nobody has ever sprinted stumble-free for two full years.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)