Obama and McCain and the show biz of talking tough on terrorism

Much is being made of the only electability strength John McCain seems to hold over Obama, that is, the belief he is stronger on homeland security. I have little doubt Obama has his response planned if there is a natural or man-made catastrophe prior to the election1. I can only hope that if such an event occurs it won’t propel McCain into the White House.

Americans are suckers for imagery. Tough talking usually trumps reason.

Witness how Rudy Guiliani is now being rolled out as a McCain surrogate on fighting terrorism. Only the Democrats are reminding us that it was Rudy who located New York City’s emergency response center in the World Trade Center even after it was bombed in 1993, and the fire department and police department couldn’t communicate via radio on September 11th because they still didn’t have a shared frequency.

Obama should get a jump on McCain, who has to be careful about criticizing George Bush for not firing Michael Chertoff after Katrina, by emphasizing that he will assure that his Homeland Security Department director will assure will handle disasters, whether they come from nature or terrorists.

Obama can also point out what Frank Rich notes (in his New York Times OpEd): “the McCain terror expert is the former C.I.A. director James Woolsey. He (like Charles Black McCain’s chief strategist) was a cheerleader for Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled Iraqi leader who helped promote phony Iraqi W.M.D. intelligence in 2002 and who is persona non grata to American officials in Iraq today because of his ties to Iran.”

While McCain’s tough talking leaves me cold, apparently many Americans who still buy a 62 year old Sly Stallone playing Rambo IV, view him as a warrior.

Nobody can take away the fact that McCain flew into harm’s way during the Vietnam War and behaved heroically during his years as a POW2. But why does this status make him any tougher than Barak Obama?

Is anybody going to say that Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who was only 52 when elected president, five years older than Obama would be) wasn’t as tough as Winston Churchhill who saw combat in India, the Sudan, the Second Boer War and briefly in World War I?

Countering the tough guy image enjoyed by McCain should be made easier by taking advantage of McCain’s seeming inability to control his snide superior smile even when trying to effect gravitas.

Obama has a natural, or at least natural appearing, ability to publicly convey humor when appropriate and at other times talk seriously about the future of our nation.

While McCain’s speech writers may tone down the bellicosity, I think their candidate’s natural tendency is to veer into pugnacious and combative language when trying to convey that he’s commander-in-chief material. Unless he gets a personality implant, this will come out in interviews and during the debates.

Obama needs to be mindful of the disastrous Dukakis lecture about how he’d react if his wife was raped and add a solemn passion to his words about national security. This can challenge some of the McCain as Rambo voters to reevaluate their sense that Obama isn’t tough enough to be commander in chief.

I understand why many liberals are upset about every degree Obama tacks towards the middle, and every tactical compromise like now wearing the flag pin, which he makes. But to get elected Obama has to package and market himself to voters who respond more to images than substance.

There is no more important area where this applies than national security.

Related: Last weeks column “Obama’s a Muslim, McCain will keep us safer from terrorism, and there are ghosts in Middleboro Town Hall” about gullibility and critical thinking and an article in Washington Post “In Flag City USA, False Obama Rumors Are Flying” read what an ordinary 74 year old poster child for the inability to thinking critically has to say about why he can’t decided whether or not to believe Obama is “a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance”.

1 Or the as of today no-longer secret war against Iran escalates and McCain can claim that the country needs a tested warrior more than ever. Read the important Seymour Hersh New Yorker article just published: “Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran”

2 Of course we still don’t know for an absolute fact what happened to McCain during his years as a POW. His North Vietnamese jailer, a man who recently endorsed him, tells a far different story than McCain does. See “‘Hanoi Hilton’ jailer says he’d vote for McCain”


  1. Wayne K Dolik

    Here is what Obama needs to do.
    1. To the republicans he needs to state that as our next President if there is another terrorist attack he will vigorously pursue terrorists both foreign and domestic.
    2. I said domestic didn’t I?
    3. That will shut these fear mongers up because they could find themselves in Gitmo!

  2. Direct Democracy

    Politics is nothing but a cheesy little con game.

    We can do better.



  3. pollchecker

    But to get elected Obama has to package and market himself to voters who respond more to images than substance.

    Ain’t it the truth, Hal! The talking heads were even discussing it this morning….”How McCain’s only strong issue is Terrorism!” (NOT National Security as you would expect) Nope the Republicans used the very specific word…..terrorism.

    Personally, if we are going to discuss keeping our country safe from terrorism, I would prefer a different approach like……

    How about talking about all the things Bush and the GOP has done that doesn’t make us safer and only has helped corporate America.


    Sorry, but that is the truth of it.

    We have voluntary surrendered our liberties and still are not safe. Some may “Feel Safer” but they really aren’t.

    I get so angry every time I have to fly because I KNOW all that stuff isn’t going to change anything. I Know because it’s my business.

    But here’s a simple fact that I believe most people can and do understand….

    McCain voted FOR INVADING IRAQ! That single action has made our country and our national interests LESS SAFE!

    McCain voted for the Patriot Act! That Act takes away our rights but doesn’t make us any safer.

    McCain voted for Homeland Security….another waste of govt money that has created another govt bureaucracy that is incompetent to do the job it was designed to do.

    You know, GW tried to blame 911 on our govt. That is pure and evil BS!

    GW was told PERSONALLY by Tenet and another Sr CIA operative about the planes. They made a special trip to the ranch because they believed it was so important!

    GW dismissed them! Sent them back to DC and did nothing until he got back to DC after Labor Day and then the only action GW’s admin took was for the State Dept to release a WORLDWIDE TRAVEL WARNING with no specific details.

    Look in 1996, when this first happened, POTUS Clinton took actions and nothing occured.

    GW either couldn’t be bothered cause he was on vacation, or he didn’t take it seriously, or he was so focused on Saddam Hussein that he didn’t care, or he wanted an attack to happen to justify his personal plans to remove Hussein from Iraq. Or…all of the above.

    So yes, I want Senator Obama to do and say anything, and EVERYTHING he can so our country is not stuck with 4 more years of Bush/McCain.

    But then I understand the show….it’s just a game called politics.

  4. bryan mcclellan

    I agree Hal, Obama has to stand up in the face of the certain bullying coming his way and leave a few fat lips and a broken nose or two in his wake.

    A good starting point would be to demand all POW records be released from the war in the RVN. It cannot be argued that these records have any national security value, and it would clear the air for many families left with no accounting for their loved ones.

    It would also shine a light on why Mccain had such a fit about their release and his conduct towards the families when they finally had their petition heard before committee.

    This is only the tip of the bloody sword that Obama is going to need to fend off the muck and slime headed his way.

    I am waiting to see if Obama is a fighter, or a pacifist, or just another psalm singing politician.

    If he fails to call out the GOP slime peddlers it will show he can not protect his own back let alone direct this country out of our predicament.

  5. Hal Brown

    George Carlin’s football vs. baseball bit is a classic:

    Read it here.

    McCain is a football type while Obama is a baseball type, as it would seem Carlin was too.

    Of course the stakes in this game of politics, this subspecies of show business, are the liberties the Founding Fathers laid out in the Declaration of Independence, fought and died for, and so painstakingly tried to protect for future generations in the United States Constitution.

    Walk through the old cemeteries of Boston and you’ll see the graves of the Minutemen, the patriots who fought at Concord, Lexington and Charleston. There’s one cemetery where you can see some tombstones of the colonists that still have the indentations made when the Redcoats irreverently used them for target practice.

  6. pollchecker

    Sunday Pundits Allude To Coming False Obama ‘Flip-Flop’ Accusation

    the next big offensive against Obama is going to come on the Iraq war front.

    Bill Kristol is at it again! Last week he said, if Obama was going to win, Bush would bomb Iran!

    This week, he’s got a new prediction. On this morning’s Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol set the stage for this.

    KRISTOL: The next big flip for Obama, this will make Brit even more astonished, will be on Iraq. He’s going to go to Iraq, meet with General Petraeus, decide the “Surge” is working and walk back from his immediate, unconditional withdrawal. Suddenly it’s going to be, well…we’re going to be very careful…gradual, honorable withdrawal – Obama said the other day, an honorable conclusion to the Iraq war.

    Kristol is setting up this long con, in which the candidate who rather masterfully questioned Petraeus the last time the two met in hearings, goes to Iraq, gets seduced by the general and becomes a fan of the Surge, and suddenly starts waffling on his promises to end the war, substituting an “immediate” withdrawal with a “gradual” one…an “unconditional” withdrawal with one that’s “honorable.” Of course, Obama has never said the withdrawal would be anything but gradual and honorable, but the GOP is counting on voters falling for this ruse and believing it to be another chapter in their flip-flop fable.

    This stuff on Fox is perverse. Thankfully MSNBC AND CNN are about to surpass Fox in the ratings. THAT IS VERY GOOD NEWS!

    And I want to say a BIG THANKS to Kristol for telling us what they are going to do. He must still think it is 2000 and they can steal an election without the public doing anything about it. He must think we are going to just sit back and not take these lying bastards on.

    Well, the steal and lie Republican Genuises of Propaganda have underestimated the public AGAIN!

    PS — I almost forgot the best part.

    The tendency of the desperate right to attempt to capture Obama’s consistently held positions as sudden flip-flops has been seen outside the Iraq War issue as well. In a recent preview for Fortune’s interview with Obama, writer Nina Easton attempted the same piece of trickery, presenting Obama’s well-known stance on NAFTA as a sudden and pandering change of heart, even though the record demonstrated no change in position. Watch for similar attempts to be made in the run up to and the conclusion of Obama’s trip to Iraq.

  7. ekaton

    How can there be “an honorable end” to the war and occupation in Iraq? This was an illegal war of aggression, and so far the Iraqis have fought the U.S. to a stalemate. There was nothing honorable about the invasion of Iraq. How can the situation end “with honor”?

    — Kent Shaw

  8. pollchecker

    How can the situation end “with honor”?

    By declaring victory and coming home. After all, our troops have accomplished EVERY SINGLE THING that GW has laid out.


  9. Hal Brown

    A friendly reminder: Please keep negative personal references about other posters out of the comments section. The comments section is like a village, open to anybody, but as “mayor” I expect “residents” to respect each other even when they strongly disagree with them.

    Most posters here show the utmost courtesy to other posters, however any open forum can be spoiled by one or two posters who make personal attacks.

    Lots of readers who never post log on periodically to all the columns and blogs just to follow the ongoing debate. They aren’t interested in the back and forth between regulars that often follows a response to a perceived insult.

    I’m always pleased when one of them decides to take that daring step and make their first post, and then decide to post regularly. Let’s all endeavor to make this a welcoming place.

  10. Sandra Price

    Hal, you have written about the main problem in this 2008 election. With the neoconservatives ranting everywhere about our future being bombed if Obama is elected and the only one who can save us is McCain. It is time the voters learned the truth and that Bush 41 and 43, poked Islam in the eye every chance they got. Had we brought out troops home after the Kuwait war, none of this would be happening.

    Michaei Scheuer exposed the whole problem in his book “Imperial Hubris” and he was in the Middle East working with the CIA. He warned Bush/Clinton/Bush to get those troops off the Muslim holy land or they would attack. The FBI had many warnings about 9/11 but the Neoconservatives ignored them all. Every member of the Bush Cabinet knew in advance about 9/11.

    Take a look at the new President’s ratings in August of 2001. They were terrible. The American people were beginning to think that Bush 43 was not the kind of President needed. There was more speculation about how he won over Gore in Florida. I moved to Arizona at that time and was doing a lot of reading about the new President and believed he was a leader for some covert group. The morning of 9/11, I saw Bush’s face on my television screen and I knew instinctively that he allowed this horror to happen. This was the Pearl Harbor that the PNAC mentioned in order to bring Bush’s numbers up.

    I seriously doubt that Bush ever sensed reality which is why he did drugs and drank in his youth and yet found himself with a dangerous illusion of superiority. That, no doubt, came from his Evangelical religion. They all walk on water.

    I worked very hard to keep him from winning in 2000 and managed to get myself banned from many sites. I lost all my Republican friends who felt I was having minor strokes or dementia. 9/11 proved to me, I was right! The entire Bush family were not particularly pro-Americans. Many were found on the edge of the law and this is not a good asset for anyone. But Bush’s being a born-again Christian got him elected and relected.

    He destroyed America. He promised his Christian base to never allow Gays to marry, never allow any woman to have an abortion and no stem cell research would be financed by the government. He introduced a program called “No Child Left Behind.” Anyone who has ever kept up with the latest children’s books should have been familiar with the “Left Behind” book series based on the hell and damnation of anyone who is not a Christian. This is pure Hitler!

    I have been told that this training of pushing Jesus on the kids is exactly what Americans want. I was told at a Republican meeting in Phoenix that I could not be a Republican unless I was a Christian.

    America asked for 9/11 and the people want their dictator to save them. Those of us who still respect what is left of our freedoms were told to leave the nation. I’m still being told to sit down, shut up or move away.

    This is the reason I am on Obama’s bandwagon. I have never seen such an obvious movement of unAmerican actions as what we put up with with the Bush Dynasty. It takes an enormous amount of reading to see that I am right but the average American does not care enough to read. Even these forums only scratch the surface of the damage Bush has done to our freedoms.

    If the American people actually vote for McCain, I see no reason for the Constitution and no place for the Bill of Rights that so many of us have used as our workable laws.

    Personal reference deleted by moderator.

  11. Hal Brown

    What Bush hath wrought –
    Sandra, here’s a good OpEd from The Boston Globe missing some of what you noted – but add it all together and you have a compelling case for assuring the next president is committed to undoing “what Bush hath wrought.”

    On the subject of the show biz of talking tough on terrorism, we have the new “hope to give your kids nightmares” pronouncement from Joe Lieberman that the terrorists will test the new president in 2009.

    We are to presume that McCain’s smarmy Connecticut Democrat turncoat means that if Obama’s elected we’ll have another 9-11 or worse. I sure hope the Democrats win enough Senate seats so they can boot this bloviating windbag out of the Democratic caucus.