Rich, Fisked

Let's have some fun deconstructing Frank Rich's NY Times column of today. The gist of The Grand Old White Party Confronts Obama is that it will be nearly impossible for McCain to defeat Obama because the Arizona senator reflects the politics of an almost all-white GOP in the age of a changing America.

Rich begins by mocking the the "collection of sallow-faced old Beltway pols" who flanked McCain during his victory speech on the night of the Potomac Primaries. Adding insult to injury, Rich replays Letterman's line about the GOP presidential hopefuls looking like “guys waiting to tee off at a restricted country club.”

Rich doesn't offer any evidence that any of the candidates do in fact belong to restricted clubs. Yet he would nevertheless invite readers to engage in the worst kind of stereotyping based on age and race. Imagine the outcry if a conservative columnist did the same about a group Rich might favor, say older black women. And if older white guys are so irrelevant and unappealing, shouldn't Rich himself have the grace to step aside? After all, he is a person of pallor who will next year begin his seventh decade on earth.

Rich then claims that "when Mr. McCain jokingly invoked the Obama slogan 'I am fired up and ready to go' in his speech Tuesday night, it was as cringe-inducing as the white covers of R & B songs in the 1950s." But McCain delivered the line with a self-deprecating laugh. Nothing cringe-inducing about it. For that matter, it appears that McCain was telling the truth: I've heard a number of much-younger reporters covering him on the campaign trail marvel at McCain's energy and endurance.

As for those failed 50s covers, Rich is again engaging in racial stereotyping. R&B of course stands for rhythm and blues. Is Frank saying only certain races have rhythm? And a decade after the 50s, I seem to remember a couple white groups doing OK with R&B covers: the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, if I remember the names of their little bands correctly.

And a bit later:

[T]he G.O.P. looks more like a nostalgic relic than a national political party in contemporary America. A cultural sea change has passed it by.

The 2008 primary campaign has been so fast and furious that we haven’t paused to register just how spectacular that change is. All the fretful debate about whether voters would turn out for a candidate who is a black or a woman seems a century ago. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama vanquished the Democratic field, including a presidential-looking Southern white man with an enthusiastic following, John Edwards. What was only months ago an exotic political experiment is now almost ho-hum.

Really? It wasn't Republicans claiming to see the "Bradley effect" after Obama's NH loss; those were fellow members of Frank's MSM. And just this week, the sitting Dem governor of Pennsylvania said that some whites won't vote for a black man.

Rich then argues against his own case, writing that Mr. McCain "has been a victim, rather than a practitioner, of the old racial gamesmanship. In his brutal 2000 South Carolina primary battle against Mr. Bush and Karl Rove, Mr. McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter was the target of a smear campaign. He was also pilloried for accurately describing the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism and slavery.' (Sadly, he started to bend this straight talk the very next day.)" Rich omits that McCain has since engaged in some remarkable self-criticism for a politician, regretting his failure of political courage.

Continues Rich: "Mr. McCain remains public enemy No. 1 to some in his party for resisting nativist overkill on illegal immigration." Rich might deride as "nativist overkill" the concern of millions of decent Americans about our broken borders. But weak as McCain has been on the matter, he would certainly run to the right of Obama on it, making immigration a winning issue for the Republican.

Then this: "Though Mr. Bush ran for president on 'compassionate conservatism,' he diversified only his party’s window dressing." Is that the sound of Frank Rich telling Colin Powell and Condi Rice they're tokens?

"There are no black Republicans in the House or the Senate to stand with the party’s 2008 nominee." True. But there have recently been a number of outstanding black Republican candidates for high office, including Michael Steele in Maryland, Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio and Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania. All three received overwhelming support at the polls from white Republicans. It was Dems who voted against them. For that matter, Louisina Governor Bobby Jindal is certain to be on stage with McCain. Jindal isn't black, but he is surely among the most appealing young politicians of any race in America.

And then: "The theory of the McCain candidacy is that his “maverick” image will bring independents (approaching a third of all voters) to the rescue. But a New York Times-CBS News poll last month found that independents have even a lower opinion of Mr. Bush, the war, the surge and the economy than the total electorate and skew slightly younger. Though the independents in this survey went 44 percent to 32 percent for Mr. Bush over John Kerry in 2004, they now prefer a Democratic presidential candidate over a Republican by 44 percent to 27 percent."

So because independents don't like Bush they won't vote for McCain? A stretch. And as for that poll, it's generic. "A Republican" against a Dem. But come November, it won't be Generic Republican Man, but McCain. And a recent poll already shows McCain neck-and-neck with an Obama riding the crest of his popularity and with his most-liberal-member-of-the-Senate record as yet unscrutinized.

Instead of real evidence of Obama's electoral strength, Rich cites two anecdotes. First, "a friend in California, a staunch anti-Clinton Republican businessman," who has "drifted" toward Obama. Rich must hang in the same Republican circles as Tom Brokaw, who recently said his most conservative friend might vote for Hillary.

Rich then cites campaign consultant Mark McKinnon, who has worked for Bush and McCain, who recently announced that while he likes and agrees with McCain, he wouldn’t work for him against Obama. Rich doesn't inform readers that McKinnon is doing nothing more than returning to his Dem roots. Until signing onto the Bush gubernatorial campaign, McKinnon had worked for a Dem Texas governor and on numerous Dem campaigns.

After a parting shot at George Allen, whom he delights in depicting as "the foreigner in 21st century America, . . . in the minority in the real world of Virginia," Rich makes this bold prediction: "A national rout in 2008 just may be that Republican Party’s last stand."

Noted.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.