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In a FOX News interview Friday, John McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds complained about media scrutiny of "Joe the Plumber"--the newest character in the three-act farce that has become their campaign. Of course, McCain's "old buddy Joe" and the veracity of his narrative would have merely been a passing blip on media radar had the campaign not thoughtlessly forced him front-and-center in the final presidential debate as just another prop in their play.
One can hardly fault campaign surrogates for attempting to discredit the media and label them as biased, liberal or "in-the-tank" for Obama. The cultural myth of a liberal mainstream media is dubious, but conservatives have successfully framed political discourse for decades by propagating it among a credulous base.
This time, however, it seems terribly desperate and utterly disingenuous to denigrate journalists for doing something McCain should have done days earlier--and with respect to Sarah Palin--months earlier. At this point in a flailing and increasingly erratic campaign, the tactic of complaining about a liberal media bias is as futile as is it trite. But more importantly, it belies a more significant and insurmountable problem for the campaign: apostate conservatives.
Andrew Bacevich endorsed Obama in March and Wick Allison did it in September. Then there were the two iconic Christophers: recently Hitchins and last week Buckley, son of National Review founder William F. Buckley, who is widely credited as the father of modern conservatism. Hitchins endorsed Obama Monday in a rebuke of McCain's temperament and character, while Buckley cost himself a job at his late father's magazine by announcing he will vote for a Democrat for the first time in his life when he pulls the lever for Obama in November.
The nation also heard Thursday from David Brooks and Friday the Chicago-Tribune endorsed a Democrat for president for the first time in the 160-year history of the paper. As if it couldn't get any worse for McCain, we're likely to hear the revered Colin Powell offer his support, if not a full-throated endorsement, of Obama on Meet the Press Sunday morning .
With just over two weeks to go until the election, this repudiation by the right-of-center punditocracy doesn't bode well for a candidate who was never a darling of conservatives to begin with--particularly among the evangelical right. Does this mean McCain has already lost the election? No. There exists a real possibility for a McCain squeaker, though getting there will be an uphill war (not battle) at this point.
What it does mean is that Republicans will not be able to blame a mythical liberal media for their failure to energize the electorate. I have long considered the specter of a liberal media to be a fable born of paranoia. Invented as a strategy to win elections, it later became a defense against potential Republican failure and a tagline to foment mistrust among the electorate. But when used to perpetuate a patrician v. plebeian mentality, it's a script perfect for aiding campaigns that win and justifying those that don't.
Casting themselves as the underdog party of Jesus, small government and real patriotism, Republicans claim to fight for the common man while they brand academics and journalists as biased, elitist pigs (instant snobbery, just add education). Then they rehash the hackneyed line about liberals and how much better they think they are than the working-class, and the result is a seemingly impervious battleship of electoral dominance. That is until reality seeps in and that ship starts to sink, leaving many heretofore stalwart conservatives to reverse course or jump ship altogether.
If McCain fails to win in November, the campaign will have the sellout himself to blame, along with several other parties. This year, however, the imaginary liberal media will not be one of them.