Bad cop/good cop—don’t buy it.

By Amanda Marcotte
Saturday, October 11, 2008 17:19 EDT
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I was fully prepared to give credit where it’s due to McCain for this maneuver.

But reading Pam’s post and Kathy’s post, my skepticism began to rise. Using surrogates to advance an attack and then “rising above” is a classic campaign tactic. To a degree, the Democrats are doing it. Biden spent much of the debate hammering at McCain, which opened the floor to Obama to speak positively about himself. McCain has nothing left but attacks now, so they’re pulling a ham-fisted, stupid version of the same tactic—the foaming at the mouth followers advance bullshit about how Obama is a terrorist, socialist, or the Anti-Christ, and McCain plays the good cop.

Here’s the thing. McCain has the power to rein in Sarah Palin, and he has the power to rein in surrogates like Frank Keating, who called Obama “a guy of the street”. Coming from McCain, the tut-tutting means nothing to the rabid base. Now, if Sarah Palin says it, I’ll pay attention. But right now, I’m not buying it.

See, it’s part of the right wing mythology that they are the perpetual victims of a politically correct dictatorship that denies them the all-important freedoms to use racial epithets and believe loudly in the Anti-Christ without whipping out the toothful enforcement power known as “making the speaker feel like a moron”. According to the myth, the more power you have, the more powerless you are, because you had to sell your “true” (racist, crazy) beliefs in order to get past the P.C. police who can wither you with the mighty power of sucking their teeth and looking shocked. A smart right wing politician plays this belief like a fiddle. George Bush was a master. He’d publicly show a modicum of official respect to religious pluralism, and then would blow dog whistles to let the fundies know that they’re Number One in his heart, and if he could say it out loud, he totally would.

I suspect that this strategy is about selling this bullshit narrative to the base: McCain was the consummate insider, a man who had lost his right wing way after years of having to go to dinner parties with Democrats, which infected him with Teh Librul. But Sarah Palin is pure. She’s been stashed in the middle of nowhere, where she can run around with guys who believe it’s every man’s right to take their penis substitutes into schools, and so she can speak her mind more freely with less fear of the P.C. police. So McCain is more free to be the good cop, because Palin is playing the role of the wingnut inside. And if the message wasn’t strong enough, they’re passing the microphone at rallies so that followers can get those accusations—terrorist, socialists, America-haters, oh my!—out there while allowing McCain a measure of plausible deniability. Nothing about this game is about scolding the mobs about their beliefs. It’s about setting up a structure so they can feel validated in their beliefs that they’re the “real” Americans, and that they are victims of the interlopers (immigrants, black people, gays, and liberals, oh my!) who have illegitimately taken over the country through that damned democratic process. In fact, McCain openly plays the game of letting a follower put words in his mouth to express his “real” feelings in this video. Witness: a rant about hooligans and socialists, and McCain saying, “The gentleman is right,” and then rephrasing what the man said in mellow terms that conflate “Democrat” with “socialist”. Which feeds right into the narrative—that Republican leaders sincerely believe that the opposition party are a bunch of commies, but they just can’t say so because of the all-powerful P.C. police.

I’d be interested to find out who the presumed ordinary citizen at this rally was. He sure is mighty eloquent.

By the way, yesterday I was saying out loud, “I don’t see how this election can get crazier, but I have faith in the wingnuts that they’ll always find a way.” My faith is always rewarded–-they’re discussing whether or not Obama is a Maoist or a Stalinist at NRO.

The belief that Obama is a “secret” commie/terrorist symp is another form of projection. They believe that their Republican leaders are secret right wing radicals, and unfortunately, many of them are willing to wink at the wingnuts and let them believe just that. Which is sleazy, but of course, justified in wingnut minds because the liberals are doing it, too. Obama is “pretending” to be a centrist Democrat, but is “secretly” all sorts of things.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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