Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: A Superhero Walks Among Us

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Superhero Walks Among Us

In talking about comic book politics last night, I made the distinction about how the audience's knowledge of such potentially authoritarian characters as Superman and Batman can allow them to work in a fictional universe but that they could never have a place in our world. We have absolute trust that Batman has a strong enough moral character that he will always do the right thing. That seems like a bit of a stretch to anybody living in our reality. After sleeping on the ideas, however, I realized I was wrong. I don't know how many living, breathing people out there have the absolute trust of significant numbers of the public, but one of them's running for president.

If you don't believe that this is precisely how the press treats John McCain, you haven't been paying attention. There's plenty of evidence all through the Internet (Bob Somerby usually tracks the outrage, although on Friday he was beginning to wonder if the shoe was moving to the other foot), but for a quick primer, we can go back just about a month to a couple of columns that appeared in the Washington Post. On June 22, David Broder was primarily talking about Obama, but he squeezed in an endorsement of McCain:

McCain benefits from a long-established reputation as a man who says what he believes. His shifts in position that have occurred in this campaign seem not to have damaged that aura.

McCain says what he means. The press believes it knows him and can trust him to do that. If he doesn't (and if he ever did, it seems he's gotten over it), the press knows that there's some explanation. They trust him. They've looked into his eyes and seen his soul. They know he'd never really do anything other than what they expect.

I'd remembered the Broder column, but when I was looking for it again, I also came across this little gem from Richard Cohen, which appeared in the Post a scant two days after Broder's pronouncement. After going through a litany of McCain's flip-flops, Cohen explains why they don't matter:

McCain is a known commodity. It's not just that he's been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It's also -- and more important -- that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This -- not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express -- is what commends him to so many journalists.

Cohen is fantasizing wildly here. We have no idea whether or not McCain has a "bottom line" or, if he does, just where it might be. But we do have a fairly good idea of where Batman's "bottom line" would be, and if McCain is anything like Batman (and I'd be willing to bet that Cohen would say he is), then maybe their "bottom lines" are in about the same place.

If Somerby's right, we may see the press start to wander away from John McCain. But if the press stays true to form, we'll know it's because they're viewing McCain in the same way the rest of us look at idealized fictional characters.


At 2:06 PM, July 28, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe we need to look at a different fictional hero. Perhaps the press have confused McCain with his near-namsake Caine from the TV show "Kung-Fu." He was, as you may recall, a simple man who walked the earth seeking peace and wanting nothing more than to plainly speak the simple truth. Yet in spite of this, he somehow ended up resorting to violence in every episode -- though it was always the other guy's fault for forcing the issue.


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