By Rory O'Connor
Wednesday 20 February 2008
McKinnon, the media mastermind who helped launch Bush into office, says he won't attack Obama.
If you're a Democratic primary voter in Ohio, Texas or Pennsylvania, and you're still torn between Obama and the Clintons, here's the best reason I know to throw your support to Obama: Mark McKinnon.
Love him or hate him, there's general agreement that McKinnon - the chief media adviser and strategist for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain - is a genius at what he does. So it's no surprise that, even though it's relatively old 'news,' word that McKinnon will stop working for McCain if Obama is the Democratic nominee has been freshly burning up cyberspace of late.
Citing his admiration for the Illinois senator, McKinnon says he cannot face being part of a campaign that "would inevitably be attacking" Obama. "I have met Barack Obama. I have read his book. I like him a great deal, he told National Public Radio. "I disagree with him on very fundamental issues, but it would be uncomfortable for me, and it would be bad for the McCain campaign."
But who is Mark McKinnon - and why does his unusual stance matter so much? For starters, because as the chief media adviser and strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaigns, he arguably deserves more credit (or blame, depending on your politics!) than any other individual for George Bush being in the White House. Anyone who can get George Bush elected president of the United States twice (and governor of Texas before that) is a danger to Democrats everywhere, and the fact that McKinnon will withdraw his services from McCain in the event of an Obama nomination should be music to the ears of anyone who wants to see an end to our long national nightmare - aka the Bush administration and its possible successors.
I first met McKinnon in 2004 while covering the presidential media campaigns for the television industry journal Broadcasting & Cable. He returned my first call immediately - unlike his inept Democratic counterparts, who failed to return 14 calls and then hung up when I finally got through. After telling me to check in with presidential counselor Dan Bartlett (who also promptly returned the call), McKinnon then invited me to spend a day at the Bush/Cheney campaign offices in suburban Virginia.
Upon arrival, I asked McKinnon what his media plan for the campaign against John Kerry would be. To my surprise, instead of dodging, filibustering or ignoring the question, he answered in a forthright manner. "We plan to spend $60 million in the next 90 days defining John Kerry before he can define himself," McKinnon told me.
"How are you going to define him?" I shot back.
"As a flip-flopping liberal who's wrong on defense," McKinnon replied.
I then watched in amazement over the next three months as he proceeded to do exactly that. Within weeks of our conversation, ordinary people all over the country suddenly began saying that they had doubts about Kerry - particularly, they parroted, because he seemed like such a "flip-flopper." The mainstream media lapdogs soon followed suit.
Kerry never recovered from the preemptive assault on his authenticity, which was later reinforced by images of windsurfing and clips of him saying, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." Game, set and match to the Republican side.
So who, then, is Mark McKinnon? And why is the man who first elected George W. Bush, and later rescued John McCain from the land of the politically dead and then took him to the brink of the nomination, saying he won't help McCain in November if Obama is the Democratic candidate? The high-school dropout, one-time staff songwriter for Kris Kristofferson, formerly Democratic political operative who once denounced Karl Rove, and friend of such liberal heavyweights as onetime Clinton advisers Paul Begala and James Carville, seems an unlikely choice as President Bush's or candidate McCain's campaign media director. But politics is first and foremost about winning - and McKinnon's candidates win.
"It all started with Hank the Hallucination," McKinnon recalls. "Hank and Paul Begala are the reasons I got into politics." Hank, an illustrated comic strip character in the Daily Texan, the student newspaper McKinnon edited, ran with his backing against Begala in a 1982 contest for student government president at the University of Texas in Austin - and won. "I was a bit of an anarchist in those days," McKinnon recalls.
Hank was the first in a long series of winning candidates that McKinnon has backed. "I was a volunteer for Lloyd Doggett in my first real campaign in 1983," he says. "Carville was the campaign manager, and Begala was in the upper echelon. He brought me out of the basement."
McKinnon continued to work in winning Texas Democratic campaigns after that, helping to elect Ann Richards as governor in 1990 and Bob Lanier as mayor of Houston in 1991, among others. But by 1996, as he explained in a Texas Monthly essay called "The Spin Doctor is Out," he had burned out on partisan politics and "last-minute attack and response ads." Instead he planned to concentrate on corporate clients and public affairs, such as a successful 1997 effort to preserve affirmative action.
Then he fell in love, and everything changed. As he famously told a reporter, McKinnon saw Bush at a party and had the feeling that a man has "when he's at a party with his wife and sees a beautiful woman across the room."
The object of his newfound affection was George W. Bush, then governor of Texas. "It is unusual" for a conservative Republican politician and a liberal Democrat media maven to hook up, McKinnon admits. "The nexus was [Democratic] Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, who was my mentor." McKinnon and Bush became jogging partners and fast friends. Soon Bush began courting McKinnon professionally as well.
"Even as governor, President Bush was famously skeptical about political consultants," McKinnon says. "And at the time, all the typical Republican hired guns were circling. Hiring me was certainly a counter-intuitive move. I think he liked the idea that I wasn't looking to work in politics anymore."
In the end, McKinnon says, he decided to work for Bush "out of respect, loyalty and friendship - which as you know are qualities that are very important to the Bush culture." Those feelings were reciprocated by Bush, who put McKinnon in charge of two of the most well-financed media operations in history.
The strategies McKinnon employed in the past decade may seem awfully negative for a man who says, "Negativity drove me out of politics in the mid-'90s." (After all, McKinnon was the architect of the ads that trashed John McCain in South Carolina and beyond in 2000, ensuring a Bush nomination.) But McKinnon says it isn't so.
"It's not negative to define John Kerry. We're not doing attack ads, we're doing strong contrast ads," he told me four years ago. "That's legitimate, not negative. We aren't saying Kerry is 'weak on defense,' we're saying he's 'wrong on defense.' There's a big difference."
As I wrote at the time, "The war of words matters a lot, and while McKinnon concedes that the Bush campaign is busy testing them in focus groups, he offers no details. Still, it's clear he is attempting to position the president as a "steady" leader and Kerry as a "flip-flopper" who changes positions often for political expediency. If the words work, they will be repeated over and over as part of that 'coordinated blitz' aimed at defining Kerry as 'indecisive and lacking conviction.'"
Despite the fierce hatred he has engendered in some of his former friends, McKinnon generally remains an approachable and affable figure. Even Begala - who eventually did become student body president by winning a runoff between the "two top humans" after Hank the Hallucination was gunned down - extols him. "I love him!" Begala told me. "He's a wonderful, terrific guy."
Even though he went over to the Dark Side?
"It's a free country. Sure, he was way to the left of me in college, and now he's way to the right," Begala responded. "But hey - James Carville goes home every night and goes to bed with Mary Matalin ... Mark has changed his life, but I don't believe he had a conservative epiphany.
"I believe him when he says this is based on a deep and personal love of George Bush. But this is not a race for student government president," Begala concluded. "Still, if Bush is ruining the country, I say let's attack the organ grinder and not the monkey."
"I haven't taken as many shots as I thought I would," McKinnon conceded at the time. "Probably because Begala blessed me."
Would he describe himself as a Republican?
"Let's just say I'm a man of evolution," he responded with a grin.
His many critics now contend that, far from "evolving," McKinnon is just an opportunistic turncoat, a lustful chameleon, a bizarre sellout ... and worse. In any event, now it's time for another hallucinatory campaign, and McKinnon is once again in the thick of it.
Just ask John McCain - or Barack Obama, for that matter!
Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is now completing AlterNet's first-ever book, which is on the subject of right-wing radio talkers like O'Reilly, and will be available early in 2008. O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.
Give Dennis Kucinich His Due
By Steve Cobble
Tuesday 19 February 2008
Five years ago, this month, the world said no to the Iraq War, with massive demonstrations all around the world involving 10 million people. In the United States, more than 100,000 people came to New York City to challenge the Bush/Cheney rush to war-and one of the speakers, one of the very few elected officials to speak that day, was Dennis Kucinich.
So what, you say? Well, maybe it's time to give Dennis his due.
Compare the outpouring of affection and respect for John Edwards with the snark and abuse offered Kucinich when they each bowed out of the presidential race last month. Most liberal columnists and progressive bloggers offered kudos to Edwards for forcing and/or encouraging Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to move left on healthcare, on trade issues, on poverty and inequality. John and Elizabeth Edwards did exactly that, and I offer my own thanks for the issues they ran on, especially given everything that was going on in their family. They deserve our appreciation for boldly putting good issue positions on the table, fighting hard for them and opening the door for the other candidates to get bolder, too.
But why stop there? Why not ask who opened the door for Edwards? Because on almost every issue that John Edwards battled hard on in 2007, helping move Obama and Clinton closer to the light, it's indisputable that Dennis Kucinich pushed on those same issues back in 2003, again in 2007 and every year in between. In other words, Kucinich was against the war, for fair trade, against NAFTA and the WTO, against the Patriot Act, for single-payer health care, for an infrastructure plan to rebuild America and put forward a plan to bring the troops home-all long before not just John Edwards, but long before almost anybody.
Consider the Patriot Act vote, cast by the Congress in October of 2001, only a few weeks after 9/11, in a scary time of threats and intimidation from the Bush/Cheney Administration. This vote had our lawmakers so scared that only a few brave House members stood up to oppose it, and in the Senate, only Russ Feingold had the guts to say no. But Kucinich voted no. Why? Because he read the bill. He risked his political career to oppose an intrusive, liberty-violating, fundamentally un-American bill. Very few others did, especially House members from ethnic urban districts.
So give John Edwards his due. But give Kucinich his due, too.
Because the truth is, Dennis Kucinich has the best voting record in Congress of anyone from a mostly white, ethnic district. No one else who shares most of Kucinich's positions-even those who are much less outspoken than he is-also has a district like his. He's not from Berkeley or Madison. He doesn't have a huge, liberal base constituency. Dennis Kucinich is consistently braver than his district would suggest he should be; and perhaps no other progressive is as brave compared to the people they represent. If you disagree, I offer impeachment as an example. Or gay marriage. Or animal rights. Or the abolition of nuclear weapons. Or a ban on weapons in space. Or his early opposition to pre-emptive war.
Maybe those brave votes are a big part of the reason that Kucinich currently has four opponents for his House seat, including at least one who's being massively funded by outside corporate interests. Maybe his tough race is not all due to his absences, but to his outspokenness. Maybe it's not his ears but his votes. Maybe it's not his size that irritates the big corporate boys but his willingness to act on his beliefs.
Maybe the special interest money that's pouring into Cleveland these days for his opponents is not really because they're dissatisfied with his constituent service but because they don't like his commitment to ending the war economy; because they're irritated by his feistiness on behalf of canceling NAFTA, for fair trade, for living wages, for card-check union organizing; or because they hate his years of leadership on behalf of getting the insurance and drug companies out of people's healthcare.
Think about this: Kucinich campaigned in 2007 on almost exactly the same key issues he ran on in 2003-ending the war, fair trade and single-payer health care for all. Since that time, the Democratic Party as a whole has moved more towards his early positions on these issues, as have all his opponents (to greater or lesser degrees) in the presidential primary last year-but he hardly moved at all. He was right then, and he's right now, on most of the fundamental issues that base Democratic voters care about.
Here's a fun experiment. Go to ActBlue right now, pick out any House candidate randomly, and see if their proposed issue positions outdo Kucinich's existing votes. And then think about the fact that progressive groups will in the coming months spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the blogosphere will correctly exalt and extol many of these challengers, and activists will offer up thousands of words and hundreds of hours and dozens of dollars each, all to elect people who do not now-and likely never will-measure up to Kucinich's existing track record.
Then consider treating him with a bit more respect.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)
The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.