How to Make Monsters

Every four years our country undergoes a vigorous and expansive campaign to tear down two politicians: The Republican and Democratic Nominees. And every year, after the liberal and conservative earth is scorched by tongue lashings, manipulated histories and de-contextualized images and videos, we find ourselves with a candidate very much unlike his publicized caricature. (I would say his/her, but until now we have only had male presidents, whereas over a dozen other countries around the world already have had female leaders).

As McCain took the lead in the Republican race, the liberal rhetoric about him changed dramatically. The soft and often complimentary language used to describe the 71 year-old Senator from Arizona disappeared and was replaced by harsh and fast comparisons between John McCain and the current political pariah, President Bush. Since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, liberal pundits have taken to converting McCain into a neo-Bush, a “Bush the II,” or other unappealing epithets with the knowledge that this would hurt his popular support. Take for instance Air America’s Ed Schultz, who just recently called John McCain a “warmonger’ in a North Dakota speech to Obama supporters. His view was not shared by Barack Obama, and his campaign was quick to distance itself from Schultz’s comments.

“John McCain is not a warmonger and should not be described as such,” Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Saturday. She added, “He’s a supporter of a war that Senator Obama believes should have never been authorized and never been waged.”

Obama’s attempt to distance himself from Schultz’s comments does not erase the message, nor will it stem the growing trend for liberal talk show hosts, pundits, and writers to depict McCain as an unsavory, war-hungry, and vicious conservative who will eat our country’s poor and disadvantaged for breakfast. This need to polarize McCain is beginning to take root in many liberals’ rhetoric, as is the the need to polarize Obama in many conservatives’ rhetoric. Becoming the unspoken, yet statistical Democratic nominee, conservatives characterize Barack Obama as well in unhealthy and derogatory ways. Not too long ago conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham attempted to subtlety promote Obama’s association with Islam to McCain supporters. Similar to the Obama’s rejection, McCain rejected the Cunningham’s rhetoric.

Even though Obama and McCain do not share their Parties’ tendency and gory appetite for character destruction, the tradition to polarize the two candidates will continue. In a recent interview with CNN, Schultz defended his position, stating that the difference between him and Cunningham was that Cunningham’s language was personal whereas his was about policy. What Schultz fails to note is that his language, like Cunningham’s is incendiary. A talk show host like Cunningham or Schultz can spend their time building their case without raising the rhetoric. As already discussed in our commentary section, the case to make for Obama being a Muslim is slim to none (slim if you follow with John’s commentary, none if you follow Michael Jerryson’s commentary).

Here is the CNN interview with Ed Schultz on April 7, 2008:

Schultz’s points on McCain’s position with Iraq, Iran, and Russia do merit investigation, but hardly substantiate the title of ‘warmonger,’ especially for a candidate who has critiqued the current administration for the candor and methods of war, and his strong rejection of torture. Warmonger in its most general of all contexts means “a person who advocates, endorses, or tries to precipitate war.” ( While McCain is endorsing the Iraq war, Clinton and Obama have endorsed the wars as well, such as in Afghanistan (thereby fitting the description as well). I can continue down this road, but the point I am trying to make is that one could just as easily defend Cunningham for simply uttering Obama’s full name as defend Schultz for labeling McCain a warmonger. But how does this elevate our discussion about the presidential candidates and their qualifications?

Rush Limbaugh had praised Barack Obama in previous months, defending him against the Clintons and calling him the new John F. Kennedy, a once-in-a-lifetime figure. He is now backpedaling fast. There are many worthy pundits who have depicted McCain as the ‘conservative’ among conservatives (take Paul Krugman’s “McCain is Not a Moderate” for example), and Obama as the ‘liberal’ among liberals (like the National Journal’s ranking). But in the end, these are two three-dimensional candidates with personal values and views. We can either reject the traditional media’s spin and look on them and their policies critically, or embrace these polarizing discourses and read one-sided commentaries. I would suspect those who want a united country would prefer the former. Time will tell.