Oh, Cindy!


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Every political campaign fudges the truth. They always will, until voters expect no more from their elected leaders than they do from, say, a halfway decent boss. That’s not an impossibly high bar.

How’s your boss? If you say, “O.K. She’s fair to us,” or “He makes sure things operate pretty smoothly,” then you have a halfway decent boss. Life is good. If you say “she hears our situation and stands up for us with upper management,” then you have a great boss, and life is sweet.

If, on the other hand, it were required that bosses were heroic, brilliant, inspiring, yet down-to-earth figures who are a part of a loving, traditional (or at least interesting yet inoffensive) family, then bosses would have to lie — a lot — if they wanted to be bosses. Just as politicians must.

That being said, there is an art to everything, including the persona puffery that is political campaigning. As the palette is to a painter, “cover your tracks” is to a campaigner. Once tracks are covered, if someone catches you in a contradiction, you can dismiss it as “he said/she said” stuff from a disgruntled former associate.

Art, of course, is an evolving phenomenon, as Hillary Clinton learned. YouTube changes the field altogether. Sniper fire becomes girl with poem overnight. Should anyone ever find Barack Obama sitting in the congregation in the middle of one of Pastor Wright’s more controversial utterances, he’d be in the same bowl of soup. Good thing he was telling the truth as he believed it in San Francisco, however one may parse its meaning.

At least Clinton’s Bosnia puffery spoke to a significant part of the persona politicians believe voters seem to demand: personal strength. And the most often neglected yet most powerful display of personal strength is when a politican and/or the politician’s campaign people own up — without excuses — after they screw up.

Fiorello H. La Guardia was confronted about a judge who had displeased him by being reminded that he himself had appointed that judge. Rather than trying to finesse the contradiction he frankly admitted: “When I make a mistake, it’s a beaut!” After the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, John F. Kennedy said “I am the responsible officer,” even though the plan had developed during the Eisenhower administration. Likewise, Ronald Reagan said “I accept responsibility” for the terrorist attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. That’s the stuff that gets airports named after you.

Pulling these strands together, it does not help to play the traditional family card like this:

For a few hours Tuesday morning, the latest campaign trail drama seemed to center not on policy or politics — but on pasta farfalle.

At least three “McCain Family Recipes” posted on John McCain’s campaign Web site and credited to his wife Cindy – including Ahi Tuna with Napa Cabbage Slaw, Passion Fruit Mousse, and Farfalle Pasta with Turkey Sausage, Peas and Mushrooms — appeared to be direct copies of dishes created by the Food Network. Another seemed to be a slightly altered version of a dish prepared by TV chef Rachael Ray.

And it hurts even more to do this:

The McCain campaign quickly moved to quell the controversy over cabbage slaw. “Apparently a web intern added Rachael Ray to our policy team without her knowing it,” McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds told CNN Tuesday morning. “He was swiftly dealt with and the page is down for revision. Our apologies to Food Network …but according to our press assistant the passion fruit mousse is really worth trying.”

I don’t care how jokey you try to be: any boss who publicly blames subordinates for his or her mistakes is by definition the. boss. from. hell. Politicians who blame subordinates ring that bossfromhell bell in our subconscious minds. Call it a dog anti-whistle.

A final note on political artistry as my meager understanding grasps it:

Be careful with that recipe thing. Here, for example, was Sen. Larry Craig’s contribution to Congress Cooks! 

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