Its activist role has been the single constant in this eternal election.
Both time and events have dimmed those defining moments that early on revealed the difference between the two presidential aspirants. Not only did the financial crisis arrive but so, in her uproarious way, did Sarah Palin. Tuesday's debate between two candidates paralyzed by caution altered nothing. It was a relief, of course, not to hear about Sen. McCain's record as a "maverick" -- a word that would, in a merciful world, be banned from public discourse for the next decade. It was too much to expect Barack Obama to spare us further recitals of the McCain-Bush connection.
The single constant in the eternal election remains the media, whose activist role no one will seriously dispute. To point out the prevailing (with honorable exceptions) double standard of reporting so favorable to Mr. Obama by now feels superfluous -- much like talking about the weather. The same holds true for all those reports pointing to Mr. Obama's heroic status outside the United States -- not to mention the cascade of press analyses warning that if he fails to win election, the cause will surely be racism.
None of this means that the media's role will go unremembered -- who will forget MSNBC news, voice of the Obama campaign? Never has a presidential election produced more fodder for the making and breaking -- or tainting -- of reputations.
The same is true of news sources making far greater claims to fairness. So it was only slightly startling to read a New York Times forecast (Sept. 22) about the presidential debate to come in which reporter Katharine Q. Seelye declared, " . . . Mr. Obama should expect Mr. McCain to question his credentials for the job at every turn -- and to distort his views, as Mr. Romney insisted he did."
That first debate brought the usual legions of commentators -- among them CNN foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour. John McCain, she pointed out, had stumbled over Ahmadinejad's name, and as he was supposed to be the expert on foreign policy, it made her giggle.
"That's not fair -- people make mistakes all the time," Anderson Cooper shot back. But Ms. Amanpour, whose capacity for sustained levels of bombast is one of the wonders of the world, was having none of it.
She would go on to raise the theme so central to the Obama campaign, and held, as revealed truth, by the politically progressive everywhere -- that the U.S., fallen low in the eyes of the world, is now in dire need of moral salvation. Everywhere she went in America, Ms. Amanpour declared, she found "desperate Americans" -- desperate, that is, about the low esteem in which the country was held, desperate to have a president who would lift America up.
Mr. Obama could not have said it better himself. He is the leading exponent of the idea that our lost nation requires rehabilitation in the eyes of the world -- and it is the most telling difference between him and Mr. McCain. When asked, in one of the earliest debates of the primary, his first priority should he become president, his answer was clear. He would go abroad immediately to make amends, and assure allies and others in the world America had alienated, that we were prepared to do all necessary to gain back their respect.
It is impossible to imagine those words coming from Mr. McCain. Mr. Obama has uttered them repeatedly one way or another and no wonder. They are in his bones, this impossible-to-conceal belief that we've lost face among the nations of the world -- presumably our moral superiors. He is here to reform the fallen America and make us worthy again of respect. It is not in him, this thoughtful, civilized academic, to grasp the identification with country that Mr. McCain has in his bones -- his knowledge that we are far from perfect, but not ready, never ready, to take up the vision of us advanced by our enemies. That identification, the understanding of its importance and of the dangers in its absence -- is the magnet that has above all else drawn voters to Mr. McCain.
Sen. Obama is not responsible for the political culture, but he is in good part its product. Which is perhaps how it happened that in his 20 years in the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- passionate proponent of the view of America as the world's leading agent of evil and injustice -- he found nothing strange or alienating. To the contrary, when Rev. Wright's screeds began rolling out on televisions all over the country, Mr. Obama's first response was to mount a militant defense and charge that Rev. Wright had been taken out of context, "cut into snippets." This he continued to do until it became untenable. Then came the subject-changing speech on race. Such defining moments tell more than all the talk of Sen. Obama's association with the bomb-planting humanist, William Ayers.
These sharp differences between the candidates as to who we are as a nation may not seem, now, as potent an issue for voters as the economy, but they should not be underestimated. This clash -- not the ones on abortion or gay marriage -- is the root of the real culture war to play out in November.
News Flash: The Media Back Obama - WSJ.com