There’s more than you’d ever want to know about the Temptations here – but if you’re of a certain age you remember their amazing, and long, 1972 hit, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone. One version was seven minutes long, and another twelve. Everyone knew it explained a lot about the America we saw all around us. Many of us rushed out and bought the album, All Directions, just for that. Here’s a taste of the hit song – it took the country by storm. If you were a white guy, you began to understand racial things a whole lot better – the frustration, the pride, the anger, the attitude, and the humor. It seemed a clear this-is-how-it-is statement. You want to understand who we are? Listen to this. Deal with it – we have.
There has been nothing like it since. But then there was something else on the same album, directed to the white folks who bought the album and had probably begun to feel that warm and fuzzy glow of racial understanding. It was kind of a time-delay bomb just sitting there, for the unsuspecting white fans. That would be Run Charlie Run. These guys knew who they were dealing with, as shown in the lyrics:
Run, Charlie, run
Look! The niggers are coming!
(The niggers are coming?!)
Run, Charlie, run
Look! The niggers are coming!
(The niggers are coming?!)
They were entertainers, the black guys with the fancy, shiny suits and coordinated spins and moves, and not threatening at all. But they knew they were threatening – this country wasn’t going to change. So they called out the bullshit:
I watch you go to church on Sunday
But you forget all you learned on Monday
You see your smiling face can’t hide
How you hate your brother inside
You built this great big beautiful city
But you ran away and left it to die. What a pity.
You could have made friends with your neighbor
But you are much too prejudiced to try; tell me why!
And there was this:
But the greatest wrong you know you’ve done
Is you passed this sickness onto your son
(your one and only boy)
He came into this world with a mind so clean
You took it, molded it, and made it mean!
The delivery is hilarious – they keep coming back to the mocking refrain. The content is righteous and appropriate anger.
These guys were good. “You see your smiling face can’t hide how you hate your brother inside” – as in John McCain, and the words have double meaning, as maybe we all have that brother inside and don’t want to think about it. “You built this great big beautiful city but you ran away and left it to die” – of course about the decaying inner cities of the early seventies, but now see New Orleans, George Bush and Michael Brown.
And now Run Charlie Run could be the theme song of the Obama campaign – if anyone dared to go there. Yeah, the niggers are coming. (The niggers are coming?!) What’s your problem, white guy?
You could do some cool sabotage – pipe the tune, full blast, into a McCain-Palin rally or two, and hide any means to cut it off. Mock them. Obama is winning, fair and square, on the merits of who he is and how he approaches things – and he’s black. Deal with it. Better yet, figure out a way to have the tune override the audio as Fox News leads with the fancy animated graphics into O’Reilly or Hannity – make Roger Ailes cry.
It’ll never happen. And anyway, no one remembers the tune – it didn’t get commercial airplay, for obvious reasons. But it would be fun. And yes, it would be gloating. So what?
It’s probably best that on Wednesday, October 29, the Obama folks went the other way, with the thirty-minute primetime Obama infomercial – on all the major networks but ABC and on cable. The message wasn’t Run Charlie Run – it was relax, Charlie – this guy is calm, cool and reasonable, and smart and pragmatic, and warm and compassionate. Actually, he is all those things – given what you saw you could hardly come to any other conclusion – even if he seems to be black.
If you missed it, the whole thirty minutes is here, but it comes down to this.
In one week, we can choose an economy that rewards work and creates new jobs and fuels prosperity from the bottom-up.
In one week, we can choose to invest in health care for our families, and education for our kids, and renewable energy for our future.
In one week, we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo.
In one week, we can come together as one nation, and one people, and once more choose our better history.
That’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. And if in this last week, you will knock on some doors for me, and make some calls for me, and talk to your neighbors, and convince your friends; if you will stand with me, and fight with me, and give me your vote, then I promise you this – we will not just win Florida, we will not just win this election, but together, we will change this country and we will change the world.
His voice was calm, manly and measured – radio guys would say he has great pipes – and not once did he mention George Bush, or John McCain, or Sarah Palin. The production values were awesome – the American waves of grain and small towns and all that, with the elegiac but vaguely hip music. And it was all about real families – we met them – trying to get by in hard times and hoping for better. It wasn’t cloying, just kind of sad in a way, but offering some reasonable hope. On CNN the resident right-side guy said the whole emphasis on family was curiously conservative, and the CNN requisite leftie said that was a load of crap – caring about your family and, in particular, your kids, wasn’t conservative, just American. Actually, it’s kind of universal. He just took that away from the Republican fellow.
Earlier in the day, one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers put it nicely:
The McCain campaign and far right detractors have questioned the patriotism of Obama and his supporters from the very beginning, when, in fact, patriotism is the very basis for his success.
Obama’s campaign simply could not function without an abiding, strident belief in the American people, the American dream, the American way. With two ongoing wars and a coming economic crisis that rivals the Great Depression, what can explain this fervor, this pure optimism, if not patriotism?
Without patriotism, where is the passion, the determination, the conviction that we, in fact, can? Without patriotism, we are left with only fear and cynicism. …
Even so, there was not much new here. Alex Johnson of MSNBC covers that:
There was nothing particularly special about the ad itself – which conjured up images of a country crying out for change against a suitably patriotic background – except for its length. Not since 1992, when independent billionaire Ross Perot self-financed a series of infomercials, has a presidential candidate aired program-length advertisements in prime time.
Actually what was new is that there was no mention of McCain or Palin at all, or even any mention of Bush. McCain had no way to fight back, other than telling us all we should be fearful and remain cynical:
The campaign of Republican nominee John McCain released a short statement afterward, saying: “As anyone who has bought anything from an infomercial knows, the sales job is always better than the product. Buyer beware.”
McCain launched a pre-emptive strike before the ad aired, calling it a “gauzy, feel-good infomercial” that he said was paid for by “broken promises,” a reference to Obama’s circumvention of spending limits by his refusal to accept public funding. He also released a traditional 30-second ad recalling his attack on Obama last summer as a lightweight celebrity, dismissing him as a candidate of “fancy speeches, grand promises and TV specials.”
Perhaps Obama can come back with a question for McCain. Why don’t you talk about yourself – your approach to the issues, your plans, your ideas? You keep talking about me – calling me names and saying I should have done this and not have done that. What’s up with that, John? Why not tell everyone what you offer?
Well, many of us were disappointed when, in the third presidential debate, McCain proudly said he wasn’t George Bush and told Obama that if Obama wanted to run against Bush, he should have run four years ago. Obama just smiled, but there was a better response. Why didn’t you run four years ago, John? Oh well – a missed opportunity.
In any event, McCain seems grumpy that he didn’t have the funds to do what Obama did – but he still has all that “free media” — the basic news coverage and Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live” and all the rest. The problem is that Obama has the same:
Wednesday, in fact, Obama was set to make more free television appearances than McCain, above and beyond the 30-minute ad. Obama also taped appearances on ABC’s “World News” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” while McCain was scheduled for a single appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”
Damn – it doesn’t seem fair. And getting mad at CNN earlier, and refusing to go on Larry King, seems now like a bad move. That must have been in the days when his advisors were telling McCain that the American people really, really wanted a perpetually angry and deeply cynical guy as their next president (calling it realism or experience) – or figured that was who at his core McCain really was, so it would be best to go with that. Bill O’Reilly became rich and famous that way after all. But in retrospect – dumb.
And now Obama blankets the airwaves with thirty minutes of the opposite of anger and a refusal to be cynical – we have big problems, we can fix them, and here are some ideas, so let’s give it a try. The other guy just sputters – but look everyone, he’s young and new and green and used to hang around with bad people and sort of seems like a socialist or communist or Marxist or something, and he has a funny name and he’s black – and what about Joe the Pumber? Nothing seems to stick.
Of course Obama could lose to McCain. McCain’s folks say they have new internal numbers that show calling Obama names and harping on Joe the Heroic Toledo Plumber have shifted things so that the race is now “functionally a tie.” Everyone else is wrong. Think back to the 2006 congressional elections – the polls all showed the Democrats would gain big in the House and win the Senate, but Karl Rove said they had their numbers, but he had THE numbers – the Republicans would win big. And… Okay, bad example.
John Dickerson explores all this in Don’t Worry, Be Happy:
What are we to make of this? Where do we plot the mindset of the McCain campaign on a continuum that stretches from deceit (aides know they’re losing badly and they’re play-acting) to Drudge-like self-delusion (they’re mindlessly clutching at, and believing in, any glimmer of positive news) to truth (there actually are real signs of hope)? The line can be hard to define, but it seems to me that the McCain campaign is somewhere between self-delusion and truth.
McCain has a shot. Yep, and next year the Pittsburgh Pirates could win the World Series. Anything is possible, even if, after Dickerson posted his item, there was this – Obama Doubles Lead in Key State, Poll Shows.
Kevin Drum has some comments:
I notice that a number of liberal pundits are starting to worry in public that maybe John McCain is making up some ground and that maybe, just maybe, he could end up pulling ahead by Election Day. And sure, anything is possible. But I suspect that this growing fear is due in large part to the fact that, even now, a lot of people really aren’t quite sure why Obama is winning.
That includes plenty of conservatives, too, who are practically insane with frustration over what’s going on. After all, they’ve pulled out all the usual stops. They’ve called Obama a traitor, a radical, an appeaser, a terrorist lover, an Israel hater, and a socialist. And that stuff usually does the trick. So what’s wrong this time?
Obama is what’s wrong:
He’s been pretty unflappable and, like FDR, uses humor and mockery effectively to deflect a lot of the fever swamp stuff. His campaign is part of it too. It helps a lot when your response includes not just humor and mockery, but four TV ads to every one of McCain’s.
And then there’s what Drum called the X-Factor:
For some reason, the public just isn’t buying the old swill this year. Is it because of the economy? Because they’re tired of Republicans? Because they think Obama is The One? Who knows? And because we don’t really, truly know, we’re afraid that maybe if McCain finds just the right pitch, just the right attack line, just the right dodge, the whole thing could come crashing down and the public will, once again, start buying the old swill after all.
But I think that’s exactly the wrong way to look at it. If it were just personality, maybe picking Sarah Palin as his running mate really would have turned things around. If it were just ads, maybe a better ad from McCain might do the trick. But if the real problem is that public opinion has turned against modern, GOP-style conservatism in a big way – and that really does seem to be the case – then Obama has the strongest possible kind of lead. Like Adam Smith’s invisible hand, it may seem mysterious, but it’s no less powerful for all that.
So they’ve called Obama a traitor, a radical, an appeaser, a terrorist lover, an Israel hater, and a socialist. They end up looking mean, small, petty and utterly cynical, and out of ideas of their own – and if not scared themselves (seems unlikey), telling us we should be frightened to death.
Damn – it is time to start playing that old Run Charlie Run song, full blast, cranked up to eleven – just to let everyone see who these guys really are. Call it the Triumph of Motown.