May 9th, 2008
01:47 PM ET
10 years ago

Blitzer: Was Obama taking aim at McCain's age?

Blitzer: McCain's camp said Obama was making a dig at the Republican's age; Obama denies the charge.

Blitzer: McCain's camp said Obama was making a dig at the Republican's age; Obama denies the charge.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Whenever I interview a major newsmaker, I always marvel at the pickup of the interview by other news organizations and the reaction from interested parties. The latest case in point is my interview this week with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

During the interview, I asked Obama to react to a suggestion from Republican presidential candidate John McCain that the Democrat was the preferred candidate of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. Obama replied that that assertion was “offensive” and “a smear.” He then added: “And so for him to toss out comments like that I think is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.”

It didn’t take very long for the McCain campaign to respond. “First,” McCain’s senior adviser Mark Salter wrote in a memo, “let us be clear about the nature of Senator Obama’s attack today. He used the words ‘losing his bearings’ intentionally, a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain’s age as an issue. This is typical of the Obama style of campaigning.”

Salter continued: “We have all become familiar with Senator Obama’s new brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent, then you attack him, distort his record and send out surrogates to question his integrity. It is called hypocrisy, and it is the oldest kind of politics there is.”

That’s pretty strong stuff.

Obama’s campaign, by the way, replied that his use of the words “losing his bearings” had nothing to do with McCain’s age.

I am interested in what you think.

Filed under: Wolf Blitzer
soundoff (452 Responses)
  1. Bismarck Canada

    He Didnt say "lose his marbles" did he? I think the mathematical linguists in McCain Camp has come up with a new synonym vis a vis "Bearings = Marbles" . But come to think of it, thats not very far fetched ha ha ha. Couldnt have put it more succintly myself

    May 9, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  2. nganga,Austin TX

    Wolf, You asked the viewers to tell you what questions they wanted to hear you ask Obama.
    90% of the response was 'stay away from pins,Wright,bitter,elitist etc"
    We are tired of the spin and sound-bites Wolf. But it seems as if you lost so much by listening to your viewers that you are so much in a hurry to go back to the same cheap stuff we are unfortunately used to hearing from you!!!!!
    Upgrade man,we gave you the hints.

    May 9, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  3. Jennifer, CA

    Obama's response "losing his bearings" was a DIPLOMATIC move.

    It gives McCain the chance to return to an issues based campaign and drop the mud.

    May 9, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  4. JD

    We are not in Obama's head. We have no way of determining if he is telling the truth when he says he was not referring to age.

    Personally, the comment did not strike me as an age comment.

    May 9, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  5. Jill

    McCain's camp is a bit testy, isn't it? I didn't see even a hint of reference to McCain's age. If they are going to get their undies in a bunch over something as little as this, what will the Real race to the white house be like.

    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  6. Kevin in DC


    In the military, when we are presenting ourselves, we are told to "not lose your bearing."

    That is, keep yourself composed. It has nothing to do with age, it has to do with how you present yourself.

    Obama's comment was spot on, and fools in the media are going to love trying to tie it to ageism. Are you one of them??


    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  7. Robert

    "Losing his bearings" a comment on age? Don't think so. For McCain to misquote a Hamas representative in an attempt to tie Obama to Hamas is really far fetched. Especially since the quote was that Obama would make a good president as he was like John Kennedy, who was greatly repected around the world.

    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  8. Bob

    Thanks Wolf...

    ...for the opportunity for us average people to make clear that we understand that there are people in each campaign whose sole purpose is to listen to everything the opponent says and to immediately tell the rest of us that we are not sufficiently sophisticated to understand what their opponent "really" said.

    Losing one's bearings has a well established connotation of losing one's direction. Oh, and that also happens to fit in with the context of Obama's further statement that McCain was the guy who wasn't going to stoop to such levels in the campaign.

    Yup, he looks like he is losing his bearings to me, too. Just to be clear, McCain's age is the last thing I fear from the notion of him being elected President.

    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  9. Courtney

    When I read the headline before even watching the video, I just thought he was saying McCain was saying silly things–as I'm sure he meant it. Even after watching the video, I didn't get the idea at all that he was trying to make a swipe at McCain like that. I really was thinking more to myself..."Seriously??? Where did THAT come from?" Seems more to me like the McCain camp was ready to jump on the first thing he said. ::shrugs:: I don't think this a really newsworthy story. Sorry, CNN.

    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  10. Ca Native

    Obama was simply attacking McCain (age, commitment to a "clean" race, whatever).

    Obama seems quite sensitive to his anti-American friends: William Ayers, Rev Wright, Hamas.

    Why do you think that is?

    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  11. Jack Tracey

    The McCain Campaign seems to take great pleasure at tossing out zinger, like the Hamas comment, but they then take HUGE offense at even the smallest criticism of McBush!!!

    John McCain does seem to have lost his bearings (nautical term for direction/course) particularly if you look at the McCain of 2000 or even 2004, when his opposition to Bush led to, however brief, consideration of a Kerry/McCain ticket.

    If John McBush's definition of running a clean campaign is saying whatever he wants, then taking offense at his opponent's retorts, he better get out of the race now! There's much to criticize in John McBush, and his age isn't the least of it.

    Obama 2008 - Yes, WE CAN!!!

    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  12. Dan Gates

    I was most surprised by the harsh reaction of Senator McCain's staff to this comment. Unless someone has been much more specific, I think claiming, that a term such as "losing his bearings" is an ageist remark is stretching things and unfairly putting words in Senator Obama's mouth. If this kind of political correctness continues, where phrases are misconstrued to make it seem someone has made a racist, agist or sexist remark, I fear all spontaneity will be lost in future interviews and debates. I think this would be a real shame, because we would be left with robotic politicians, who will never truly speak their minds, but instead constantly be spouting rehearsed diatribe. When it reaches that point, we might just as well let computers run the country.

    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  13. Kerri

    "Losing his bearings" means heading off course, losing the right direction, etc. He didn't say "losing his marbles," which I could see implying age. I've never heard "losing his bearings" used to imply someone was getting old, ever. And uh, McCain IS old. It's a legitimate concern, not ageism. Older people have a higher likelihood of dying, and for the president, that matters.

    South Elgin, IL

    May 9, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  14. Blake, San Diego

    McCain "losing his bearings" has nothing to do with age. It's a widely used phrase that refers to going off track, wrong heading, etc. It can also be used when saying someone is going off on a tangent, drastic change in direction. McCain flew in the Navy, he should know better.

    Whether it's "Off bearing" or whatever you want to call it, I took that statement as Obama being on the defensive about the Hamas comment. McCain was off track with his remarks, and Obama labeled them offensive. McCain's statement wasn't innocent. If you ask me the McCain campaign's response was an indirect attack at Senator Obama and not exactly "playing nice".

    May 9, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  15. Patty Don't

    Obama was simply pointing out that McCain lost sight of where he said he was going to take this campaign. As a Naval Aviator i would thing John McCain would have the best idea of the definition of the word "bearing" in this case. If this is an age issue at all it's McCain's for forgetting what bearings means in this context...

    May 9, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  16. Kimberly Young

    Losing his bearings, Losing direction, Losing the focus – They are all just expressions that are used at times to point out that someone has seemed to have lost their focus. Be they 6 or 106 it in no way was a reference to McCain's age. Obama doesn't even have to bring up McCain's age. It's McCain's politics that will lose this race for him. I've never heard of anyone say that they were or were not going vote for McCain because of his age. His politicle beliefs, yes. Not age.But if John McCain wants to keep reminding everyone of just how old he is, wear his sensitivity on his sleeve and get his knickers in a knot everytime someone says something that offends him then go right ahead. I thought he was supposed to be tough.There's nothing more unattractive than someone that whines and pouts. I wouldn't accept that type of behavior from my children and I won't accept it from him. Here's another one liner – If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.

    May 9, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  17. Rae

    His words were "losing his bearings" not "losing his marbles". The severity of the response from the McCain camp suggests that maybe they're a little oversensitive about the age factor. If they want to portray the impression that his age doesn't matter then maybe they need to begin behaving like it doesn't matter to them.

    May 9, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  18. Victoria

    Obama's comments had NOTHING to do with McCain's age; it had to do with how much McCain has changed in his policies since becoming the Republican nominee, needing to appeal to the right wing. The kind of dust that gets kicked up over these comments is astonishingly immature, demoralizing and it's hurting our country.

    May 9, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  19. Kehinde

    I read Sen. Obama's comments and I would argue that placed in context, he was clearly responding the question, and Sen. McCain "losing his bearings" as a campaigner/presidential candidate. To make it a comment about age sounds like spin. It's one thing to take Senator Obama's "bitter" comment out of context. This one is a much larger stretch.

    May 9, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  20. Joe

    Again, this is a matter of people who will not support Barack Obama parsing his words to support their own bias. For anyone who has bothered to listen to what Senator Obama has said many times on the campaign trail with respect to Senator McCain is that "the wheels are coming off the Straight Talk Express" - meaning (for those who seem to have a problem understanding) that Senator McCain has said one set of things in the past, but now practicing another while pursuing the GOP nomination. One of those things was that we was not going to do "negative" campaigning including ridiculous remarks like he did by inferring that Hamas supports Senator Obama. That's the politics of fear that sunk McCain's candidacy in 2000 and frankly I think a lot of people thought he was better than that. Obviously not.

    May 9, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  21. Brenda

    I'm sorry – but how does 'losing his bearings' translate into old fart? Republicans (although I'd like to exclude John McCain from this) are deceitful and like to act like there are fights to be fought when there aren't - like a schoolyard bully... or insecure middle aged man – overcompensating with a sportscar – if you know what i mean

    May 9, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  22. phillip

    The fact the Obama said he was not refering to his age is good enough for me; what it think is the McCain camp is concerned with his age and so any comment that seems to suggest his age they are on air trigger to react to. Now that they have mentioned his age now lets look at his age. Do you think he is too old?

    May 9, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  23. B. Chambers

    I'm a Democrat, but actually agree with Mark Saltar on this one:

    Senator Obama states that he is going to change our political system. Not only should he be more concerned with ending the war, improving the economy and other issues instead of upheaving the whole political system, BUT he has a tendency to play the "blame game" (i.e. blaming and then denouncing his supporters when he or they get bad press OR stating that his words were taken out of context). I believe strongly that when he makes these types of comments we are actually being given a view into his true thoughts and feelings on a subject. Not only that, but he didn't finally dounce his former pastor until it began to truly hurt his campaign, didn't stay in my home state (Pennsylvania) to give a speech after the contest here (per his campaign, b/c he knew he would lose and wanted to move on to the next state that he believed he would win in), won't allow the FL & MI voters to have their voices be heard (which shows that he honestly doesn't believe that everyone matters)...well, I could go on.

    I personally feel that he is elitist, that he is wet behind the ears and naive. I would love to see the political landscape change and become a more fair and even one, BUT historically the types of changes that he touts he will make only occur through complete social and political upheaval. I think of the end of the Roman, British and Ottoman Empires after hearing him speak and frankly that similarity is frightening.

    May 9, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  24. Adam

    Sounds like Salter and McCain are being way too defensive about McCains age...

    May 9, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  25. Barbara - 65 yr old white female in NC

    He was NOT taking a dig at McCain or McCain's age. Just stating a fact.

    Lose one's bearings = change direction; stray off course; promise to fight fair and then turn dirty.

    Lose one's marbles = get old or lose your mind, etc.

    CNN twists and spins too much, Wolf, and you seem to like to lead the pack.

    May 9, 2008 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
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