Monday, August 25, 2008

Not Lookin' for a Place to Hide

The presidential race is entering the homestretch now. Starting say, mid-Semptember or so, the American people are going to interpret any new policy initiatives (unless they've been telegraphed pretty strongly beforehand) as election maneuvers and discount them accordingly. So any attempt to change the boundaries of the election dynamic have to happen very soon or they're not happening at all.

This is not good news for Barack Obama. For the last couple of weeks or so McCain has been on the upswing and Obama's been going the other way. The voting public has just started to wake up to the mental vacuousness of the Obama campaign. The Saddleback Church forum, the trip to Germany and the Paris Hilton ads probably factored in a little bit. Mostly though, the country has real problems and Barack Obama hasn't had anything interesting to say about them for six months.

The choice of veep candidate was an opportunity to restart his campaign. Obama had a lot of decent choices on the general theme of "moderate stodgy white dude from Middle America" Instead, Sen Joe Biden just empasizes the essential gasbaggery of this ticket.

So, counterintuitive as it is, I think McCain has to be the favorite at this point. And the things that might stop McCain from winning will come to a head very soon. One of them is his VP choice. It's a symptom of how far the down the GOP has gone that there aren't very many good choices. In my mind, the two best choices are Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, and former Rep. John Kasich. As far as I know, neither one is getting serious consideration. Supposedly the current short list is Mitt Romney, Joe Lieberman, and Tim Pawlenty. Of those, Lieberman is horrible, Romney is bad, Pawlenty is ok but dull. Republicans can take a little solace that most of the time the VP choice ultimately doesn't matter very much.

The bigger drag on McCain is the leftover fallout from 2006. There are a lot of voters (and not all of them gooey liberals) whose only political agenda this year is to vote against the Republicans at least once more. The country has largely tuned out George W. Bush for about 18 months now. The association of the Republican party with President Bush is strong, but not necessarily overpowering. The way things are now there's just enough other voters, for whom Republican is not a dirty word, for McCain to plausibly win. So there's a temptation to run a defensive campaign about getting all those "other" voters into the GOP column and then pulling up the drawbridge.

That would be a mistake. First of all, there's a matter of simple arithmetic. The more voters that McCain campaign doesn't pursue for this reason or that, the bigger percentage he has to get out of everybody else to win. But the bigger reason is to establish that the GOP is a forward-looking group. We, as a political party and the conservative movement in general, claim credit for the turnaround of America in the 1980s but we're not looking to repeat it. Things are different now, especially with respect to domestic policy. The Carter-era economic malaise was largely a result of unemployment, high income taxes, and usurious interest rates. Those things are less important now. Instead, now we have to deal with a credit crunch, a weak dollar, and an oil crisis. The GOP is much better positioned to fix these things and if we can, the voters will reward us.

But to get there, we've got to get people's attention. This means we have to tell the American people that we aspire to be the majority party and most of the reason that we're not now is because of our own mistakes. For some people that will hurt, but it has to be done or else we'll be butting against the Bush-era wall of alienation long after Bush himself is gone.

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