Tuesday, August 05, 2008
What have you done for me lately?
The conventional wisdom is that the Presidential race is about Barack Obama. John McCain has been around a while and the voters know what they think of him, whereas a lot of people would like to vote for Obama, but don't entirely believe that it's safe to do so. I agreed with this until a couple of days ago, then I thought about it some more and concluded it isn't so.
At this point the voters actually have a better handle on Obama than McCain, and frankly doesn't speak well of either man. Obama won the Democratic nomination by running out the clock on Hillary Clinton. Since then, he's been giving a bunch of speeches trying to be inspirational and high-minded, but which really amount to nothing but pompous windbaggery. Add it all up and he hasn't said or done anything of substance in at least six months. This isn't the time where McCain or the GOP have to go negative on Obama. The opponents are handling that just fine.
Listening to McCain though, at any moment you almost expect him to talk about how many miles he had to walk from his log cabin to the schoolhouse. What decade is this guy living in? If it's not this one, he needs to catch up in a hurry.
McCain another obvious problem as well. He's a Republican running in a Democratic year. He's got to create a motivation for his candidacy based on what it means for America if he's in the White House, one that's compelling enough to overcome the inertia in the voters' frame of mind. When push comes to shove, I fear the real self-justification McCain's candidacy is that he has moral credibility above any other national political figure because he endured a North Vietnamese prison camp. Even when he talks about how he's motivated to serve America, I ask myself what America gets out of that deal.
But somehow, if McCain can shift the object of his intent away from his own self-regard and toward the issues facing American, there's a window open to defuse both of these problems at once. He can say, that if we're willing to take the pain of seeing things as they are, we can actually do some things about our problems instead of wallowing in despair of how bad the situation is. Ie, let's talk about the elephant in the living room instead of trying to avoid it. In particular, the opportunity is ripe for McCain to emphasize his party affiliation as a Republican and to ask the voters to vote for him as a Republican and other downticket Republicans too.
1. To the voters that turned against the party last election, he can say that the GOP lost a whole bunch of seats in 2006 and deserves the low esteem it's held in right now. But 2008 is a new election and as bad as the Republicans have been and for all the flaws they have now, they are ones more in tune with the problems the country faces now.
2. Only the Republicans intend to drill for oil or intend to produce more energy in any form for that matter. The Republicans aren't against conservation or wind power or solar energy, but our economy can't function if these are the only options available.
3. The Republicans are going to bring the troops home from Iraq as soon as we're not going to lose everything they've worked for for years as soon as they're gone. In fact, as the violence in Iraq has abated, President Bush has brought some of the troops home already, and intends to bring more home later this year. The Republicans aren't maintaining the troops there out of some bloodlust, but to complete a particular mission, a mission which actually is being completed.
There are other possibilities along the same lines. Immigration would be a good possibility, but McCain is on the wrong side of it. Inflation, pork barrelling by Congress, the value of the dollar, the housing market, the crunch are also plausible if McCain or the party can find an angle on them. In any case, the essence is that McCain can credibly address the problems the voters are most afraid of in a way that cuts through blustery spin or partisan flackery.