McCain and Obama are essentially even in many of the polls. We all know why—the flip-flops, the evocation of the charge of racial politics, the serial gaffes, the playing up to European crowds, the lack of experience, and public weariness with the media bias, etc.
What should Obama, then, do to reclaim his “hope and change” mania of last spring? I think it is going to be difficult at anytime to elect a Northern hardcore liberal (not since JFK in 1960), even in a year perfect for Democratic politics, but nonetheless in the pursuit of fairness, here’s a blueprint… (in no particular order).
1. Outlaw the use of the word “they.” He recently claimed “they” would evoke the race card, in the manner of Michelle’s serial use of “they” raised the bar. Who is “they”? (The mean University of Chicago who paid the Obamas quite well? The parsimonious state legislature of Illinois? A racist Harvard?). The result of this “they did it” is the image of a sort of whiny elite, well-off victim claiming that a nebulous posse (conservative white Republicans?) is out to get him. Victimization, conspiracies, and whining lose, not win, elections.
2. Avoid sermons: no more lectures about guns, religion, and clinging, or what we eat, how we cool our homes, what kind of cars we drive, how we should pump up our tires, etc. It all comes off as a lean charismatic arugula-eating metrosexual talking down to a nation of obese NASCAR flag-wavers (who outnumber the former by the millions). Play Harry Truman, not Jesus Christ (and get rid of the silly first-year Latin Obama seal; fire the guy who wrote the oceans recede line; demote anyone who tries to get more mileage out of the corny “this is the moment” refrain; and get grainy pictures of a sweating Obama, not that airbrushed haloed Obama gazing off into the powder-blue sky of the sort they photoshop up at the County Fair booth).
3. Europe really doesn’t vote. Obama should have learned that from the disastrous Kerry experience in 2004. What draws tens of thousands out to Berlin (beside free beer and music—and an ugly totem reminding them of lost Prussian prestige and victory over the French) doesn’t necessarily do the same among the American electorate. Most Americans, rightly or wrongly, don’t want to be citizens of the world if that means something akin to the values voiced in the UN General Assembly or lectures from the Euro public.
4. Enough of the flip-flops. Changing course on FISA, campaign-financing, faith-based initiatives, drilling, the strategic oil reserve, late-term abortion, capital punishment, gun control, Iran’s level of threat, the surge, Iraq timetable, et al. may have been what a liberal candidate must do in the general election, but there is a limit beyond which expediency turns to the carnival. Anymore and the public will burst out laughing every time Obama starts a flip-flop with “As I have long said…”
5. Stick with the teleprompter. Almost all of Obama’s gaffes—the 48/58 states, the Pashtun Arab-speaking translators, the 10 years as President, the clingers’ rant, the Rev. Wright praises, the tire pressure sermon, the new civilian Pentagon-sized bureaucracy, the reparations “deeds” promise, all that and more come when he is thinking out loud extemporaneously, and, to be fair, often exhausted. Of course, that is true to some extent of all candidates, but in an inexperienced Obama’s case, the adoring crowds egg him on, and confidence leads to hubris and then onto what the Greeks called atê. I would still “hope and change” it, and play out the fourth quarter rather than expect that a charismatic Obama will dazzle in impomptu rock-star settings. He won’t after the first 30 seconds.
6. Don’t mention race. The public gets it that a racially aware Obama is not Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice, for whom racial solidarity is admirably incidental. It realizes that he looks different from past candidates for President. So he should just cool it and be content with the fact that his race in the past at Columbia, Harvard, and Chicago was no drawback, but often a real advantage—and count his past blessings and move on. Now he should evolve, stick to issues, and not look back at Chicago racial ward politics. Not even in-the-tank CNN and MSNBC pundits really believe that a John McCain is biased, and calling a war hero’s campaign de facto racialist is insane. Obama’s 90% majority of African-American base voters long ago accepted his racial fides thanks to Rev Wright, rappers, and all the rest. They won’t forsake him when he transcends race as promised, but simply sense, as Rev. Wright scoffed, it’s just “politics.” Expect his handlers to look for an Obama staged Sister Soulja moment, or a subtle phase-out of the faux-Trinity Church affected cadences and folksy, southern-spiced mellifluousness that was always somewhat awkward for an Hawaiian-born Barry Obama.
7. Pick an antithesis in every category for VP. The ideal selection for Obama would be crusty, sloppy, blue-collar, non-arugula eating, southern or Midwestern, white, conservative, old, experienced as an executive, and knowledgeable about foreign affairs that would convince Hillary’s old constituency that someone like themselves doesn’t look silly running with Obama. He will have to go the Dukakis/Lloyd Bentsen route. The problem? They’re aren’t that many Hubert Humphrey/Scoop Jackson looking sorts still around in the Democratic Party.
8. Avoid all town meetings with McCain. I know Obama looks hypocritical in side-stepping his promises to meet McCain anywhere, anytime; but, after his gaffes and deer-in-the-headlights pauses and stuttering, now you can see why he backtracked. If he looks unsure with sympathetic interviewers, he will look even worse in a one-on-one contrast with a grizzled war veteran and Senate pro who will cut the ring down to size and haymaker him on the ropes. Don’t let his lock-step worshipers convince Obama otherwise. Sigh, beg-off, quote the Untouchables, boast, threaten, but skip them!
9. Don’t get near the Hard Left--Moveon.org, Michael Moore, the Daily Kos, the Huffington Post, the Hollywood Set, etc. They are hungry for a return to power and ego-stroking and will put up with, and explain away, anything from Obama. There is no need to reassure the assured–who in a millisecond can on stage let loose with a creepy obscenity or go ballistic in Bush-Derangement Syndrome fits for a clip on Fox News. In contrast, the election will be won or lost in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, etc. where such extremists hold no sway. To the extent they are unknown, or, if known, mad at Obama, it will only help his campaign. If he wins, there will be plenty of time to have Ludacris play at the White House, hang the Medal of Freedom around Noam Chomsky , or small talk in the Rose Garden with George Clooney. It is not that Obama doesn’t remember Ayers all that well, but rather he simply never existed.
10. Do an “ipsa dixit” with Hillary. Praise her, refer to her, thank her, quote her. Wake up each morning thinking “I must coddle Hillary” and go to bed every evening sighing “I didn’t do enough.” Obama is in trouble with wealthy mainstream Democratic donors, the white working-class voters and professional older women, who can’t quite express how they were sandbagged by Obama, but feel it keenly nonetheless. He needs to assure them all that he adores Hillary (and even petulant Bill). Once the frantic October campaigning begins, he wants a smile on her face on the stump, not the infamous Clintonian snicker. Maybe he should play a Fleetwood Mac song and then on stage do a duet with Hil. All that requires swallowing his swelling pride—and thereby may be impossible.
That’s it—and a nod to fair and balanced.