As John McCain continues to clumsily dance around the ring, ducking and weaving, throwing an occasional limp jab as he bounces off the ropes, Barack Obama is shrewdly readying what he expects will be his knockout punch.
It should be obvious to the McCain campaign what is coming — but my bet is that they have no real plan for trying to deflect it.
McCain’s task in the closing weeks of the campaign has been to convince the American people that Obama is not only woefully ill prepared to be president but in fact a very risky, indeed dangerous, choice. McCain has failed miserably in this task.
At the first debate, when Obama opened by laying total blame for the collapse of the credit markets on the Bush administration and McCain’s work to “shred regulations,” McCain could have — should have — come barreling back with a barrage of facts, such as: 1) The truth is that it was the Bush Administration and Republicans, including McCain, who pleaded for tightening regulation on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and it was Obama and his Democratic allies who refused to face the problem, claiming there was no problem; 2) When Obama rails against CEO abuse he should explain how his friend and adviser, former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines, pocketed $90 million over six years, mostly in unjustified bonuses, while buying the silent acquiescence of Obama and the Democratic committee chairmen with huge campaign contributions; and 3) Obama’s allies tried to insert a kick-back scheme into the rescue plan that would have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of ACORN — that gang of community organizers that endorses Obama — and for whom he has worked and whose services his campaign has enlisted for the sum of nearly a million dollars. (Obama’s ACORN ally is currently under investigation in several states for voter fraud and has a long record of election fraud, embezzlement and misuse of government money.)
Instead, McCain just stood there and let it pass and talked about how much we all love Teddy Kennedy and how great it is to “reach across the aisle.”
In both debates he permitted Obama to get away with portraying him as every bit as reckless in foreign affairs as Obama by failing to point out that the difference between his own threatening remarks about Iran and Obama’s threatening remarks about Pakistan is the difference between mocking an enemy and embittering an ally.
McCain even permitted Obama to sound tougher than him about bin Laden in both debates. At least McCain might have pointed out that for the past seven years bin Laden has been in hiding and on the run whereas while Bill Clinton was President there was a period when bin Laden worked in the open from an office a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. Which, of course, means that when Clinton was president, it would have been rather easy to find and take out bin Laden. Back then, FedEx could have found Osama — and they could have done so by 10 AM the next morning!
You get my drift. Instead of trying to knock out Obama, McCain seems hell-bent on subjecting the voters to painful repetition of shopworn sleep-inducing platitudes, only occasionally throwing anything resembling a real punch.
Obama’s task in the closing weeks of the campaign has been twofold:
To convince the American people that he can go toe to toe with the vastly more experienced McCain in debate. He has succeeded in this beyond expectations partly because of his keen intelligence and quick mind, partly because of his Clintonesque slippery smoothness. And also because of McCain’s failure to seize opportunities coupled with his communications skills deficit.
To avoid allowing McCain to effectively portray him as someone of questionable character, judgment and associations. That should have been a formidable challenge, but he has succeeded in this, partly by some very artful dodging, but mostly because of McCain’s inept approaches. Who but John McCain would refuse to raise Obama’s twenty-year close association with the hate-whitey, vehemently anti-American Rev. Jeremiah Wright and give as his flimsy excuse for such an inane blunder a claim that this would be injecting religion into the presidential race? Obama must laugh himself to sleep at night with that one.
Confident that in the third and final debate and right through until the polls open the McCain campaign will remain on autopilot with the same inept, ineffective strategy, Obama is readying his knockout punch.
It is reasonable to assume, given the length of this campaign and especially given the intensity and impact of events of the past couple of weeks, that the American people are anxious for a leader they see as acting like a real president. The Obama camp gets that — and they are preparing to fake “presidential.”
And so on October 29th, six days before Election Day, Barack Obama, will probably sit behind a desk that will look remarkably similar to ones we’ve seen in the Oval Office and speak to the American people in prime time on at least two of the major networks. The viewing audience will be huge.
There is sure to be an American flag prominently in the background. And on his lapel you will be able to clearly make out one of those American flag pins that he used to ridicule others for wearing. He will not display that pretend presidential seal of his — the one in which he deleted E Pluribus Unum (Latin for “Out of many, one”) because he was afraid of offending that fringe element who think America should adapt to the ways of its immigrants rather than their having to adopt America’s language and ways.
The closing-the-deal remarks that Obama will read from the teleprompter will be very carefully and very well written and perfectly parsed. They will likely include a slick bio film as part of the package. It will all have been focus group-tested to help insure powerful emotional impact. And when he finishes, the mainstream media will gush and rush to proclaim how “presidential” Obama looked and sounded and acted and they will declare the election all over but the shouting.
McCain, of course, could deliver his own prime time pretend presidential address. But there are excellent reasons not to. His would surely suffer by comparison and, besides, Obama has three times as much money as McCain to spend for television. Why waste money that would be better spent on hard-hitting ads exposing the real Barack Obama?
But there is still hope. McCain could pull the rug from under Obama’s great speech plan and run circles around Obama in the “Acting Like He Is Already President Game” without spending a dime. Here’s how:
John McCain should announce — either during the final debate or very shortly thereafter — what he should bill as the three most important appointments that he will make promptly upon being sworn in as president.
Promise to name Governor Mitt Romney secretary of the Treasury. Hail Romney as the man who took on a scandal-ridden Olympic Games mess and turned it completely around. Tell the country that your instruction to Mitt is to do the same with our financial markets. Remind America that Romney took Bain Capital from $37 million to more than $4 billion. Tout him as an accomplished governor of a large state. Say this is one very smart, very talented man who knows how to find real solutions that fix real problems. Say you will give him free rein to build a team of professionals who will not just solve our current financial problems but also develop plans for preventing future ones, including the looming crises in Social Security and Medicare.
Promise to name Mayor Rudy Giuliani attorney general. Remind the country about how as an U.S. attorney, Rudy vigorously prosecuted and sent to jail plenty of mobsters and Wall Street financiers. Tell the country that your instruction to the man who turned New York City around, the hero of 9/11, is to aggressively prosecute and send to jail anyone guilty of any crime that contributed to the collapse of the credit markets that has caused such harm to our country — and make it crystal clear that you fully expect that Rudy will be summoning a fair number of members of Congress and placing them under oath. Perhaps even sending some of them to jail.
Promise to appoint Senator Joe Lieberman secretary of State. Say that while you disagree with your good friend on many domestic issues, he is a great patriot who shares your foreign policy and defense views. Call him what he calls himself — an independent Democrat. Forget to utter the phrase “reaching across the aisle.”
Such a strategy could rescue the faltering McCain campaign. How?
First, it is a bold, rejuvenating step — à la the “Sarah Barracuda” selection. This is something the mainstream media could neither ignore nor effectively diminish. Before Obama gets to do his “presidential” act on October 29th, McCain will have beaten him to the punch. He will be the one acting like he is already president; Obama will look like a copycat. Out goes the wind from that Obama sail.
Second, it also ruins Obama’s October 29th prime time speech idea because it forces his opponent to either say or refuse to say whom he would pick for these key positions. McCain could badger him and keep badgering him about it, demanding that Obama “be specific” about his key cabinet choices during his prime time address. If he doesn’t, it helps McCain. If he does, so what? No way can Obama field a better Treasury/Justice/State team than Mitt/Rudy/Joe.
Third, by taking such a stunning step, McCain can offset some of the huge paid media advantage Obama enjoys by countering it with free media coverage.
Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman are figures who command attention. It would be difficult for the media to ignore any one of them let alone all of them. McCain would be wise to simply send them out and let each of them do it his own way, free of any handling by the McCain team who have fumbled the ball so often.
The simple truth is that each of these stars does a far better job of presenting McCain’s views than McCain himself. They could save him. And if they do, America will have three outstanding leaders in three very critical areas in the years ahead. The rest will fall in place.