Autopsy of the Primaries: The only Democratic Candidate who can lose the General Election; the only Republican one who can win it.
Both Obama and McCain have pulled off the once unthinkable. The former dethroned some 16 year of Clintonian political hegemony by the sheer force of personality and charisma, when initially all the hierarchy and political machinery were against him. The latter by sheer force of will, stubbornness, and a certain courage, never gave up when most had written him off, and simply out toughed his opponents.
There is a certain irony here. In a year that for historical and contemporary reasons should be a Democratic shoo-in, the Democrats have nominated about the only candidate who can lose in November, the Republicans the only one of their own who can still win it.
The Chicago Past
Obama either out of misplaced loyalty or because of 20 years of Chicago racial politics, simply cannot deal with the continuing embarrassments of Wright, Pfleiger, Trinity, et al. He either gets defensive and blames the messenger of the latest embarrassment, or makes silly announcements of support. They are followed by qualifiers, followed by eventual “disowning”—but always with a twist of pique. Wright’s madness was mischaracterized by unfair video “loops” and “snippets”—before he refuted Obama’s apologia by sickening America with the entire racist rant at the National Press Club.
But by now all of America fathoms the truth: Obama made a devil’s bargain with a number of racists to establish his own street credentials in the rough and tumble world of Chicago politics. He now finds that what started his career could well end it. Bottom line: the voters will have to decide whether these skeletons are the usual embarrassments that all candidates deal with as they evolve beyond their diehard bases, or instead disturbing proof that Obama himself got a certain psychological high from hearing ministers and congregation members routinely trash whites and the so-called establishment, as attested by his attendance at and subsidies to the Wright ministry.
Rule One for Obama’s campaign: Don’t let Obama rush to the defense of any dubious character in his past, since he inevitably will have to disown him sooner or later. The impression that Obama inevitably changes his storyline (while a Wright or Pfleger remains absolutely predictable and consistent) is beginning to tire the American people.
Anyone who lived his first 18 years out of the continental United States, and then attended politically-correct Ivy League schools before jumping into Chicago politics might not have a broad view of American demography and indeed, U.S. history—much less the sociology of the United States.
But the number of Obama’s slips are staggering. They range from geographical ignorance (Kentucky is not contiguous with Arkansas, but it is with Illinois), to US history (there are 50 states in the Union; the US army did not liberate Auschwitz) to foreign affairs (the election of Hugo Chavez predated George Bush) to simple political ignorance (you don’t trash the lower white middle class to San Francisco elites) and common decency (you don’t put your own grandmother on the same moral plane as the racist Wright, or a U.S senator in the same category as the terrorist Ayers.)
Rule Two: Get Obama back on a script. He may sound catchy and smug in repartee and ex tempore give and take; but he has already made candidate George Bush’s much caricatured inability to identify a Pakistani president seem like a very tiny Dan Quayle proverbial potato.
Michelle, as America learned, cannot give a speech without either (1) claiming that her husband is a saint and a genius, and we are all lucky to have him; (2) whining about the unexpected “raise the bar” pressures on the young urban yuppie careerist couple; (3) trashing the United States; or (4) defining world or national problems in terms of herself or her kids.
Rule Three: Do not confuse her ability to wade boldly out into audience in the manner of Phil Donahue with either savvy, wit, humor, or enlightenment. One or two more performances of the tired Princeton-Harvard-Reverend-Wright take on contemporary America—and the campaign is over. All the talk about whether she is a “legitimate” target will be about as relevant as whether a woman who joins the military will sometimes be in harm’s way in wartime.
Obama’s team must not confuse Republican problems of the economy, war, fuel, and 8 years of an unpopular candidate with voter lust for a liberal agenda. Who wants vast increases in payroll, income, and inheritance taxes—not to pay down the debt but to fund billions in new entitlements that will only create greater dependency and stifle initiative? Or who wishes to throw away all that was won in Iraq by quitting now, when a slow withdrawal won by victory is within our grasp? And who wishes hyper-liberal judges and appointees, more “oppression studies” in our schools, or the same old, same old on’t drill, mine, or use nuclear power, while enriching our enemies and singing sonnets to wind and solar?
Rule Four: Keep talking about Lord Hope and Saint Change and Holy Possibility—and don’t get into specifics. Jimmy Carter didn’t and it worked in 1976 for him. The problem is not that Obama simply talks in platitudes, but rather that he must—given the most leftwing agenda in modern memory.
The Base and the Extra twist
John McCain can hold his base—if he resists the extra twist of the dagger. The rumors of his flirtation in 2000 with independents were probably based in fact. His Ace in the Hole is the Democratic attack machine that calls him hypocritical in moving right, and serially trashes his moderate views as reactionary.
Rule One. Resist the temptation to show outrage at some right-winger he finds too gung-ho. Silence is golden. Go on Limbaugh sometime in October. Find a way to appeal to the middle by not gratuitously slandering the base as protectionists, nativists, or religious zealots.
I don’t see how opposing ANWR helps anyone other than empowering those in the Middle East who intend us no good. If McCain won’t drill here at home, then he should push nuclear power and coal as transitions to the next generation of clean, renewable fuels. So far, the energy issue is wide-open since the voter doesn’t have a candidate who is clearly pro-production.
Rule Two. Find a way to branch off from Obama on the energy. Americans will support drilling off our coasts, in Alaska, burning clean coal, using nuclear, and developing hydro—if all that is balanced by calls for more conservation, and support for alternative fuels.
How a 71-year old cancer survivor makes it through 20 hr. campaign days 24/7, I don’t know. I am returning from two weeks in Europe, co-leading a tour of 65. And the 18-hour days, jet lag, occasional kidney stones (McCain has them, no doubt to a worse degree) at 54 is a real task. I don’t plan to be doing this if I make it to 71. No wonder McCain shows the wear and tear—and he will have five more months of this.
Rule Three: Each time Obama hits him with the age issue, McCain must remind us that he at least knows how many states there are in the Union or the difference between Memorial and Veterans Day. And McCain should learn from Reagan—smile, relax and take two days a week off.
So far the reminders of his support for the surge are salutary, especially as things continue to improve and may soon devolve into a Kosovo sort of policing. At this point there is no loner a need to demonize Rumsfeld for the 2003-6 troubles, or all the old generals like Franks, Sanchez, and Casey who played McClellan and Hooker to Petraeus’ Grant and Sherman. Talk of the future, not the past.
Rule Four. Keep reminding Americans that this is 2008, not 2003, and Obama’s claim the surge won’t work or Iraq is lost or we must get out now is simply not based on fact—and by October will blow up in his face.
It is hard for any incumbent party to continue a regnum for three terms. George Bush, Sr. did it, but even he sort of distanced himself from Reagan (“kinder, gentler nation”), or at least for a while. McCain has an advantage should he seek such distance, since Bush has for now far fewer defenders than did Reagan, despite coming off Iran-Contra. But McCain must be careful: should the economy continue to avoid recession, should gas prices fall, and the war seem won, then we may see Bush’s numbers go up a bit. For now he has about the right distance, any more and he will seem small and petty, especially if he must backtrack a bit by October. On the key issue of our times—Iraq—McCain has fashioned an interesting position: for the war, and so much so that his theories about the surge won over George Bush himself.
If things continue as they are Obama will come close perhaps in the popular vote, but lose the electoral vote by a wide margin. Why? I just don’t see how such an inexperienced candidate can rein in his wife, curb his own slips, monitor all of his past dubious role models, and avoid the growing divide between utopian rhetoric and pretty down-to-earth tactics and embarrassing past associations. And I don’t think he has yet to figure out that unhappiness with Bush’s spending, appointments, and inability to articulate a message, and defend himself does not really equate to a desire for billions in new taxes and unworkable new programs.
I thank readers for offering the corrections; I have been traveling the last two-and-a- half weeks overseas, and posted this too soon from the Paris airport. I just landed in the US (and won't try to post again while leading a tour of 65 around Europe). These posts go right on the site without editing, and I will have to do a much better job in eliminating typos and other sorts of error. And one reader is correct: in the past I haven't been as generous as I should have been to all the readers who have spotted them. But I deeply appreciate that scrutiny, and am always impressed by the erudition of the readers, and their uncanny good sense. Another note: some have complained that I have written too many critical things about Obama. In fact, I don't think any of us know much of anything about OBama the candidate--and the more we can discuss this possible next President, the better off we will all be. The Carter experience should guide us here.
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