Saturday, October 18, 2008

Attacks ain't working

I have found it very interesting that the guy everyone labeled as media savvy and in touch has had such a tin ear in this election cycle. McCain was able to say the right things to the right crowds in the Republican primaries. I suspect that is mostly because the Obama-Clinton race sucked all the air out of the room and few Independents crossed into the GOP race in states where that was available to them. The McCain campaign seems to not have realized this and as a result really never tacked back to center after. They went to the base pick for VP and while Sarah Palin has energized Republicans it has hurt McCain among Independents and conservative (potential) crossover Democrats. It is odd and conspicuously amateur to concede the center in a national political campaign. Particular when two of the three legs of the Republican base were already lukewarm on the idea of a McCain presidency.

McCain desperately wanted to run on heroism, honor and steady experience but it was a flawed plan from the get-go. I disagree that this is a change election and that experience was never going to win out. You can't simultaneously want to be the experienced candidate and then bash the system within which you got your experience. It reminds me of a card that my mother go my father for his birthday one year. It had a picture of a birthday cake and a woman in a bikini. On the outside it said: "This is Edith and a cake." On the inside it said: " You can't have your cake and Edith too." By trying to have it both ways, McCain has invited the idea that he is erratic.

McCain's "maverick" persona didn't help either. The fact that he has been unpredictable his entire career looked fresh and independent until it became clear that with the exception of foreign policy he really isn't that well versed on the issues. I think the fact that he has been able to work at issues from different perspectives is because he lacks the wisdom and intelligence to ask penetrating questions and base decisions on logic or reason. Instead McCain shoots from the hip and it makes him dead wrong a lot. It also means that he is right some time. McCain is right, the surge has worked from a military perspective but his lack of nuance makes it abundantly clear that he just doesn't get it that the point was to succeed militarily so the Iraqi's could succeed politically. That just has not happened. Obama may be unable to acknowledge the the military tactic of the surge succeeded, but McCain is equally unable to acknowledge that the surge failed politically.

So now we are left with an attack on personality and it just isn't connecting. Once again, McCain doesn't get it. The American people don't believe him on Ayers and ACORN. They see Obama in debates, hear his steady voice on the economy and the fact that he is utterly unflappable and they are genuinely impressed. McCain is right; if Obama wins, sunlight will not suddenly shining out of his backside. But, as the Chicago Tribune said in their endorsement, Obama "has the intelligence to understand the grave economic and national security risks that face us, to listen to good advice and make careful decisions."

The NY Times poll on negative attacks showed that they are hurting McCain. Here is the chart:

That ain't nothing. Being bi-partisan is often confused with abandoning your ideological bearings. That is wrongheaded and ultimately very unappealing in a leader. I think Americans want a leader who holds his ideological beliefs as sacred but isn't stubborn and can work with people who think differently. McCain has shown that ability, but his lack of command of the fundamentals on major issues is a problem I believe he would listen to a bunch of experts that hold different positions on an issue, like economics, and he would be paralyzed by the lack of consensus. Obama has the ability to listen to a bunch of people who differ, ask hard questions on issues that he is not an expert in and build consensus. We need conservative and liberal voices. They all need to be heard. But we then need a President that focuses that energy. That is leadership. That is what America needs.

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