On Tuesday night the magnitude of the Barack Obama wave became clear. The MSM pundits’ eyes lit up and they seized the moment to — guess what — predict doom for John McCain and the Republicans in the general election.
“How would McCain possibly compete against such an eloquent man?” “Look at the giant screaming crowds!” One even went so far as to agree that McCain was right that Obama’s rhetoric was fluff but that it “didn’t work to run against hope.” McCain currently trails Obama in the polls and the huge turnouts in the Democratic primaries suggest that McCain will have his work cut out for him.
But is it really so hard to beat the Senator ranked as the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate? McCain can do five things that will substantially improve his chances.
First and foremost, McCain must make the argument clearly and emphatically: Obama’s view of the world is naïve and his qualifications and ability to navigate through dangerous times are entirely lacking. Obama contends that his unbending opposition to the Iraq war is a net plus. That might be true if the election were in 2006 but events on the ground and public opinion, despite Obama’s denials, have shifted dramatically. Rather than adjust with reality his view of Iraq remains frozen. The surge has reduced violence, the Iraq Parliament has voted in favor of a partial amnesty bill and new budget and American public opinion has recognized progress.
In an early February CNN poll in response to the question “In general, do you think the U.S. military is or is not making progress in improving conditions in Iraq and bringing an end to the violence in that country?" voters said “Yes” by a margin of 52-45%. If the war was managed badly, McCain certainly can contend that the policy he championed made things better while the policy of immediate retreat which Obama still favors would spell defeat and chaos for American and its allies.
Aside from Iraq, McCain can argue convincingly to conservatives and moderates that Obama is the captive of the liberal civil rights lobby and does not even represent the middle of the Democratic Party. His recent vote on the reauthorization for the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) was telling. Obama voted against cloture on the issue of immunity for the telecommunications companies that assisted in terrorist surveillance. Not even liberal Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Mikulski agreed with that position.
In short, not since George McGovern has the difference between presidential candidates been so great. McCain, even his most dogged conservative critics would agree, is suited to point out that this is no time to hand the White House over to a man whose first travel plans will be to the living rooms of the world’s worst dictators. McCain can phrase the question simply: Who do Americans trust to go toe to toe with the world tyrants?
Barack Obama voted against confirmation of Justices Samuel Alito John Roberts. He took exception when the Supreme Court voted to uphold the partial birth abortion ban. He declined to sign the brief by 55 Senator and 250 members of Congress in favor of upholding the D.C. Circuit case invalidating the ban on handgun ownership. He called the Supreme Court decision last year invalidating assignment of children by race “a serious obstacle in the way of achieving the vision of America.”
In short, Obama looks at the courts through the lens of the liberal civil rights lobby: the courts are there to achieve “progress” on the liberal agenda that could never be enacted by the elected branches of government. Most Americans do not favor handgun bans, abortion on demand or race-based affirmative action. They do not think the courts are the proper vehicle for imposing that agenda on the country. McCain can make clear how radical Obama’s view of the courts is and how out of step he is with most Americans’ values.
WHAT HAS HE DONE?
His supporters are fond of comparing Obama to John Kennedy, but Kennedy had served in the military, the House of Representatives (1947-53) and the U.S. Senate (1953-1960) before entering the White House. Barack Obama has served approximately 3 years in the U.S. Senate. (Yes, he also was a state legislator for 8 years.) The paucity of accomplishment and the lack of executive experience is laughable.
While Democratic primary voters can hardly be blamed for preferring his inexperience to another Clinton regime, the choice in the general election will be between him and someone who actually has been tested in crisis and has a record of accomplishment. Focus group guru Frank Luntz reports that he can utterly stump his focus-group voters by asking to name a single Obama accomplishment.
While music videos and chants of “Yes We can” may amuse stadiums of college students and fixate the media, McCain’s best bet is to point to the stature gap and hope that after another 6 months the Obama-hoopla wears thin. We are, after all, electing a president.
McCain’s positions on topics such as campaign finance reform and the environment have little appeal for his own party’s base but have helped attracted Independent voters who, in many primaries, provided the margin of his victory. Some of them were voters who fled the Republican Party in the 2006 over earmarks and corruption.
The battle for the Independents is a key struggle in each presidential election and for once the Republican seems to have an inside track. For Independents who like “bipartisanship,” McCain (as conservative know all too well) has a long record of cooperating with the other party. For those who like “good government” few have done more than McCain to go after earmarks, corruption and pork barrel spending. Framing that issue for these voters is easy: which contender has the ability to fix Washington and which one is as far from the middle-of –the-road than any nominee in a generation?
HE’LL GIVE YOU CHANGE ALRIGHT
The number of American who say we are on the “right track” grows smaller each month. (The latest AP poll put that number at 25%.) Which is why Obama’s change message has resonated, especially with disgruntled Democratic primary voters. McCain’s task is to explain what will change and why his will be better. Several things Obama will change for the worse: tax rates, the bipartisan commitment to free trade, secret ballots in union elections, and the private healthcare system.
Obama has made clear that he wants to repeal the Bush tax cuts and lift the current cap on wages subject to social security tax. His website candidly declares: “Obama supports increasing the maximum amount of earnings covered by Social Security.”
He also would like to revisit NAFTA. (His website explains “NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people.”) While he declares his intention to “fix” NAFTA, the savvier will see that this is code language for placing requirements on other countries to match U.S. wages and working conditions, the very definition of protectionism.
Obama also thinks secret ballots for union elections are just a means for employers to thwart the will of workers. His website describes the Orwellian titled legislation that would do away with the system of secret ballots: “Obama cosponsored and is strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize.” In his world, union bosses will be able to look over the shoulders of workers deciding whether to organize.
His healthcare system will sweep millions of Americans into government run care. Aside from mandatory coverage for all minors (defined as those up to age 25 yrs old) he will construct an enormous government apparatus to determine insurance policies and pricing. (“The Obama plan will create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals who wish to purchase a private insurance plan. The Exchange will act as a watchdog group and help reform the private insurance market by creating rules and standards for participating insurance plans to ensure fairness and to make individual coverage more affordable and accessible. Insurers would have to issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums that will not depend upon health status.”) It may have another name, but it bears a striking resemblance to HillaryCare.
If you need more evidence of his plans to remodel America, his website has all the details. And details are exactly what McCain should focus on. “Change” sounds lovely, even inevitable, but once the level of generalities is broken an underlying reality is made clear: Obama is running on a platform that is nothing more than a liberal wish list.
So if the election is about the best video or the most elegant speaker or “hope” then the Obama wave will likely sweep him into the White House. But if it is about the real world, the future of our courts, the best choice for conservatives and Independents, and the type of change we will have then McCain has a fighting chance.