Make It An Issues Race

This oddest campaign in memory has gotten even odder in the past few days. A lot of Republican pundits seem to be relieved — even joyful — at the New York Times-NBC celebration of John McCain’s inevitable defeat.

How bad can it get? William F. Buckley Jr.’s son Christopher announced he will vote for Barack Obama. That’s how bad.

Out of those who still care, each has a sure-fire prescription for everything that ails the McCain campaign, ranging from firing all the campaign managers to dumping Sarah Palin.

All the doomsayers’ prescriptions miss two central points: first, pundits don’t anoint presidents, voters choose them. The voters haven’t chosen Barack Obama yet, and there’s a very good chance they will not. Second, the only person who can do more for John McCain is John McCain. Whatever is to be done has to come from his mind, and his heart.
This race is nowhere near over as the see-sawing polls show. Obama’s lead is soft, and in the next twenty days almost anything can happen. John McCain must — this week, and in Wednesday night’s debate — overcome the problems that have plagued him since the Republican Convention.

Last month, McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis said this election isn’t about issues. In that he is wrong, disastrously so. When Republicans win, they win on issues. And we know who wasn’t voted “Miss Congeniality” in the Senate. If the election is about charisma and charm, Sen. McCain is a lost cause. Sen. McCain can still make this an issues race. And he must if he is to win.

Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin have wasted the past three weeks — and three debates — talking about why Obama and Biden aren’t fit to be elected. As McCain’s shrinking poll numbers prove, all the attacks — regardless of their merit — don’t matter much to voters.

If McCain and Palin don’t want to waste the next three weeks — and lose this election in a landslide like George McGovern lost in 1972 — they need to do one thing and one thing only: prove to American voters that they’re a better choice. And you don’t do that by attacking or defending; you do it by convincing.

Don’t get me wrong: Obama presents a target-rich environment for the old attack pilot, and he should roll in hot. But he hasn’t had the courage to say the things to Obama’s face that he and Palin say to their supporters. He needs to say it to Obama’s face: “You’ve sat in the pews listening to a racist anti-American lunatic preach for two decades. How can you seriously expect us to believe that you didn’t agree with him?”

Obama’s campaign has paid $800,000 to a subsidiary of ACORN for a “get out the vote” program. ACORN — as reported by Jeffrey Lord in The American Spectator — is behind so many fraudulent voter registrations in Pennsylvania that a retired state supreme court justice said it may be impossible to hold a fair election in that state. Nevada authorities have raided an ACORN office there to penetrate possible voter fraud in that state, and Missouri officials are investigating hundreds of thousands of possibly fraudulent voter registrations which came from ACORN. What, Sen. Obama, did you pay for?

If these attacks are not made face-to-face in tonight’s debate, they must be abandoned. They are sinking McCain’s values — and value — by discouraging and distracting voters.

Americans want to vote for someone, not against someone else. The “fors” are going to turn out in record numbers for Obama. If McCain relies on the “againsts” to win, he’s headed for the dustbin of history at high speed and low altitude.

As we know from the primaries, the polls — both before the election and even the exit polls — give Obama an advantage that doesn’t equate to the actual votes he receives. McCain can overcome that with the power of ideas. His supporters — probably more solid than Obama’s — are not energized by his ideas.

McCain has to explain — fully, finally and clearly — his own positions on the issues that are key to Americans and contrast them with Obama’s.

McCain has promised to appoint Supreme Court Justices in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both of whom are not judicial activists: they are conservatives who want to interpret the Constitution correctly, not reinvent it.

In June, Obama said he would appoint judges who have “empathy” with the people. He said, “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges." Joe Biden has said judges need to be right “ideologically.” McCain needs to say that their philosophy is fundamentally against the interests of all Americans.

McCain needs to say that no matter what it takes, no matter how many conservative appointees may be “Borked” in a hostile Senate, he’ll not compromise. He needs to promise Americans that he will appoint conservatives and keep appointing them, no matter how many may be rejected.

The economic crisis overshadows every other issue. When the stock market closed on Friday, it had lost 40% of its value in the past year. The bailout package passed two weeks ago hasn’t done anything to solve the problem yet because — like everything trusted to a government bureaucracy — it’s taking too long to implement. And we still don’t even know if it’ll work.

Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi want to send out more government checks to low-income voters to stimulate Democratic votes, not the economy. They want to protect homeowners from their inability to pay their mortgages, no matter how much that will prevent the liberation of the credit markets.

McCain has gone from a small-government conservative to a government interventionist in record time. Talking about earmarks is not convincing anyone that McCain has a better plan to solve the economic crisis. McCain needs to explain his economic theory convincingly. What is it? How does it lead to recovery and why doesn’t Obama’s?

If he is elected, what will he do to restore confidence in the financial markets?

We know you’ll nominate conservative judges. But the Senate will be hostile territory. Will you promise that no matter how many nominees are rejected, that you won’t compromise and will keep nominating conservatives?

You’ve professed that you learned the lesson of the illegal immigration debacle last year. That you know that the borders have to be secured before Americans will permit “comprehensive” immigration reform. By what objective criteria will you judge whether the borders have been secured so that the other reforms you contemplate would be done?

Sen. McCain has twenty days to convince Americans he’s a better choice. He can win this race only by explaining why his ideas are better. Contrasts win. Attacks alone don’t.