Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Of Hope and wishes

Writing in the British Guardian, Michael Tomasky engages in wishful thinking:
Obama has done very little and has let some silver-platter opportunities pass him by. He is not redefining McCain.
Some leading conventional-wisdom meisters, like Time's Mark Halperin, like to say that this race is completely about Obama. . . .
But it's not all about Obama. It's also about an unnecessary war that was based on lies. It's about a lousy economy and a housing boom that went bust. It's about $4-a-gallon gas. It's about America's dreadful reputation in the world. It's about federal inaction on a wide range of problems, most notably healthcare and climate change, but a bushel of smaller things besides. It's about 84% of Americans thinking the country is on the wrong track.
In other words, it's about the Republicans - their stewardship (failed), and their ideas (stale). And it's about how committed McCain is to that stewardship and those ideas.
Those - a race about Obama and a race about what the GOP has done to the country - are two different races. And Obama is more likely to win the second one.
Well, if "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas! First of all, it's not just "conventional-wisdom meisters," but veteran Democratic operatives who see this election as a referendum on Obama's readiness for the job of Commander-in-Chief:
"There has never been a major party candidate less relevant in an election than John McCain," said Democratic strategist James Carville. "It's all about Obama."
Tomasky wants the election to be about exactly the issues he wants to discuss, in exactly the terms that he wants to discuss them. A fixed fight, played by ground rules that favor Democrats.

I'm reminded of the Confederate politician who, before the Civil War, supposedly bragged that the South could whip the North in three months fighting with nothing but cornstalks. After the war was over and the South lost, a rival chided the politician about his former boast, to which he responded, "But sir, the Yankees refused to fight with cornstalks."

In other words, you have to fight the fight you're in. Wishful thinking is not a strategy, and if Democrats had wanted an election that was "not about Obama," then why did they nominate this newcomer with no established record whom they've promoted as a celebrity "rock star"?

That is to say, if the Democrats wanted a candidate who was simply "not Republican," then Dennis Kucinich or Christopher Dodd would have done just fine. Instead, like middle-school girls swooning for a teen idol, Democrats got all giddy about Obama, a symbolic tabula rasa onto which they could project their fondest fantasies.

With only three years' in office as a junior senator, with no signature issue except perhaps his early opposition to the war -- a position he's now trying to artfully airbrush -- Obama is inherently a political question mark, and all Tomasky's complaints won't change that.

Rightly or wrongly, independent voters (of which Michalel Tomasky is not one) say they vote "not for the party, but for the man," and the question, "What kind of man is Obama?" -- that is to say, his character -- is foremost in the minds of these undecided "swing" voters.

There is no such question about John McCain. For good or ill, his character, his biography and his record are well known. McCain has been in the Senate more than two decades, his name has been attached to prominent legislation, and he fought a bitter primary battle against George W. Bush in 2000. He cannot be magically transformed into a Bush proxy, no matter how many times Michael Tomasky closes his eyes and wishes it were so.

McCain is the known, Obama is the unknown, and the curiosity of voters about the unknown is both (a) the source of the celebrity-style excitement about Obama, and (b) a glaring political weakness for the Democrat.

Tomasky and his fellow progressives have made their choice, and must live with the consequences. They cannot wish away their candidate's defects any more than the Republicans can pretend that they've nominated the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Wishful thinking is not a strategy. You must fight the fight you're in.

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