Saturday, August 02, 2008

mccain shows life

The McCain campaign seems to have picked up some as of late, albeit more from Obama's errors than from its own achievements. Two things account for this small, but perceptible, turnaround.

The first was Obama's overseas trip, which was supposed to highlight his foreign policy credentials, but ended up looking more like a victory lap. Whether or not he actually snubbed wounded troops, the image that remains from the trip is of thousands of cheering Germans, rather than of sober reflection--or indeed, any reflection--on foreign policy issues. That several of his supporters began referring to Obama as "acting President" or simply "44" contributed to this air of arrogance.

The second was McCain's new advertising campaign, which adroitly exploited this arrogance and played upon the growing sense of Obama as an A+ celebrity with B+ or perhaps C- achievements. Efforts to paint this campaign as dirty or "racist" in nature have predictably fallen flat, since the issue is Obama's attitude rather than his biology: that many African-Americans (e.g., Jesse Jackson) have noted a similar arrogance makes this response especially unconvincing.

One can argue that all of this is superficial and the election should be decided on issues rather than appearances. The problem is that Obama's appeal has not been based on the issues, on which his positions are rather predictable, but on the sense that he is somehow beyond them: that his election would supersede existing categories and usher in a new era of hope and enlightenment. If he loses this sense of superiority--if indeed it becomes a butt of jokes to be hurled against him--he loses a lot of the underlying logic for his candidacy. Should McCain eventually win, this week may be regarded as a turning point.


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