Sunday, October 05, 2008

what future for the mccain campaign?

The McCain campaign has apparently decided to pull out of Michigan and adopt an aggressive attack tone in its future advertising, abandoning any serious hope of "selling" McCain and Palin in favor of frightening people regarding the likely course of an Obama Administration. The polls suggest it is headed for losses in states having 350 or more electoral votes, including Virginia, North Carolina, and other Republican bastions. My guess is this is somewhat overstated--I think the race will be rather closer than this, especially in the Midwest and South--but for the moment it looks grim.

Most of the commentary attributes McCain's problems to the economic meltdown, which is probably true, or to Sarah Palin, which is probably not true (she still adds much more to the ticket than Biden and has performed well before the biggest audiences). But I think the biggest problem remains McCain himself and the way he has run his campaign. Following Palin's speech at the Republican Convention, McCain--as I suggested here--had a tremendous opening to launch a genuine reform campaign, with specific proposals that distanced himself from Bush and presented the GOP as a genuine change alternative. Instead he opted for an essentially "resume'" campaign that hailed his military record, Palin's folksiness, and similar themes rather than a serious attempt to deal with the country's problems. The response to the bailout, which emphasized "leadership" over specific proposals, only aggravated this problem.

McCain's problems are, I think, less a crisis of conservatism than a comment on the limitations of military people in political positions. I am reminded of Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister who said that peace negotiations were similar to military operations: you identified a problem, took decisive action, and the problem was resolved. No, they're not, I remember thinking: in a military campaign, you can simply destroy the obstacles that you can't reason with, in politics it is rather more complicated. By adopting an approach that is all tactics with little if any long-term strategy--by turning his campaign into an effective issue-free zone--McCain has violated even the basic principles of military thinking, condemning himself to a likely loss and, if he somehow should win, a likely directionless presidency. If the campaign is to turn around, it had better be fast, and very different from the direction it is now taking.

Addendum: I'm fascinated by the Bill Ayers terrorist association thing for a number of reasons. It is, of course, true that Ayers was involved with a terrorist organization and is not especially repentant about it. It's also true that one of Obama's first fundraisers was at Ayers' home. But all of this was well after Ayers' Weather Underground period, when he was--rightly or wrongly--treated as a respected member of the Hyde Park Community. Indeed, in a curious twist, Ayers' wife, Bernardine Dohrn, who was also involved with the group, is or was for yours employed at the Northwestern University School of Law which has one of the most conservative faculties of any major law school (I believe it was the only prominent law school, in a recent survey, to have more McCain than Obama contributors.) I raised the Dohrn issue with David Van Zandt, the then dean of Northwestern, a few years ago and was told--accurately, I'm sure--that neither the Northwestern faculty or alumni had any particular problems with the association. My point is not that it is somehow illegitimate to raise the Ayers connection or that it reflects particularly well on Obama's judgment: but if the most Republican law faculty in the country doesn't care, why would the McCain campaign assume that anyone else well?


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