August 22, 2008

Random thoughts before the descent into convention madness

Obama, the campaign and foreign policy:

Obama is playing too much small ball with McCain for my liking in the campaign generally and on foreign policy in particular. The many houses of McCain story is a case in point. The Obama campaign has whipped out a series of ads exploiting this latest inartful comment by McCain and is trying to spin that into a meme that he is out of touch, old and the real elitist. That might be effective if it were part of a consistent message to paint the man that way, but its not. Its a target of opportunity. The McCain camp threw out the celebrity tag, and it has stuck with the MSM. Testing of the spots with voters actually indicates they are ineffective. But with the media, it has become a useful narrative. McCain's camp continues to run with it and to hammer it as part of a general strategy of branding Obama as elitist, a suspect christian, unready and unfit to lead because of bad character. Obama is in primarily a response mode, which puts him playing defense on an issue of McCain's choosing. When he goes on offense though, he is not going as hard at McCain. He's pulling the punches and so reaps none of the benefit of going negative. If you're going to go at him, go at him hard, don't back down and don't apologize. McCain is encouraging people to think of Obama as the Anti-Christ for pete's sake.

When it comes to foreign policy, if you read this blog on any regular basis, I guarantee you have and can articulate a better strategic understanding of the foreign policy issues facing the US in Georgia, Iraq and Iran than either Obama or McCain. Don't feel up to speed? Just review the geopolitics posts we've put up and you'll be ready to beat both of them in a debate. This is another area where Obama is playing small ball. McCain, for all his vaunted experience, has not articulated an understanding of geopolitics that gives me any confidence that he understands the world we face today on anything other than the most simplistic terms. He is weak on foreign policy, but Obama can't exploit it because Obama cannot articulate a geopolitically informed viewpoint either. A lot of the poll data internals are saying that people think McCain is better prepared to make foreign policy decisions. Obama cannot turn that around unless he can articulate an understanding of the geopolitical landscape to the average American which is more explanatory of what we see on the news at night. He doesn't understand it any better than McCain does, so he can't . McCain's recommendations on Georgia don't reflect any understanding of the simple fact that we have no capability currently for a military confrontation with Russia because all of our military bandwidth is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush did not increase the size of the military before the Iraq war started (he could have) and it went on for far longer than it was planned for. We need Russian help on Iran and they can make life difficult there by supplying the Iranians with weapons and advanced air defense systems. Neither McCain nor Obama demonstrate they understand any of this and both are parroting the same return to Cold War dogma. If Obama wanted to go at McCain on foreign policy, then he has to articulate that his understanding of world events and situations is better than McCain, who is assumed to have a strategic understanding, even though he does not.

The Saddleback Civil forum:

Better for McCain than Obama. Why? Style and issues. On style, Obama explains too much. He has been called professorial in responding to questions. Its a fair point, which serves him well on some things and other things not. He has got to learn to determine when a short, direct answer is better than a longer one. The issue of abortion case in point. The Saddleback audience is pro-life and as a Christian, Obama understands the moral issue involved. In point of fact, he knows his position contradicts his faith and there is no way to explain it away. So don't try. Just state plainly that you are pro-choice and then emphasize that you are for initiatives to reduce abortions that are more than simply ways to discourage a woman from making the choice. Adoption, prevention of pregnancy, abstinence, pro-family policies, etc. The abortion rights wing of the party won't like it, but Obama is a pragmatist, and he ought to get out in front of the infanticide charge and take a stand against late term abortions and support laws like the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. Because as a Christian, you can't argue with the moral stance and you would be a fool to try. So don't. Because when you say in answer to the question of when does life begin that it is above your pay grade, you're dodging the issue in an attempt to escape your moral responsibility. It begins at conception, and I think Obama believes that. He won't say it, because he, like everybody else that takes a pro-choice position, doesn't want to accept responsibility for that choice. The entire pro-choice position relies at bedrock on being able to define the developing baby as not human, and therefore incapable of making any claim to protections afforded human beings. Trying to explain your way around that is just stupid. I understand it when a non-believer does it, but Obama is a believer, and therefore can't dodge his moral culpability. This is the kind of issue where a short answer serves him far better.

You want to get professorial, do that on the economy. Intellect is good to apply there. But even here, style plays a role. McCain can come off as much stronger on an issue and be seen to understand it with more clarity because he often reduces the narrative down to simple, easy to explain themes that he hammers again and again. Obama will attempt to break issues down on the stump over and over and sometimes this is just not necessary or effective. I think his responses at Saddleback tended to be over explanations. Some issues and questions don't need that.

Lastly, the way Obama answers questions or addresses issues, particularly in front of an audience that is not receptive to him, is too often phrased to avoid giving offense. Americans don't have a problem with you disagreeing with them. If you differ on the issue, say so and say why and if there is no common ground, then there isn't. But if you try to make your position sound like its not that different from them when it really is, then you just sound like a BS artist trying to slip it past us. That we don't like and we don't trust. People can get comfortable with you when they know where you stand, even if they don't agree. He frustrates that by trying to explain his way into your heart. Just tell'em where you stand. McCain knows how to make a straight up statement about something. Obama could do more of that.

On the Veepstakes:

I think Obama needs a VP who can help him make the trains run on time and play the same kind of strong arm muscle role behind the scenes that Cheney has played. Someone who like Cheney, doesn't give a damn about being President in 8 years and therefore will spend their time being effective. He also needs a VP with military and foreign policy background. That said, a few comments on some of the prospects:

Biden: eh. The guy has been around a hundred years. He's got a familiar name, but I have not heard anything from him that says his geopolitical chops are any better than O or the Cane. Maybe he is good on
Kaine: high risk, high reward and has same thin resume problem as Obama
Anthony Zinni: makes a compelling case for him
Kerry: Please
Clinton: In the immediate aftermath, I thought a definite no. Now that I've cooled off, maybe. High risk, high reward and I would worry about how well he can govern later if he wins.
Colin Powell: My personal favorite pick. Will never happen, but sure seems like a winner to me.
Sebelious: Not enough juice. If you're going to go with a woman, you go with Clinton seems to me. Which is really wack in the sense that Clinton's success in the primaries as the first woman to go so far ought not to mean she is the only woman who gets a crack at the VP spot.
Bayh: He's spent a political lifetime hoarding political capital and spending it in a very miserly fashion. Here in his home state, many describe him as colorless and not a risk taker. I can't imagine a bigger risk than saddling up with Obama.
Rendell: lots of working class white man on street cred. Assuming his governance record in PA is decent, a nice reassuring pick, but you don't get any geographic balance.
Gore: Has some attractiveness, avoids the clinging "bleck" of the Clinton era because Gore has clearly broken with the Clintons, but Gore doesn't want that job again.
Richardson: He has lots of experience but he didn't impress me with any of it during the primaries and its more diversity on the ticket than America can stand. The country is already losing its mind a little over Obama and you gonna put a Latino on the ticket now too? Don't think so.