At The Huffington Post, veteran political reporter Tom Edsall has an interesting take on the early general election positioning of the two candidates for president. Sure, it looks like a close race at this point, but John McCain has another problem beyond the strongly pro-Democratic political landscape: his candidacy, so far, appears based on raising doubts about Barack Obama rather than touting his own credentials.
Edsall quotes a number of observers who see the same problem:
Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution argues that “McCain continues to embrace Bush policies on the most important issues, relying on a reputation for independence and moderation that could be lost in the heat of battle with Obama and the Democrats…. At the end of this long interlude, the only rationale for his election that has emerged is that Obama cannot be trusted to lead the country at a time of great danger because he is too inexperienced, naïve, liberal, elitist, and out of touch with American values. ‘Elect me because the other guy is worse.’ Not much of an argument in the face of gale-force winds blowing against the Republican Party.”
Along similar lines, Norman Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, questioned whether McCain and his aides have “spent enough time and effort developing themes for why he should be president, not just why Obama should not– especially themes that address the deep-seated anxiety voters feel that goes beyond current economic conditions.”
Arch-conservative Bay Buchanan suggested that it may not matter what McCain does. Writing in Human Events on June 4, she declared:
“In reality there is only one candidate. Barack Obama. In November he will win or he will lose. John McCain is relevant only in so far as he is not Barack Obama. The Senator from Arizona is incapable of energizing his party, brings no new people to the polls, and has a personality that is best kept under wraps.”
It’s not unheard of for candidates to win on purely negative characterizations of their opponents, but it doesn’t happen that often, particularly in the kind of political environment we are in at present. More importantly, if these analysts are right, the election is literally Barack Obama’s to win or lose.