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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Square One

John McCain’s acceptance speech last night really did return his campaign to the same Square One it occupied when he nailed down the Republican presidential nomination so many months ago: a candidate with highly conventional Bushian policy positions on almost every issue, but who asks Americans to accept him as a “maverick” and a “reformer” based on the character forged by his horrific experience as a POW, as evidenced by a few heresies against party that he has largely since foresworn.
The most revealing detail of the speech was that for all the talk about serving country rather than party, and of wanting above all to clean up Washington, the only specific criticism of Republicans McCain could bring himself to make was one from the Right: that GOPers of the DeLay/Bush era came to power, forgot their conservative principles, and spent too much money. While true, the criticism isn’t very comforting to the majority of Americans who would now like their federal government to do more, not less, to deal with a variety of big national challenges, particularly coming from a candidate whose tax cut and defense spending promises would guarantee huge structural budget deficits for a long, long time.
Thus, his plea to swing votes last night to trust that he won’t represent “more of the same” came down almost entirely to his POW experience, which he did indeed talk about in an unusually raw and powerful way. To his credit, he tried to avoid the suggestion that Americans should award him the presidency as thanks for his personal sacrifices. His central argument was that his sufferings in the Hanoi Hilton freed him forever from allegiance to any cause other than country. But that claim runs up against the inconvenient reality that he wasn’t much of a “maverick” in Congress until he ran for president in 2000 against the candidate of the Republican establishment, and hasn’t shown any “maverick” tendencies at all since deciding to run for president a second time.
That’s why the balance of the McCain-Palin campaign is almost certainly going to resemble Wednesday night’s “message” more than last night’s: relentless attacks on Barack Obama. In close general election races, if you can’t occupy the “center” with your policy positions, the next best thing is to push your opponent out by describing him or her as extremist, or as fundamentally untrustworthy–a strategy that has the added benefit of making your own party base very happy. For all the “maverick” self-labeling by McCain and Palin during this convention, the very conventional attack politics of Karl Rove and company is where they are heading between now and election day.

4 comments on “Square One

  1. Brian Gaerity on

    Look, I understand your anger and your desire to hit back. Palin is really pissing me off too. I’m not advocating that Obama and Biden not respond to attacks. On the contrary; direct response is essential. But the most effective counterattack won’t be matching Palin’s cheap shots with some of our own. There are so many contradictions between the McCain/Palin messages and their policies, it’s not hard to pick them apart (and Obama/Biden are already doing so).
    My experience in sports, business and politics is to trust your training, stick to the game plan and make your shots — in the political world, that means building a strong campaign organization, staying on message and getting out the vote. And if someone throws an elbow, you don’t throw one back; you just don’t back down.

  2. ThinkingGuy on

    Um, I do not think when the enemy is coming AT you with pitchforks is a good time to start putting them away.
    Sorry folks, the MSM is not going to tell it like it is, but the Republicans have unleashed Beauty Queen, and she is going to draw nasty blood anywhere and everywhere she goes..with lies, and insults. We can and MUST fight back with equal venom, or say hello to president McCain.

  3. Tiparillo on

    Ah another “reformer with results,” I guess the McCain campaign is so tied to Bush they are even stealing his campaign themes.

  4. Brian Gaerity on

    Open Memo to Democrats:
    Put down your pitchforks and pick up your ploughshares.
    The only way we’re going to win the presidency is through hard work. Ignore the media and partisan “spokespersons”; don’t waste any more time trolling the blogosphere for Republican gaffes and outrageous statements; resist the temptation to vent or be snide. From now until polls close on Nov. 4, we need to put all our efforts into getting out the vote. And the only way to get out the vote is to make phone calls, knock on doors and be physically visible in your community.
    History tells us that turnout is the most important factor in close races, and there is no doubt now that this race will be close. Remember 2000? We can fume all we want about a “stolen” election (the thief being either the Supreme Court or Ralph Nader), but the fact is that too many Florida Democrats were either AWOL or voted for someone other than Gore (unbelievably, 12% of Florida Democrats voted for Bush!). If Democrats stay home or vote for McCain because 1) Hillary Clinton isn’t the nominee, 2) McCain/Palin successfully raise doubts about Obama/Biden or 3) no one bothered to ask them to vote, then we will have failed as a political party.
    For almost two years now, America has resoundingly supported the Democrats’ optimistic message of change. Americans want our soldiers out of Iraq. Americans want comprehensive health care reform. Americans want a fair and equitable tax policy. Americans want the federal government to provide real leadership and responsible oversight of the economy. Americans want a foreign policy that projects America’s best attributes, not our worst fears. Americans want to roll up their sleeves and solve our energy problems once and for all. We are on the right side of every major issue facing the country today.
    The primaries are history. The conventions over. Our job for the next 60 days is to deliver one single message to as many voters — Democratic, Independent and Republican — as possible: that Barack Obama and Joe Biden will bring about the change we all want, and John McCain and Sarah Palin will not. The numbers are in our favor. “Base” Democrats outnumber “base” Republicans this year. If we mobilize Democrats and win over as many Independents and moderate Republicans (those who are turned off by Palin’s vitriol and extreme views) as possible, we can win this election.
    BUT WE MUST ACT! Action, powered by a positive and authentic message of change, is the only path to victory. Action is the “secret sauce” that has lifted the Obama campaign from a mere sliver of hope to a real movement. Because at the end of the day, rhetoric and policy positions and good intentions are meaningless if our efforts fall short.
    If you’re in this to improve our country, to enact meaningful change and to prove that Democrats have better answers to the pressing questions of the day, then I’m asking you to do the most you possibly can to encourage your family, friends and neighbors to vote, and to vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.


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