John McCain has been offered, free of charge, two very good pieces of advice today. The first comes from Pete Wehner who argues, very astutely, that a simple criticism of Obama as vacuous will be ineffective. Wehner notes that there is something to this charge as surely there is something distasteful in the rock-star persona and circus surrounding the new King of Liberalism. But don’t forget the Liberalism, Wehner notes. Obama is the King of Liberalism in more than the fluffy sense. He really is astoundingly liberal, "in a country that is not." McCain should reject out of hand anyone who argues that attacks on Obama’s liberalism are "so 1980s"--even if they are, that doesn’t make them any less effective or true.
The second bit of advice comes from John Podhoretz in a piece the focus of which is more Michelle Obama than Barack or John McCain. Michelle Obama’s over-the-top rhetoric is probably an insight into the soul of the Obama family’s kitchen table conversation, Podhoretz postulates. It exposes their sincere (though bizarre) belief that they are a new Messiah for America. But why do they imagine that America needs a new Messiah? The Obamas don’t argue that America is fundamentally good, but flawed (as the overwhelming majority of Americans believe to their core) . . . they argue that America is "fundamentally flawed and only occasionally good." McCain needs to expose this and challenge Obama--even directly--to defend it if he can. This is a wide open hole through which McCain should be able to make a successful run in my view.
One aspect to an argument against the Obamas that will appeal to young people, for example, is to point out their monumental hypocrisy. If America is "fundamentally flawed" and only "occasionally good" how is it that a Michelle Obama (with her Princeton and Harvard degrees) and a guy like her husband (similarly outfitted) even came to be? What silver spoons did they have to suck in order for a country as screwed up as this one to take them seriously? You mean . . . there weren’t any silver spoons? They’re not the son or the daughter of privilege? Oh . . . what a rotten country! Well . . . what exactly is it that they need to save? Perhaps we need John McCain to save us from the saviors!
Right on! The zinger is the last paragraph--quite Ellisonian, in fact. Ralph Ellison wrote that Richard Wright "could imagine Bigger [Thomas], but Bigger could not possibly imagine Richard Wright." If a tree is known by its fruit, surely a good portion of the American fruit has been pretty good, esp. in comparison with the rest of the world.
If Podhoretz is right, and I am not sure that he is, then Obama needs to re-read his 2004 Democratic Convention speech, which is what brought him national acclaim--it was his Cooper Institute speech, only Kerry was already his party's nominee. That speech was Obama's version of Reagan's "Morning in America." Sample:
I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible. Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago, "We hold these truths to he self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
I see Barack and Michelle Obama as Jekyll and Hyde in their depiction of America, where if Sen. Obama was as negative about the prospects for success in this country as his wife's speeches, he would not be the rising political star that he has become.
For more about Michelle Obama, take a look at the Wall St. Journal's front page story (Feb. 11), "Michelle Obama Solidifies Her Role in the Election."
McCain may need someone to save him if he loses Wisconsin to Huckabee. Latest polls have him in a deadheat with Huckabee. Further proof is McCain's unexpected campaigning in Wisconsin today.
On a side note, Huckabee won the first ever Ashland County Republican presidential preference caucus garnering nearly 70% of the second round vote at the Ashland Eagle's club last night.
Ashbrook's own Andrew Keller, an Ashbrook scholar senior, gave two powerful speeches on behalf of Huckabee.
Unfortunately, the Ashbrook professors were otherwise engaged and could not attend the caucus.
Lucas: You're right that Obama needs to re-read that speech. That speech is what made us first take notice of him and comment that he would be formidable. That speech and the sentiment flowing from it since then, explains everything about Obama's popularity. There is nothing in him that is not part and parcel of this apparent hopefulness and love of America that can explain any of his success. To the extent that his message differs from this sentiment, he will and should lose favor. I think Obama's real message is more akin to Michelle's and is therefore inconsistent with the sentiment he's artfully crafted around his campaign. I think John McCain can show this to be the case (or should be able to show it if he doesn't act like a typical dumb Republican and blow his chance). Part of doing that will have to include McCain articulating an alternative understanding of America as a good and a great country that, when her principles are honored, makes more goodness possible for her citizens than any scheme of any Liberal ever did. He must articulate a message about America that is consistent with a positive sentiment but one that is also consistent within itself, i.e., true! Put simply, McCain must show why America is fundamentally good and--though flawed--deserves to be forgiven her flaws because she is capable of ever greater good if only Liberals like Obama leave well enough alone and allow her to stay true to her principles. She doesn't need this young whipper-snapper who doesn't understand anything about what's made her great and made his good fortune possible, to come in and change things according to his ideas of "hope." She was doing "hope" before any hope of his was ever conceived. Obama needs to be taken to school.
Timing is important on this attack, which I heartily endorse. If he chooses a military guy for his VP (Colin Powell would be my favorite), this gives pause. Attacks might be piled on now, focusing on Obama and subsequently belittling the VP choice.
The Obama theme of change would however throw "experience" to the winds, and his pick could be quite unconventional, though someone with international experience, broadly construed, would make sense. A team for change would be the theme. Bill Richardson is probably too conventional to fit this bill. While conventional in content, a Powell choice would be so daring a pick that it would shake up politics as usual and keep the revolution going. Already stories (see David Brooks today) about O's loss of change momentum are cropping up.
good advice and excellent post
Please note that fundamentally-flawed-only-occasionally-good is Podhoretz, not Michelle. I'd say that Michelle might be forgiven for saying something giddy without having Podhoretz spill his cleverness all over it.
Don't hold your breath waiting for McCain to take the good advice discussed in this post. Aside from tactical issues concerning Iraq, McCain and his advisers have no yearning to challenge the left either on principles or on policy. For example, has McCain aggressively challenged Hillary and Obama on the FISA issue? While McCain eagerly launches vicious and personal attacks on any one to his right over any disagreement, he differs with people to his left only in the most respectful terms, and eschews drawing dramatic contrasts for the benefit of the voters. Given the vulnerabilities of Obama and Hillary, a McCain victory is not out of the question, but if McCain does win, I suspect that he will do so in spite of himself.
Aside from tactical issues concerning Iraq, McCain and his advisers have no yearning to challenge the left either on principles or on policy.
This bears repeating.
If he chooses a military guy for his VP (Colin Powell would be my favorite)
A pro choice man?!?!
That sound you hear is the GOP crack-up...
Christopher: Ken means Powell for Obama . . . not McCain. But this advice strikes me as good advice (though, I admit it is highly unconventional) for McCain too. Not Powell . . . but someone of unimpeachable military stature. People tend to think the GOP should retreat from making the war front and center in this campaign. I think that is cowardly, not prudent. In McCain's case, the war is his greatest strength as a candidate. It is the main reason I'm willing to tolerate his candidacy. I think he should emphasize it to shore up the base and to win over the rest of America that has not followed the siren song of the left on the war. If Americans can be persuaded that we have a man who can turn things around in the war and get down to brass tacks, then their support for it will wax again. Everyone knows--on some level--that there's something shameful in the Obama position of retreat. But people are drawn to it in spite of themselves because his position appears to be a strong one and an absolute one. They don't hate the war so much as they hate the wishy-washiness that seems to characterize our efforts abroad. They want it to be all one thing (they prefer victory . . . but in the absence of it will take retreat) or all another. We're tempted to call this impatience, but that's not a generous interpretation of the people's sentiments. They are right to desire a more clear exposition of the success we can expect. They are being asked to sacrifice their blood and treasure and they do not feel as if they've been given a good explanation for it. That has to be respected. To the extent that it is not respected, we should not be surprised to see a rush to support a guy who claims he will end the "madness." But the truth is that Obama is not going to be as strong as he lets on in his commitment to withdrawal. The truth is, he's wishy washy in his leftism--and, to the extent that he is not wishy washy about it, he is naive. I say the bold move and the strong man will be rewarded in this election. McCain is nothing if not bold and unyielding. He should settle into that groove and run with it.