McCain Vs. Obama

Both John McCain and Barack Obama took aim at each other in their respective victory speeches last night, giving a preview of the general election if Obama’s 10-0 run continues. Both men have very different resumes and very different stances on the issues. Both, also, have a reputation for being straight shooters, disinclined to throw a cheap shot or a low blow, and serious about issues. But it sure didn’t seem that way last night. "Eloquent but empty" was how McCain characterized Obama. It is unclear why Team McCain would think that attacking Barack’s ability to inspire with his eloquence is a smart strategy. It has not worked very well for Hillary. Americans are optimistic and you don’t win elections by telling voters that they should give up hope, refuse to be inspired, and be suspicious of eloquence. McCain needs to find a better line of attack. "The last thing we need is the same old folks doing the same old things making the same mistakes" was the not-so-subtle way Barack chose to characterize the difficulty of affecting change in Washington. Twenty-five years younger than McCain, you can bet that Barack is going to try and frame the general election issues in simple, almost Manichaean, terms: the future v. the past, change v. the status quo, and youthful inventiveness v. tired old Washington gridlock. Most national polls show Obama beating McCain, but those polls are worthless. There is a campaign that will happen between now and November and that campaign will accentuate both the strengths and the weaknesses of the candidates and their coalitions. McCain has a strong advantage in his compelling ability to speak about national security. Neither Obama nor Sen. Clinton have developed that skill. It is one thing to criticize McCain for suggesting that U.S. forces might have to be in Iraq for 100 years. It is another to explain what you would do if a premature withdrawal from Iraq leads to chaos that threatens the stability of the entire region. McCain may be wrong in his analysis of the U.S. stake in Iraq but he sure sounds like he knows what he is talking about. And his "tough on terrorists" stance blends nicely with the universally acknowledged heroism of his resume. On the other hand, when McCain turns his attention to the economy, his words and body language go flat. And, with oil over $100 a barrel for the first time, with the on-going foreclosure crisis and the spotty stock market, and with a generally sluggish economy, economic issues appear to be paramount among voters’ concerns. Hillary’s campaign might have done better to focus on the economy in Wisconsin rather than engage in a series of ridiculous inside-baseball arguments with Obama’s campaign. It is unclear whether McCain can develop a more sympathetic posture; if he always looks like he wants to get back to discussing the military, he will lose. Of course, the Democratic race is not over. But when McCain is shooting at Obama and vice-versa, it can only further help Obama identify with Democratic primary voters. His victory in Wisconsin was huge, 17 points and winning almost all demographic groups. Most importantly, as he did in Virginia and Missouri and other swing states, Obama captured a huge share of Independents, beating Hillary by 2-1. Barring a big, nasty banana peel, Barack will be the Democratic nominee and his verbal sparring with McCain only helps solidify his lead in the remaining primaries. Michael Sean Winters
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