Monday, April 21, 2008

For God's Sake, Don't Say the Obvious!

Here's that silly Barack Obama, committing another "gaffe":

Senator Barack Obama likes to tell his audiences that electing Senator John McCain would be the equivalent of giving President Bush four more years in the Oval Office.
Yet as he offered his closing words at a town meeting at Reading High School, after he delivered a speech and took questions for 40-minutes, Mr. Obama offered a different view of Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

“You have a real choice in this election. Either Democrat would be better than John McCain – and all three of us would be better than George Bush,” Mr. Obama said. “But what you have to ask yourself is, who has the chance to actually, really change things in a fundamental way?”

In case you missed that line – “all three of us would be better than George Bush” – you almost certainly will be hearing it again and again from Republicans as a rebuttal to Mr. Obama’s often-stated argument that there would be no daylight between a President McCain and President Bush.

The Clintons--evidently forgetting Hillary's words about how she and Johnny Mac both offer "a lifetime of experience" compared to "a speech [Obama] made in 2002," and Bill's about a Clinton-McCain race being between "two people who love this country"--immediately went on the attack. But we know that consistency and honesty aren't big priorities for them, and anyway, what else are they gonna do?

Meanwhile, what Obama said seems pretty much incontrovertible to me. Who among us doesn’t think McCain would be better than Bush? Is McCain as weak-minded as Bush, as willing to empower the likes of Cheney and Addington because he can't be bothered or doesn't care about their weird obsessions? As cavalier about war and death? As likely to empower hyper-partisans, turning the bureaucracy over to monsters like Karl Rove? No, no, and no. This doesn't mean he'd be a "good" president; merely that he's a more thoughtful and more honorable guy than his predecessor, the near-consensus worst president we've ever had. A lower bar is difficult to imagine.

If you accept this premise, then what you’re left with is, “Well, yeah, but Obama shouldn’t have said it.” Why not? Because the public is so dimwitted that they can only accept absolutes–you’re either the Bestest Preznit Evah or the Chimpenfuhrer? Bullshit.

I think it would be a big mistake for the Democrats to try and win this thing by demonizing McCain. That’s the exact wrong approach to take--especially for an Obama campaign, which is trying to transcend and get beyond the zero-sum politics of the Bush/Clinton/Bush era. First of all, it’s a continuation of Rove/Carville, Clinton/Bush tactics: every contest is a Manichean, life or death struggle in which Everything Is At Stake. What that dynamic does is force everyone to dig in deeper; it pushes moderate Republicans and independents, who might have fuzzy fondness for McCain but doubt about his policy choices, back into his corner, because when you say he’s as bad as Bush, you’re insulting them too.

Second, people like McCain. Hell, I like McCain. I’d never vote for him and I don’t want him anywhere near the center of power, but that isn't entirely to do with him: mostly, I don’t like the idea of another president who cedes his budgetary policy to a psychotic asshole like Grover Norquist, won’t fully repudiate Bush--which is the real objective of this election, what I think the country at its deepest level wants to do--and is willing to countenance the monstrous likes of Bill Kristol.

The Democrats need to nail McCain to Bush on policies, not personality-–to make his unwillingness to repudiate Bush the anchor that sinks him. Holding that McCain is a good man in thrall to awful policies, Bush's policies, strikes me as the best way to do that-–and it subtly erodes those positive associations people have with him by raising the notion that he’s selling out to stay in the good books of people like Norquist and Hagee.

If this election is contested on the issues, Obama (or even Clinton, probably) can't lose. If it's conducted on the sort of nonsense that somehow dominated the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he probably can't win.

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