That’s an argument the Obama campaign seems to be winning at the moment. A new Gallup poll finds that about two-thirds of voters are at least somewhat concerned that McCain “would pursue policies that are too similar to what George W. Bush has pursued,” with 49 percent “very concerned.”
I think for McCain to win this argument, he can’t focus on pointing to policy differences with President Bush, because in order to keep conservatives in the tent he’s naturally going to have to support enough of Bush’s polices for the Obama campaign to point to as evidence that he would represent a continuation of Bush’s two terms in office.
A lot of the negative feelings for Bush go beyond his policies and to his personal bio — somebody who never had to sacrifice for his country, who only got to where he is based on his last name, who wasn’t a hands on leader when it came to maintaining a failed strategy, somebody who is ignorant of foreign affairs, etc.
Although it’s tricky, a better way for McCain to contrast with Bush is how he would differ as a leader. Much of what a president does goes beyond pure policy. As 9/11 demonstrated rather dramatically, something completely unexpected can happen that changes everything in an instant, and challenges a president to respond. The set of experiences that McCain would bring to the table in such crises are completely different than what Bush brought to the table.
The fact that Bush wouldn’t increase troop levels in Iraq while McCain advocated a surge-type strategy was a policy difference, but more significantly, it was a policy difference that reflected different leadership styles. McCain was unsatisfied with the situation in Iraq, made repeated visits there, met with leaders on the ground, studied the complexities of the conflict, dipped into his decades of military and foreign policy experience, and came to the conclusion that the conflict was winnable with a new strategy. That is very un-Bush like. If McCain can shift the debate toward leadership attributes, I think he’ll have a much easier time distancing himself from Bush.
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