I’m sure those on both sides of the aisle feel the same way. The fact that their candidate even has to compete with the other candidate is ridiculous. But the fact that both candidates did such a mediocre job in last night’s debate is even more absurd. This is what comes of an election fought over independents. You do your best not to sound unhinged, so you stay away from anything controversial. The result is that you stay away from anything worth saying.
So Obama, who very much wants universal healthcare, shies away from decrying the current system enough to convince voters he’s got it right. McCain, who very much believes in a hawkish foreign policy, fails to convert the undecided to believe that instability could arise from leaving Iraq as hastily as his opponent wants. Both seemed more eager to cut a commercial or at least cut to one.
Conservatives expect their glass to be half empty with McCain. Obama’s devotees, on the other hand, rarely find fault with their man. To them, no matter what, he did fantastic. One wishes that Democratic kool-aid were in more ample supply on the right, but it needs the right candidate. For a number of reasons we’ve already discussed at the Spectator, McCain ain’t it.
Besides, “independents,” such as they are, are inclined to like theatrics, the glittery politicians who say it’ll be okay. This is the consequence of a party that says that the war means everything, only to have the president skip the press conference announcing the death of a major military threat. If it means everything to win, why has the press been allowed only to report how we’re losing? How has allowing defeat in Iraq become a key feature of the Democratic pledge to leaner government?
LAST NIGHT, McCain needed to be on the attack. He wasn’t. He was less aggressive than the first debate. Indeed, his voice quivered a little. He sounded unsure. Talking about something he knew a lot about, he’d become confident. Speaking to a petty chief officer of the Navy on one question about restraint in foreign policy, McCain certainly sounded strong. Saying, “Look at the experience!” was strong. But Obama was level. McCain was bipolar.
This was a forum that, even with the constraints posed, should have favored McCain. But Obama’s swagger (a little more subtle than a wink, but it was there) showed he was prepared in a way he hadn’t been for the previous debate. And he connected, even if he didn’t have much more of a coherent message than McCain.
It’s no good that McCain’s still struggling with that message. He’s a former prisoner of war and a longtime member of the Senate. He’s from a long line of great military officers and heroes. When troops eventually leave Iraq (hopefully safely), a statue of McCain should stand just as a statue of Truman stands in Greece. It should be easy for the elderly senator to throw away the moniker of “safe” candidate, and instead become the “necessary” candidate. Who do you want to run the country? A guy who wrote letters but rarely any legislation? Who handed out pamphlets and led meetings? Or the guy whose entire life has been dedicated to his ideal of his great country?
To repeat an earlier point, it’s ridiculous he even has to compete. Worse, it’s ridiculous he seems set on losing.
IT’S NOT necessary to be so cynical. McCain’s avionic career was punctuated with crashes, ones from which he lifted himself, bruised, but better. His primary win was the strangest and unlikeliest event to happen, as article after article presented more campaign staff shake-ups and faltering fundraising. This is a man whose career is comprised of setting ashes aflame time and again.
Obama remains glittery, and until recently, McCain has refused to spend much time smudging the shine. We’re assured things are about to get real dirty. With his campaign pulling out of Michigan (and even announcing it), one should hope so.
His opponent has never returned a punch well. Even in last night’s debate, Obama was slapped with the “he doesn’t get it” theme reprised from the previous debate. Rather than make a historical quip, he gave a professorial response with the same laundry list of eight years of whatever. Some orator.
What McCain needs is 527s releasing commercials talking about gas lines and bad economic know-how from the Carter administration. This would push back against the now-accepted (and strange) axiom that the economy issue favors the Democrats. It might now be too late to dredge up Reverend Wright — but that should be up to the voters, not the media, to determine if it’s a stale story.
Most of all, what McCain needs is the sort of miracle that’s come through for him his whole career. Maybe he’s just feeling lucky.
J. Peter Freire is managing editor of The American Spectator.