E.J. Dionne is the latest liberal pundit to reach the stark conclusion: “The one contest McCain can win is an election about Obama.” It is an odd admission that Barack Obama — the candidate who started with such high hopes, as a transformational if not messianic figure — can’t really sustain an election win on his own merits. But is this surprising?
If the election is on the substance of Obama’s accomplishments or the depth of his policy pronouncements, it’s not hard to see why the public would find Obama lacking. Stripped of the cotton-candy rhetoric and the unfufilled promises of nonpartisanship, we are left with a one-term, ultra-liberal senator. Obama’s chances rest on the public rejecting the George W. Bush legacy, tying John McCain to that legacy, and saying Obama is good enough. But if Obama is not good enough and the public realizes that either candidate’s election marks the end of the Bush era then it’s a different matter.
And Dionne is right about one thing:
There is a certain shrewdness to the McCain campaign’s effort to turn Obama’s strengths — the energy he excites in crowds, the historic nature of his candidacy and the interest he has created overseas — into weaknesses.
By focusing the spotlight on Obama, McCain has forced the public and liberal pundits to ask: Is there any there, there? The latter are implicitly concluding “Not enough.” If the public reaches the same conclusion, the Democrats will have succeeded in picking the Democratic contender who couldn’t win in “sure thing” Democratic year.