I don’t know how to say this more clearly: If John McCain can perform during the three debates the way he is performing tonight with Rick Warren, he will win this election. The contrast between him and Barack Obama (who answered the same questions an hour before him) has really been quite startling. In every case, McCain has answered substantively, directly, and with a surpassing command of detail. Obama talked around most issues; perhaps most oddly, he said Clarence Thomas was the one Supreme Court justice he would not have selected because he hadn’t had enough experience (Thomas had been on the federal bench for a year and a half before he was nominated, which is about as long as Obama was in the Senate before he began seriously considering a run for the presidency). Once again, as was true in his debates with Hillary Clinton, Obama has a problem when matters get down to specifics and his rival is better prepared and more comfortable with them than he is.
Posts For: August 16, 2008
The two presidential candidates are appearing one after the other with Rick Warren, the most important evangelical Christian in America. Barack Obama did very well — he was polished and sounded thoughtful and engaged. But I have to say that, halfway through, John McCain is giving the interview, and the political performance, of his life.
Barack Obama’s week was so bad that even the New York Times says so. The Times reports:
For the last several days, Senator Barack Obama has seemed to fade from the scene while on his secluded vacation here, as his opponent, Senator John McCain, has seized nearly every opportunity to display his foreign policy credentials on the dominant issue of the week: the conflict between Russia and Georgia. Only once, at the beginning of the week, did Mr. Obama discuss the fighting in public, when he emerged from his beachfront rental home to condemn Russia’s escalation, in a way that seemed timed for the evening television news. He took no questions whose answers might demonstrate command of the issue.Mr. McCain and his surrogates, however, have discussed the situation nearly every day on the campaign trail, often taking a hard line against Russia to the point of his declaring the other day, “We are all Georgians.” It is as if the candidates’ images have been reversed within a matter of a few weeks. When Mr. Obama was overseas last month, Mr. McCain’s foreign policy bona fides seemed diminished, if only because he could not attract the news media attention received by Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Now, Mr. Obama’s voice seems muted at a time when much of the world has been worriedly watching the conflict.
The Times didn’t exactly get it right — Obama’s overseas trip didn’t elevate his foreign policy bona fides. Rather, it set off a highly damaging storyline about Obama’s self-obsessed, out-of-touch celebrity status. (Perhaps the Times missed all the ads.) But the Times got the other part right: what defined the week was Obama’s utter passivity.
And if you don’t believe the Times, there is Andrew Sullivan, who owns up to the reality of the Obama campaign. Obama does fine when he can pontificate to an adoring crowd and sail above the fray, but he really has seemed stymied when forced to stand toe-to-toe with John McCain. Sullivan notes:
Since Obama’s hubris in Berlin, he has lost almost every cycle of this campaign, and lost all of them quite badly. I’m not sure his campaign gets how far they have sunk, and how ineffectual and passive Obama has seemed these past few weeks. The total capitulation to the Clintons at the convention is particularly lame.
If everything is going swimmingly, there are no international crises and his opponent isn’t pounding him Obama is, as they say, in his “comfort zone.” But when things get heated, the world misbehaves and his opponent decides to call some of his bluffs (e.g. the race card gambit) he is at a loss. (It is ironic that John McCain is the polar opposite: he loves nothing better than a good political brawl, the opportunity to counter-attack and the opportunity to flash his moral indignation at an international bully.) Perhaps he’s just not used to anything short of unadorned adultation.
Can such an non-aggressive, resigned style of campaigning (perhaps a function of the mistaken belief he could simply run out the clock) produce a victory for Obama? If his poll margins were great, his trip had in fact eliminated doubts about his foreign policy credentials and his opponent had not hit his stride, the answer might be “yes.” But unfortunately for Obama neither world events nor his opponent are cooperating with his desire to maintain his comfort zone.
And that rasies yet another issue. Remember all that talk from Obama supporters about his campaign reflecting the management strength of a future Obama administration? Well, you’re seeing quite a preview right now. One wonders how a candidate who doesn’t react well to having his feathers ruffled would function in the Oval Office.
In their typical over-the-top, screaming defensive style when anyone questions the One, the Obama team has overreached and probably not done themselves much good in rebutting Jerome Corsi’s book. I would join Peter and many others in positing that much of what is in Corsi’s book is wrong, sloppy or inaccurate — but the same is true of Obama’s rebuttal. There are many who have pointed this out. But why do this, rather than put out a finely tuned rebuttal and be done with it?
Part of the explanation is that the Obama camp feels compelled, I think, to attack, attack, and attack some more so that other, more respected journalists feel queasy and frankly intimidated. No need to explore the Bill Ayers relationship. No need to determine what grants Barack Obama approved as part of the Woods Fund. No need to look into his Illinois state senate voting records (where are those records?). Just move on. That’s the intent and may be the result of all the furious push-back.
While Yuval Levin has logic and history on his side in questioning whether the tactic makes sense, it has become accepted gospel in the Democratic Party that John Kerry lost the 2004 race because of the Swift Boaters. Obama’s team must therefore rage and protest.
But getting back to the facts, what is missing, of course, is much of any response to David Freddoso’s book. His description of Obama’s sharp-elbows style of politics, the entire reformer myth, Obama’s interaction with the Daley machine and his far-Left background seem worthy of the frenzied rebuttal treatment, right? Well, so far not really a peep. Perhaps the Obama team is hoping that Freddoso’s book will get lost in the shuffle, but their silence seems to suggest they won’t have such an easy time with a well-researched book by a credible journalist.
And once again it seems odd that there is no comparable analysis of Obama’s past relationships and affiliations coming from mainstream outlets. But, just as they were beaten and beaten badly by the National Enquirer on the John Edwards story, it may be that the newfound attention to Obama’s past will spur enterprising mainstream journalists to root around and begin examining Obama’s record in Illinois and past relationships. People might begin to ask: why are only these two books looking seriously into his record? People might begin to wonder if the mainstream press has essentially given up critically investigating any Democratic presidential candidate. Nah, they’ll never notice, right?
I have long thought that John Kerry is the anti-surrogate for Barack Obama. Whatever position he espouses seems inherently less credible coming from his lips.
A smart take on our next move(s) against Russian aggression. The only way to deter future acts, maintain U.S. credibility, and protect our other endangered allies is to make the price very high for the invasion of Georgia. Otherwise, this is only the beginning and there will be no end to it until the former Soviet Empire is re-created.
Facts matter and those who oppose a strong response from the U.S. need to explain why ethnic cleansing in Darfur is unacceptable but the same in Georgia brings a shrug of indifference. Do human rights matter or not?
The Left throws in the towel: this week has been a semi-wipe-out for Obama.
The New York Times: McCain Lite on Russia.
Which showed greater weakness and indecisiveness – his reaction to Georgia or capitulating to the Clintons? (The former I think.)
McCain catches a break — Obama tries another inaccurate ad and gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
A focus group figures it out: the wrong Virginian is under consideration for VP. (“[Mark]Warner came off well; Kaine did not, with respondents saying that he lacks substantive accomplishments and kisses up too much to Obama.”)
Victor Davis Hanson nails it: “Once again for the Left, if it is a question of supporting Democratic states and those in them from tyrants—or finding new creative ways of blaming the United States first—well, the answer is a no-brainer.”
Some political analysts are speculating about Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s motivation for acting so robustly against South Ossetian separatists and doing so while the eyes of the world were focused on the international spectacle in Beijing. The theory floating around is that Georgia moved on the Russia-backed region with the intention of “provoking” an attack, against which Georgia was knowingly unable to defend herself. In this way Georgia hoped to get the sympathetic attention of the West.
If such a gambit has been played, it is certainly the most cynical bit of statecraft employed by any present-day democracy. (In any event, there is no doubt that Saakashvili is looking for our sympathy now.) But did it work?
Georgia has our attention (or is sharing it with John Edwards). John McCain, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush have issued assorted statements on the matter, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has dashed through the motions of European diplomacy, and President Bush has sent Condoleezza Rice dashing after him. Additionally, American Navy vessels are heading toward the Black Sea–to deliver aid. But a week after Russian tanks and jets set Georgia ablaze–and three days since the announcement of a ceasefire–Russian troops patrol Georgian cities with virtual impunity. No nation has defended Georgia and no Georgian ally has even given her the means to defend herself. Moreover, no agreements have been drafted explicitly securing Georgia’s territorial integrity. In this way, Saakashvili got the West dead wrong.
Victim status doesn’t get you what it used to. There was a time when an American friend or a strategically critical state under attack got more than color commentary from the White House and a boat full of Ace bandages. When Russia rolled into Afghanistan in 1979 we didn’t give Afghans our sympathy; we gave them guns–big ones. When Saddam tried to annex Kuwait, we went in and sent him back home. Today a real invasion will get you a symbolic vote, a high profile condemnation, and a Facebook group.
But it’s the old America that friends and states with democratic aspirations remember, and they continue in vain to appeal to us. I am currently in Azerbaijan and if I’ve been asked once I’ve been asked a hundred times: “What does America think about the Armenian occupation of our country?” Whether it’s a reporter or a graduate student doing the asking, their desperation is a little heartbreaking and I answer honestly: “Your conflict isn’t even a blip on our radar.” Inevitably they respond: “Will you write about it when you get back home?” “Yes, I will,” I tell them. This provides some visible hope. Luckily they don’t go on to ask me if such attention will make any difference.
Armenians are not the only concern of Azeris these days. They, like Georgians, live in a post-Soviet territory. Their capital city, Baku, is the starting point for the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline–the only oil route out of the Caspian that bypasses Russia. It goes without saying that this is a conflict on Moscow’s radar. The Deputy Foreign Minister told me that since last week’s Russian aggression, he feels like it’s 1920 again. 1920 is when Azerbaijan’s two-year break from oppression gave way to seventy years of Soviet rule. 1920 also heralded a period of American isolationism. I agree with the Deputy Foreign Minister. It does feel like 1920 again.
For all of his high-minded rhetoric and intoxicating effect on journalists, Barack Obama (as even his most ardent fans concede) may not relate well to the average voter. He is not an approachable, very warm guy. He doesn’t smile or get impassioned about much of anything. Call it “cool” or call is removed, but he does not share the usual politicians’ love for engaging voters individually. Bill Clinton was the master and even George W. Bush in one-on-one interactions (e.g. comforting military families) was known to be empathetic and “present” — that is, emotionally engaged. It is not just on an emotional level, of course, that Obama has removed himself from the fray. Obama has made a career of being intellectually distant and evasive.
It is an odd personality for a professional politician, one that aims to intoxicate and mesmerize large crowds rather than engage individuals. And when that crowd intoxication dims (or is subject to ridicule) voters are left scratching their heads. Who is he? Does he understand us? What makes him tick? These are all unanswered questions about a figure who has skated by without having to reveal much about who his is.
Perhaps he will introduce himself at the Convention. It would be a good idea since most voters, if pressed, would acknowledge that they don’t know much about his basic personality and core values. That he has gotten this far without revealing very much about himself is a tribute to the media’s lack of curiosity and the (now-dissipating) spell he had cast on the electorate.