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How Bad A Week?

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.



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