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Who’s The Reformer?

It seems we have had a role reversal in the campaign. Barack Obama rode the “change” and New Politics memes to the Democratic nomination, largely as a weapon to dislodge the Clintons from their perch in the Democratic Party. But there is little of that left. The flip-flops, the scathing personal attacks on John McCain, the hardball tactics to shut down Bill Ayers ads, and the race-card gambit left little doubt that it is old politics from here on out. Indeed, Obama’s speech in Denver was a snappier version of the same old tune from the liberal playbook: big government, America’s decline, and class warfare.

Little did Obama suspect that the “change” and reform mantle would be taken up so swiftly by John McCain. Before Friday McCain had relied on a combination of clever tactics (e.g. debunking Obamamania with pop culture web ads) and gained ground by stressing his national security bona fides and touting his energy policy. The maverick profile was blurry at best.

That all changed on Friday with the Sarah Palin pick. As the Wall Street Journal editors noted:

Senator Obama’s acceptance speech made it clear that his campaign strategy is pegged to linking Mr. McCain to the Beltway Republicans and the struggling economy. It’s a powerful argument, and John McCain needs an answer to Mr. Obama’s list of Democratic bromides. The vulnerability in the Obama plan is there’s little in it that is new. He’d mostly replace one status quo with an earlier status quo of government spending schemes. Joe Biden is no help on that.

Mr. McCain’s instinct clearly is to offer himself to voters as a reformer. With Sarah Palin, a genuine reformer, Mr. McCain may have found the right idea and the right person to make his run.

The pick offers more than a strategic maneuver to capture the Hillary voters; it suggests a reorientation back to the 2000 Straight Talk maverick. It also hints at an effort to reinvigorate and broaden the appeal of the Republican brand. Will we have Palin Democrats this year (e.g. middle-aged women, western libertarians and social conservatives from the Rust Belt)? Depends on execution. It is no small thing if McCain can wake up his base while expanding his electoral appeal. And suddenly the Republican Convention looks a whole lot more interesting and more exciting.


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