Looking ahead to next week’s presidential debate, Bill Kristol makes some suggestions for John McCain:
McCain needs to alarm voters about Obama’s dovishness–reminding them of his opponent’s misjudgment of the surge, for example–and tie around his neck all the stupidities of the woolly-minded Democratic party. He might want to mention in this context Biden’s rich career of misjudgments on foreign policy (against Reagan’s defense buildup, against the first Gulf war, flip-flopping on Iraq, silly talk on Iran–and more!), and cite the tough words uttered not so long ago about Obama’s naïveté and weakness by the woman Obama passed over as his running mate.
In addition to dovishness, McCain has another line of attack : indecisiveness. That’s a theme he was pushing this week as Obama hemmed and hawed about whether he supported the AIG bailout. (We still don’t know what Obama’s view is.) And that was Obama’s failing this summer when Russia invaded Georgia: he failed to grasp the gravity of the situation and immediately respond with a condemnation. (Instead he went the ever-popular — with Democrats, that is — moral equivalence route.)
To some extent, Obama’s cool demeanor and intellectual approach to straightforward policy questions (e.g. his horrible performance with Rick Warren) lead to the perception that he’s not an action-oriented, decisive leader. In that regard Hillary Clinton was right: it is hard to imagine Obama responding forcefully let alone quickly to the “3 a.m.” call.
Whether McCain can convey that about his opponent in a ninety-minute debate remains to be seen, but sometimes debates do allow voters to peer into the mindset of the candidates. Remember the Mitt Romney “consult the lawyers” moment? It revealed the exceedingly cautious and corporate outlook of a man not quite comfortable in the potential role of commander-in-chief. It was a small slip, but one that hung over Romney’s head for some time. On just such moments do some elections turn.