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The Great Blurring 2008

This Harris poll, reported on by Market Watch, captures the muddle of the American electorate at this point in time:

It finds that John McCain has a sizable lead on defense, homeland security and keeping the U.S. safe from terrorism, and modest leads on Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, Iran, Russia and gun control. Barack Obama has a substantial lead on the environment, education, health care and jobs. He also has a clear but not large advantage on the economy, gasoline prices, energy policy and inflation.

However, this Harris Poll also shows that most people recognize that they do not have a very good understanding of the differences between the candidates’ policies on the sixteen issues covered in this poll.

After the longest combined primary and general election in history, why is the public confused? Was this not supposed to be a clear-cut case of business-as-usual vs. the politics of change? Four more years of the failed Bush policies vs. hope?

Well, part of the problem lies in those formulations, furnished by Barack Obama. We were never told what the politics of change were. We’ve seen raised taxes before, ditto universal healthcare promises. Furthermore, whenever Obama did radically diverge from historical precedent (in proposing to talk to Ahmadinejad without preconditions, for example), he backed away from it.

On other key issues, Obama simply tacked McCain-ward. He went from pledging to “end” the Iraq War immediately to deciding to listen to the advice of commanders on the ground. When Russia invaded Georgia in August, Obama issued a statement calling for both parties to cease hostilities. After McCain came out and condemned Russian aggression while declaring solidarity with Georgia, Obama decided to do the same.

Now, with the financial meltdown seriously limiting Obama’s proposed initiatives in education, healthcare, and social services, the great blurring is complete. And just in time. If this poll is correct, one month from now Americans will be electing their next president based on an impressionistic hunch. And they won’t be able to ask their fellow citizens for clarification, nor will they really have grounds on which to object when they don’t like what they see in the White House.