There is a spate of “nothing has changed” analysis from mainstream and Obamaphile pundits. In one sense they are right: Obama remains narrowly ahead. But in another, these analysts seem indifferent to the two major developments of the summer. And both significantly help John McCain.
The first is the emergence of energy as a top issue, one on which John McCain has been continually on the offense. Congressional Republicans have done their part to keep the focus on the Democrats’ intransigence and Obama remains at odds with the overwhelming majority of Americans who see domestic oil and gas development as key part of a realistic energy policy. If McCain needed a policy advantage (besides national security) on an important issue, he certainly found it.
The other significant development is the puncturing of the Obama mythology. When late night comics are on to the Ego storyline, mainstream and liberal commentators focus on the flip-flop/lack of principle meme and Obama’s losing race card gambit is the subject of consternation then something has happened. Like the cartoon character who runs off the cliff but is held aloft only so long as there is a suspension of disbelief that he is in any peril, Obama’s candidacy depends on a mass consensus that The One is more than a carefully contrived artifice. What if his lofty rhetoric is no more than New Age buzz words? What happens if voters conclude that he isn’t much different that the other sweet-talking politicians? Those undependable young voters, not to mention undecided working class voters, aren’t going to be there when it counts on Election day if they conclude that the Emperor has no clothes.
And for McCain, all of this has occurred at relatively little financial cost. His success on the energy issue and his headway in scuffing up the Obama image have in large part been accomplished by virtue of Obama’s own missteps (e.g. opposing drilling, the overreach in Berlin) and the free media’s willingness to play and replay McCain’s humorous digs at The One. As he did in the primary, McCain is showing that the candidate with the most money doesn’t necessarily control the message.
None of this means that McCain has the upper hand or is the favorite in the race. What it does mean is that a McCain victory is conceivable. That wasn’t the case a month or so ago. Certainly that is a change in the state of the race.