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June 27, 2008

Peggy Noonan: "That's my boy."

Noonan has a must-read op-ed today about McCain's media problem, but I suggest that those who have already decided that Obama will be president should skip it; she's extremely pro-McCain.

She starts:

The big political headline this week, of course, involves John McCain's endless and humiliating attempts to placate Mitt Romney by bowing to demands he hire his operatives and pay his campaign debt. So far all he's got is a grudging one-sentence endorsement from that rampaging rage-aholic Ann Romney.

Oh wait, got confused, that's Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Like frogs in a pot, we tend to become accustomed to some pretty outrageous things as the campaign season heats up. The slow accumulation of extreme positions or idiotic blunders is overlooked simply because it's Business As Usual. "Of course Candidate A has larger-than-life mistakes," says the voter, "she's a larger-than-life person! And her opponent is the same, anyway." Hell, that explains John Kerry's entire candidacy. Half the country woke up one morning in December 2004 and thought, "what the hell was I thinking," although they'd never admit it in mixed company.

During campaigns, candidates have to do something so unusual that voters are jolted out of their adrenaline high and take notice of just how far from the ordinary things have strayed. Howard Dean's "YEEAAARRGH!" comes to mind. A whole bunch of Democratic voters realized that night that Dean is a nutcase; they didn't actually know anything new about him. Rather, they realized just how far from acceptable the race had strayed.

And that's why the so-called "October surprise" is so important. I was quietly banging my head on my desk when Obama's Rev. Wright issue broke in the spring. That would have been the perfect story to get voters' attention in October. It's just the sort of thing that would cause even Democratic voters to pull back from the brink. But now it's come and gone and been rationalized away. Pfleger and Meeks were just Business As Usual, and so too Ayers. What Democratic voters and Obama-leaning independents need is a slap in the face and a stern, "Look at what you've done!" But I don't think it's going to happen from any future revelations about Obama's associates. They've already reached a nice, familiar boil on that issue. Throwing another log on that particular fire isn't going to change anything.

So I'm pleased that Noonan is pointing out another surreal moment in Election 2008. Hopefully, some voters will have a waking moment: "What the hell? Is he actually paying off Clinton's lenders in order to buy her supporters?" The answer is "Yes" and "No, this is not Business As Usual." The only thing distinguishing this from corruption is the fact that Clinton hasn't explicitly promised to deliver the goods.

We need more of the same, especially in the two months prior to the election. My money is on the presidential debates. We all know that Obama's going to want zero debates and McCain will want as many as he can possibly get. I firmly believe that Obama will open his mouth one day and tell us what he really thinks. He's too inexperienced not to make the politician's most obvious mistake. To most effectively take advantage of this, McCain needs to be grabbing issues that resonate with voters.

So, as the summer goes on, oil will increasingly be on voters' minds. McCain has already staked out a strong position on oil, one that has broad appeal for both conservatives and increasingly for liberals. (I'm not saying he couldn't improve on ANWR, mind you). Now he just needs to lay in wait for Obama to say something truly outlandish---something that conforms with his true beliefs, but about which he has thus far managed to prevaricate.

The War on Terror is another issue that fulfills the same criteria. McCain already has the popular position, especially in key states. He needs to keep the Iraq War in the news and in the minds of voters long enough for Obama to tell us just how he really feels about it. The presidential debates are a perfect opportunity. They're not too early that voters have time to adjust. And with a candidate as radical as Obama, there are plenty of issues that provide fertile ground for a trap.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 03:04 PM

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