Let McCain be McCain againPosted Wednesday, July 30, 2008, at 10:01 AM
Obama's "world tour" got a lot of press. In fact, the complaints that the press went overboard covering his tour probably have some validity.
Still, since he's been criticized for a lack of foreign policy experience, a close scrutiny of his meetings with world leaders undoubtably had some value. And if he'd stumbled, that scrutiny would have been telling.
However, he didn't. At least not to any significant degree.
It said a lot that the Iraqi government endorsed his proposals over those of his opponent, Sen. McCain. And most of the leaders in the Mideast seemed to see him as a breath of fresh air compared to how they have perceived the Bush administration (which is another good reason why McCain really needs to abandon any ties to Bush and become his old, independent, maverick self again).
And Obama's trip to Germany shows that he has become the closest thing to a political rock star this country has seen since at least Reagan, and possibly Kennedy. Two hundred thousand people turned out to hear him speak. That's virtually unheard of. Meanwhile, on the same day, McCain spoke to a couple dozen small businessmen at a German deli here in the states. It just didn't carry the same weight.
And therein lies one of the problems for McCain.
He just doesn't seem to excite anybody. Perhaps more importantly, his reorganization of his campaign staff, adding a lot of the old Bush campaign staffers, may not be helping that much.
He's been a lot more negative since that reorganization, and this year voters seem to be turned off by negative campaigning. They've had enough of nasty politics. McCain won his party's nomination in part because he didn't stoop to those levels. Clinton lost her bid because she did.
McCain's actually got a lot going for him. He's a good, honest, intelligent man who has a proven track record of being able to find compromises that work. But he's allowing himself to be mishandled by his advisors.
He's never going to have the charisma that Obama projects. But he does have a good sense of humor, which isn't being played properly by his handlers (they've made him look pretty dour), and his intelligence isn't being emphasized.
The ex-Bush team has had him trying too hard to play to all audiences (Bush was notorious for telling any audience he met whatever they wanted to hear), and that's made him look both wishy washy and flip floppy, whereas his actual track record in 30 years as a senator is a lot more consistent than most politicians could have accomplished over the same time period.
August is going to be a critical period for both candidates, as they gather for their official coronations at their party's conventions. Both of them will get a "bump" in the polls in the week or so after those conventions. And let's face it, Obama's going to give a heck of an acceptance speech, he's one of the best public speakers in the last half century in this country.
McCain is going to have to be a little more dynamic than he has in the past. But he also needs to ignore his handlers. He needs to step out and become his own man again, and quit trying to be all things to all people.
He needs to use the high visibility of the convention platform to show his intelligent independence and his maverick willingness to find ways to make things work -- the very thing that has earned him so much respect on both sides of the aisle during his years of public service.
And he needs to walk away from any efforts to push him into negative campaigning, which will only backfire.
In many ways, both candidates are rejections of the old status quo within their parties. And that's a good thing, because both parties had become ossified, almost paralyzed with knee-jerk dogmatism. Both of these men have broken the mold and are leading their parties in new directions. One of them will lead this country in a new direction.
Obama has stayed pretty true to who he is, and clearly is the manager of his own campaign. McCain needs to return to being McCain again, and take the reins of his campaign back into his hands. If he can do that, I think he'll make this a much closer race than most people think it's going to be.
If he does that, and both candidates stick to the high road and push their policies rather than sniping at their opponent, then the American people will be well served and well informed by the time November comes around, and thus better able to make the best choice for this nation's future.
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