Sunday, February 17, 2008

Obama and the looming GOP mistake

By Rick Morris

In one of the clearest indicators yet of the Feiler Faster Thesis, John McCain has put to rest many doubts about his ability to unify the Republican party by bringing around most of his major detractors by Valentine's Day (except those talk-radio dead-enders who will never "heart" him). As some (such as myself) had anticipated, the notion of surrendering the White House to a liberal Democrat for (at least) four years has done much to focus the right-wing mind.

But instead of those largely unfounded fears, McCain, the Republicans and conservatives (and let's not conflate the last two in any way) face a new problem that could be of their own making -- if they let it. In the increasingly likely event that they face Barack Obama in "The Finals" this November, they need to be extremely crafty in how they attack the Illinois senator. Interestingly, this has little to do with race and much to do with the commonly accepted notion that Obama is running the sequel of Bobby Kennedy's 1968 campaign.

One of the most famous prayers in modern society goes as follows: God grant me the strength to accept the things I can't change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. If John McCain defeats Obama to win the White House this fall, it will come from successful understanding of this beseeching of The Almighty.

Let's start with what can't be changed: the intense emotion attached to Barack Obama as a movement, particularly with the young people. He cannot, he absolutely cannot, be attacked in conventional political terms and have the tactics work at all.

Take for example this column referring to his campaign as a Hallmark card
. Every word of it is true. And every word of it is breathtakingly irrelevant.

The author is clearly emitting a very frustrated vibe in terms of trying to find a way to puncture many of the mythical aspects of the Obama candidacy. But he has not learned yet that the sledgehammer is not the tool to use on this candidate, in this climate, in this particular year.

People are yearning for something that is completely different and Obama is tapping into that. Any attack on him that reeks of "politics as usual" is doomed from the start. Even the line that he was ranked as the most liberal US senator by the decidedly non-partisan National Journal is fatally flawed -- not because it's not true, but because anyone you drop it on will only say, "There you go again, putting labels on people."

In terms of the ill-reasoned arguments that talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere were ironically using to promote Mitt Romney at McCain's expense not too long ago, it's safe to be very worried about the intellectual capacity of the conservative movement when it comes to facing their most tricky foe in perhaps decades. A stale, bruised and cranky movement is likely to fall under the mistaken notion that blunt force can tear down Obama, when it will only end up reinforcing his fervent supporters even more. To use a cult analogy here, deprogramming is a very difficult, very delicate process and if Republicans and conservatives are perceived to be having a "WHY WON'T PEOPLE WAKE UP???" temper tantrum about this guy, they're going to end up marginalized everywhere except their Southern base. This is where application of the above prayer comes into play.

In the interests of contributing a workable tactic towards the effort, I suggest that McCain play to his greatest strength, safeguarding the future security of this country -- and specifically in this instance, fiscal security. He should have a pitch to the most fervent Obama supporters (who tend disproportionately to be young) that goes something like this: "At some point in your lifetime, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be bankrupt (produce figures to back this up). Senator Obama proposes hundreds of billions of dollars in additional spending (again, produce figures to back this up) -- and the net result of his plans would be to bump up our national day of reckoning significantly closer. On the other hand, I have a record as one of the most tight-fisted people in the Senate with tax dollars. I don't even take any special federal earmarks for my district, just to prove that I am serious. I know that you are looking for change. I am too, or else I wouldn't be running for president. Senator Obama and I agree that the country needs change. We disagree on the specifics and in which direction. The direction I propose safeguards your future, because it demands that our country stop spending your national inheritance like a drunken soldier and gets us on a path to turn things around. Change is good, change is necessary. But please vote for the right kind of change this November, the kind that puts us on a prosperous, sustainable course."

Agreeing with Obama on the need for change while challenging him on the direction and on the specifics is the way to victory in November, assuming that it can be procured in the face of what can only be called a juggernaut movement. Attacking Obama with tin-ear attacks will only ensure a repeat of the Nineties when Slick Willie was eating their lunch.

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