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Conventional wisdom/generally accepted truth: To secure a party's nomination, a candidate has to appeal to "The Base" throughout the primaries. BUT - part of that appeal must be a perceived ability to appeal to a significant majority of the independent center in the general election. (At least this is true of any candidate who isn't an incumbent.)
Here's how that played out in 2008.
Republicans nominated a Senator with a long history of "centrist" politics (or at least a long history of compromise with those to his left, often to the extreme consternation of those to his right). Democrats nominated a guy with relatively no history on the national stage - at least, the shortest record of any of his opponents in the primary. (I consider Washington "experience" neither a plus or minus - I prefer focus on the candidate and issues.)
And the general election is on. The race, of course, is to the center. It always has been and always will be. One would think Obama would be at a disadvantage - McCain could merely point out that he'd been standing in the center for years and hadn't noticed Barack Obama there before. It's a double win for McCain - it emphasizes both Obama's relative inexperience and that he is decidedly left of center. But "I'm a centrist" doesn't endear McCain to the Republican "base", and instead he uses "I've served my country for my entire life, as a Navy Officer who was once a POW and then in the House and Senate" as his theme.
Team Obama's response is that being a POW doesn't qualify you to be President of the United States (in fact, it's cause for concern...). Obama's campaign theme is "hope" and "change" and declarations of support of "working Americans" and "the middle class". The remainder of his strategy has been "McCain is Bush". This too is an "appeal to the center", or at least an attempt not to alienate (or appear threatening to) the center while simultaneously keeping "the base" on board. (They can nudge-wink one another about what he really meant...)
Enter Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. McCain's VP pick is a good one - she appeals to conservatives (that base McCain has rattled repeatedly before and after he secured the nomination) and isn't another "old white guy". But many Republicans aren't happy with McCain's VP choice because they had hoped he would make Obama's lack of experience the central point of his campaign (rather than his own depth of experience). Biden, on the other hand, is also a good pick - he's reassuring to old white guys that Obama has nothing against them (oddly, the media doesn't pick up on that in their coverage of McCain's transparent attempt to lure Hillary voters who he obviously thinks are too stupid to vote based on anything other than their uterus...)
From this point, the Presidential candidates themselves stay "above the fray" and let others make the argument that the opposition is nowhere near the center. The attacks on Palin are immediate and in many cases extreme. Perhaps amazingly, team Obama focuses their official attacks on Palin's lack of experience. The unofficial attacks are among the most disgusting in the history of American politics. But the focus of each and every one of them can be boiled down to this message to the independent center: "she's not like us". In fact, she might be dangerous - and McCain's choice demonstrates his poor judgement. A unprecedentedly large team of campaign workers and reporters heads to Alaska to see what they can discover about this right wing nut job.
The McCain camp responds - but only after McCain's response to financial crisis alienates his base yet again and his poll numbers begin to tumble. Palin becomes the standard bearer on the attack (a traditional VP candidate role) and uses Bill Ayers as the first shot. The goal, of course, is to demonstrate that Obama's association with Ayers demonstrates he's not part of the independent center (he's not like us and might be dangerous and demonstrates poor judgement...).
[Meanwhile, though not picked up by major news outlets or touted by the McCain campaign, disturbing videos of Obama supporters begin to appear on the web. Children singing praise, young men marching and chanting...]
But team Obama responds to the Palin "attack" ("attack" in this case is the term the media used): her implication that Obama is "not like us" is clearly a racist attack. The Great Independent American Center isn't racist (she's not like us - there are a lot of racists out there who are a threat and she is one of them). Suddenly, people yelling at McCain/Palin rallies are newsworthy (never mind that voter registration cards weren't checked at the door...) and equally suddenly Obama - the Obama in the newspapers and on TV - is a victim of ugly attack politics, and crowds at McCain/Palin events are getting out of control...
Meanwhile, in the wake of McCain's response to the financial crisis a significant sector of the actual conservative American right becomes completely dispirited by the realization that they have a choice between a centrist and a leftist. They aren't impressed with attempts by team McCain to portray Obama as a guy significantly to the left of center because they know very well that Obama is exactly that.
And Obama reaches a point in the polls where he can tell a plumber to his face that he's going to raise his taxes to give the money to others without fear of alienating the Great Independent American Center.
And that brings us to tonight's debate. Some of my fellow milbloggers and I will be liveblogging it, and you can join in. Hope to see you there.
By the way, I should add that this distinguished liveblog panel is also composed almost entirely of two-time winners of Time Magazine's Person of the Year award (2003: "The American Soldier" and 2006: "You" - online content providers) but we aren't elitists, and welcome all those who've only won once to join in.
Thank God the debates are over. Now we can get on with the business of making sure Obama doesn't get into the White House!Posted by Pasadena Closet Conservative at October 16, 2008 03:12 AM
By every means necessary we cannot let Obama become CIC of our military; no way, no how, not ever.Posted by syn at October 16, 2008 11:38 AM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(2) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)