Friday, September 12, 2008

An Obama Pre-Mortem

No, I don't think Obama's dead. I don't even think he's going to lose the election (although Intrade is currently McCain 53.1, Obama 45.9). But he's certainly in need of a mid-course correction. A couple of days ago, Howard Fineman enumerated Obama's major mistakes:
  • Declining to take federal financing for the general election
  • Declining McCain’s offer to hold ten town hall debates
  • Failing to go all the way with the Clintons
  • The 22-state strategy [expanding the set of battleground states]
  • Failing to state a sweeping, but concrete, policy idea
  • Remaining trapped in professor-observer speak
  • Failing to attack McCain early
Fineman continues:
But if I were an Obama partisan I would be worried that his mistakes have a common thread - pride.

Obama seems to want to do things on his own, and on his own terms. It’s understandable. Obama has his own crowd – from Chicago, from Harvard, and from a new cadre of wealthy, Ivy-educated movers and shakers.

“He’s an arrogant S.O.B.,” one of the latter told me today. “He wants to do it his way, and his way alone.” But politics doesn’t work that way. And has Obama should know, or is about to find out, that everyone needs a little help.
It occurs to me that Obama (and his advisers) are making the sort of mistake with their reliance on the rock star strategy and on the unelaborated "change" mantra that Hillary Clinton made with the "inevitability" strategy. Both strategies are miles wide and an inch deep. Once punctured, they're worthless. The rock star meme wore very poorly and needed only minor ridicule to crumble. And the "change" meme, as Tom Friedman pointed out (and I concurred), was easily devalued by McCain co-opting it.

So Obama's left with having to behave like a real live politician and slug it out. He can do this; he's an engaging speaker and has an arsenal of issues with positions that are going to be more popular than McCain's.

I'd love to see an issues-oriented campaign but they're as rare as snow in July. (Cf. the last 3 weeks, any of you who doubt me.) And there's one overwhelmingly important point: Obama has never won a contested election. He made it into the Illinois state senate by disqualifying everybody else on the ballot and he won his US senate seat following the Jack and Jeri Ryan implosion. He's lucky, but he's not tough. "Not tough" is not an adjectival phrase one ever associates with John McCain.

Looks like the media are going to get the thing they've worked for so assiduously: a really interesting election. I am prepared to consume lots of media and watch lots of advertising.

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