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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Closing Argument

When NBC is willing to say that Obama has 286 electoral votes as of today--without Ohio or Florida(!)--then you know things aren't going well for McCain. Obama has more money and has apparently bought every last second of media time out there. The economic crisis hasn't done McCain any favors. Bush's unpopularity is a problem. But I think that McCain faces the same problem Hillary faced in the primaries: Obama is just hard to attack.

Part of the reason for that is race. Of course. There are attacks that one might try but that might be perceived (in some cases, correctly) as race-baiting or even racist. It's never clear, in advance, how attacks will be perceived. You might get away with a race-baiting attack, or you might get reviled for a non-racist attack that gets perceived as racist. So you're never certain how to proceed.

Then there is Obama's personality. His cool. He doesn't seem like a dangerous person. He just doesn't. You may not like him, but it would be hard to question his temperament. Or his intellect.

You can go after his lack of experience, but he just seems competent. In debates, interviews, all the time. The "first crisis" is not a bad argument, but it doesn't seem to be working. And his lack of a track record means that he doesn't have a long history of things to use in attacks--votes, positions, etc. His newness also makes him hard to attack. He doesn't have a paper trail.

I've said for a long time that it's hard to make fun of Obama. What does one make fun of, exactly? The comedians have tended to go after Obama's supporters, which can be funny, indeed. But it doesn't really hit him.

The McCain campaign seems to have decided to attack Obama's so-called "spread the wealth" policies as socialist and to try to persuade undecided voters that he is a secret socialist, even a "Marxist." That might be effective with the base of the GOP--folks who already think that the modern welfare state is "socialist" or "Marxist" will easily accept that Obama is a socialist.

But I would be surprised if this is an effective attack. It doesn't actually go to Obama's record or character, and it doesn't go to the current concerns of voters. In a time of plenty, or perceived plenty, voters may be turned off by redistributionist policies (Obama's policies are not that redistributionist). But it's like arguing for cutting capital gains taxes when most people have capital losses. In some contexts it might work. But not now. When you're worried about losing your job and your house, you may be more willing to pay income and property taxes. Because that means that you have income and property. Taxes are never popular, but I don't think voters are focused on taxes right now.

Anyone else have any thought?


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