Months ago, I predicted a McCain victory in November, and many were incredulous, or disgusted. Now, McCain has pulled even with Obama in most polls, and leads in this one -- in which voters actually give McCain better marks on the economy.
We're seeing a replay of 2004. The tall, elegant, patrician Democratic candidate is too high-minded, and too given to speechifying. Unlike his earthier opponent, he's incapable of giving a crisp, black-and-white 3-word answer. He's terribly shocked at all the unfair attacks, and is asking his tough, ruthless opponent to stop being so mean. When Joe Sixpack hears this, he says to himself: "What a wimp." As Josh Marshall says, "STOP BEGGING."
As I feared, Obama is indeed running the sort of goody-two-shoes, policy-driven campaign that leaves ordinary Americans cold (but which strikes the European bourgeoisie as just what the doctor ordered). Unless he changes tack quickly, Obama's going to lose, for the reasons Theda Skocpol lays out here:
Politics is not just about issues, it is a metaphorical test of strength. If a man will not get immediately -- if quietly -- angry and fight back when his patriotism is attacked, why should we trust him to defend the country? And if he won't punch back by explaining clearly why his approach to foreign policy is actually tougher and smarter, why McCain's is thoughtless and reckless, why would we think he is better to be Commander in Chief?
Obama is lucky he is not further behind already. And he is going to fade fast if he just runs a feel-good, bland convention about abstract "hope" and "change." In addition to getting gritty and colorfully clear about his recipe for making Americans' lives better -- AND about his approach to make this nation safer and stronger in the world -- Obama needs to signal all the major speakers at next week's convention to go after McCain in a key part of each speech.
I hope Obama is smart enough to realize that he needs to start talking the gritty certainties that shape the world-view of the millions of the voters who don't have a college degree and don't want to be talked to in a way that seems to require one. But then again, I thought John Kerry would see this writing on the wall, and he never did. So I stand glumly by my prediction.