[Posted by Karl]
The establishment media continues to drive the theme that John McCain needs a game-changer at tonight’s debate. I find myself in the odd position of agreeing more with Stu Eizenstadt that Presidential debates have historically tended to help the lesser-known opponent for the party out of power at the expense of the better-known candidate of the incumbent party. Thus, the debates were (absent some monumental gaffe) likely favor to Obama even before the current economic turmoil moved the middle against the GOP.
I tend to doubt that there is a game-changer to be had, let alone that the McCain campaign could come up with one.
However, McCain could use the third debate to frame the final three weeks of his campaign. The Obama campaign seems to be returning to the theme that McCain is erratic and unsteady. McCain could make the case that he is in fact The Devil You Know — or simply “tested,” if Maverick is not comfy playing Satan to the Obamessiah.
It is a strategy that might seem counter-intuitive, given that this year was shaping up as a “change” election, much like those we have had about every 16 years since WWII, long before the current panic in the financial markets. Some examples may explain my hypothesis.
My main examples of this approach address the economy, which is likely to be the main topic about which voters want to hear.
Regarding the current turmoil in the financial markets, McCain would do well to frame the issue as concisely as the independent ad from Let Freedom Ring, making the point that McCain pushed for regulation of the risky mortgage buying practices at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2006, while Obama was AWOL. McCain could rhetorically ask, “If Sen. Obama thinks deregulation was the problem, where was he when I was trying to regulate Fannie and Freddie?” On this issue, McCain can argue that he has a good record, while Obama does not.
If Obama raises the March 2007 letter Obama wrote to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treaury Secretary Henry Paulson, McCain should respond that not only was it too late for the “discussion” Obama sought in 2007, but also that Obama’s letter called for the government to “support independent community-based-organizations to provide counseling and work-out services to prevent foreclosure and preserve homeownership where practical” — which is code for shoveling federal money to ACORN, Obama’s pals in community organizing, who helped fuel the current crisis in the first instance and who are under suspicion of voter registration fraud in a dozen states, primarily battleground states. As a bonus, McCain could note that at the same time Obama was sending that letter, one of Obama’s top economic advisers was flacking for subprime lending harder than Sen. Chris Dodd. This is something he should have been doing since Lehman Bros. went under, but better late than never.
McCain should clearly pitch his new tax proposals for middle-class voters. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the “town hall” debate was that McCain rolled out that $300 billion mortgage buy-out program in a way that few in the media even noticed in the post-debate analysis. If the people who have heard the candidates’ stump material time and again did not notice, how many persuadable voters did? The latest Pew poll shows that people think Obama does a better job at explaining his proposals. That fail-yuh to communicate causes some to think that Obama is the candidate of low-taxes.
Accordingly, McCain ought to hit Obama with the plumber whom Obama seems so eager to tax, along with Obama’s plan to hike payroll taxes and taxes on small business and investment, noting that Obama’s tax credits are a bait-and-switch scheme, rather than rate cuts. And he should stress his record on keeping taxes low, in contrast to the 94 votes Obama has cast against low taxes. On taxes, McCain has the record of being for lower taxes, while Obama has the record of supporting higher taxes.
McCain already made a similar comparison on spending in the first debate. But he ought to add that when Obama was asked in that debate where he would cut spending, he not only dodged the question, but also answered by listing at least five major spending increases on energy, healthcare, technology, education and infrastructure. Here again, McCain can argue that he has a record of trying to restrain wasteful federal spending, while Obama does not.
McCain should also stress that he is known for working with Democrats on contentious issues like campaign finance reform, but would also serve to check the excesses of a Democratic Congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
In contrast, Obama has by one account the most liberal record in the US Senate, and gives no indication that he would act as a brake on the Pelosi-Reid axis. Obama told 60 Minutes that, “One of the things I’m good at is getting people in a room with a bunch of different ideas who sometimes violently disagree with each other and finding common ground, and a sense of common direction.” In reality, Obama’s record is one of working with the GOP only on bills so small or uncontroversial that they pass by unanimous consent or voice vote. Obama’s record is one of working instead with former terrorist Bill Ayers, organizing radical preachers in Chicago, handing out money to ACORN and picking up the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America.
It has been a central tenet of McCain’s campaign strategery that McCain is a better ideological match with voters’ ideology than is Obama. McCain need not dwell on Obama’s lifelong alliances with the radical Left to make the point. He may need to remind voters that those alliances are part of Obama’s record, which often stands in stark contrast to the McCain record on most issues. He may need to persuade voters that Obama’s campaign promises often do not jibe with his record, and that high taxes and protectionism will worsen the economy.