Remember back in June (or was it July?) when John McCain was tanking in the polls (or was it Obama who was soaring?) and sage pundits suggested the presumptive Republican nominee had “frittered away . . . his three-month general election head start.” Some thought the presumptive Republican nominee didn’t do a good enough job making his case to the general electorate after having sown up the Republican nomination while his rivals in the opposition party were still slugging it out for the Democratic nod.
He lacked, as one observer put it, aÂ theme for his pudding.
Now, with the dynamics of the race shifted*, it seems that Barack Obama, having securing that Democratic berth for the fall contest, has frittered away the lead he once enjoyed.
I don’t think Obama frittered away the entire summer, only the second half. But, he made one huge campaign blunder which, combined with a refocused McCain campaign, allowed the Republican candidate to bounce back. The presumptive Democratic nominee was on the right track when he traveled to Middle East and Europe to shore up his diplomatic and Commander-in-Chief bona fides.
But, he should never have delivered a campaign-style speech on foreign soil.
Not only did it reek of presumption, that he was acting as if he had already won the White House, but it made the trip seem less a learning experience than a media stunt. He should have waited until he got back home to make a public address about his journey, telling the people he wished to lead about what he learned and how his meetings and observations abroad would inform his Administration, should he win election.
That speech showed that the campaign was long on style, but short on substance.
As Karl Rove wrote yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, “Besides withdrawing from Iraq, it’s not clear what issues are really important to [Obama].” As people slow start focusing on the presumptive Democratic nominee, they realize that there’s not much substance to his eloquent speeches.
As Peggy Noonan puts it today, Obama “is more compelling as a person than his words tend to be in text.”
The real reason the dynamics of this race have shifted is that Obama has not used the summer months to flesh out his agenda. He didn’t come back from Europe and articulate specific policy proposals. He has continued to run on the inspiring themes of hope and change which seemed to have worked so well in the race for the Democratic nomination. But, if those themes worked so well, how come he did so poorly in the final months of the contest?
The themes may inspire for a moment, but once people start thinking about them, they will wonder if the qualities which make a good orator necessarily make a good president.
Right now, while the political climate favors a Democratic nominee, the momentum of this particular election favors John McCain. (Please note I chose my words very carefully for that sentence.) The presumptive Republican nominee has convinced the American people he is ready to take on the role of Commander-in-Chief while voters still have doubts about Senator Obama’s capacity to lead.
What the Republican needs do now is, as Karl Rove said, “persuade Americans he can tackle domestic challenges.” Let me make this one prediction, if John McCain comes up with a credible and easy to explain policy to mend the economy, he will win this fall — and may even do so by a comfortable margin.
John McCain’s task is to deliver a speech in Minneapolis where he sets out such a policy while reminding us of his service and his record. Perhaps that’s the reason Peggy is more eager to watch his speech than Obama’s despite the latter’s superior rhetorical skills.
*And yet another sign of how uncanny it is when Bruce and I have similar notions for posts on the same day. I had mapped out this post before reading Bruce’s this morning. As the two posts show, while we often have similar ideas, we have very different styles. 🙂