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Fight With Me

Most Americans already know quite a bit about John McCain. They even know enough not to expect that much from his speeches, so last night’s lack of fireworks shouldn’t matter too much. McCain already has a very strong personal story – his character was tested as a Vietnam POW, he’s spent his entire adult life serving his country, he’s a maverick. He does very well at small scale ‘town hall’ meetings, and the rejigged stafe for his acceptance speech jutted out and was set quite low into the crowd to try to maximise that effect. But ultimately the speech didn’t add anything new to the race. Sarah Palin’s speech did – it proved she was no Dan Quayle, and, as this poll confirms, the general theory is that she has energised the Republican base (whilst repulsing the Democratic one). But McCain has nothing new to give.

That is of course his electoral weakness. His opponent, Barack Obama, has new in spades – he is the most novel of candidates in this most novel of election years. So what McCain has to do is keep emphasising his stolidness – the safety of trusting reform to an incrementalist – and hope that the American public get scared by Obama’s newness, rather than inspired by it. Obama’s task is much more active: he has to convince the electorate that, however well they know McCain, novelty is exactly what America needs.

McCain did enough last night to remain a ‘known known’, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, whilst distancing himself from the deeply unpopular administration of which Rumsfeld was once a member. Obama will find it harder now that Bush and Cheney did not appear in person at the Republican National Convention, and all that country first party second stuff has creeped into our unconscious, to lift himself by chaining McCain to Bush. (Though he will keep on doing so.) Now the real fight between the two of them begins.

You may have noticed I get fixated on the horserace nature of election campaigns. This is mostly because, on policy, I’m so clearly decided. McCain, and particularly Palin, are anethema to me. Alas, that doesn’t stop me admiring what has so far been an extremely canny underdog’s campaign. Going into the final eight weeks, McCain has somehow pulled even with the junior senator from Illinois. Obama keeps saying that the election isn’t about him, but the voters. In fact, it’s practically a referendum on him. Without risking an accusation of hubris, the ball’s now in his court … it seems to me that he needs to hit it back with a strong backhand to McCain which states unequivocally why Americans don’t need the guy they’ve always known.

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3 thoughts on “Fight With Me

  1. I’d comment on one of these if only I felt, y’know, qualified to do so, but they’re really interesting all the same. Thanks for posting them.

  2. danhartland says:

    Iain, this is the internet. Since when did any of us need to be qualified? 😛

    I read in The Observer today that:

    “Who will win this area of the election is simply impossible to tell, not least because the Republicans and Democrats are in effect running two different races. Democrats are betting that rock-solid issues will decide this election. Obama’s prime-time speech was laden with policy detail. The Democrats have plans to create universal healthcare, change course on Iraq and increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans. The Republicans are making the opposite bet. They believe stirring personal narratives – such as McCain’s war record and Palin’s working mother ethos – will decide this election. They are betting that voters are looking for people to vote for, not policies. As McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davies, openly confessed last week: ‘This election is not about issues.’ Only time will tell which approach is right.”

    If we continue to analyse the campaign in the light of Westen’s book, we don’t need any time at all to know…

  3. tom rowley says:

    I’m afraid that Babs is not her name, but its a contraction of the word ‘babushka’ that is old woman. its what everyone calls the old lady that we stay with (in my case, old babsuns).

    kizhi was amazing, the photos are ok but they dont obviously do it justice. going to kivach waterfall thisw eekend I think.

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