I caught the roundtable part of This Week on ABC and the Meet the Press on NBC this Sunday. This Week had a Republican strategist Mathew Dowd on, who said something startling to me, until I realized he was not so much describing as trying to direct. He said the election would not be about issues, it would be about the experience and values of the candidates. Well, sure, McCain wants the only issue to be that he will maintain the status quo, and Obama will raise taxes and change things. Whenever you can make it seem like a black man is saying “things gonna change ’round here”, you can make some large segment of the population nervous. McCain is going after the Republican base, the evangelicals (those presumably not already part of the Republican base) and independent and conservative white Democratic voters with no more than a high school degree. Obama presumably is going after educated white Democratic, independent and even Republican voters, as well as the Democratic base and a fair number of young voters. Mathew Dowd was at pains to say that many voters had no participated in the primaries (even though Democrats reported record turnouts) and that the young people who voted in the primaries would not turnout for the general.
There is a fair danger that Mathew Dowd is correct. It is pretty difficult to get and/or keep undereducated voters to focus on issues. They internalize character issues and scandal more easily (a lot of the time so too do educated voters). Obama is getting help from the NYTimes on this front, but even that is a double edged sword, reinforcing accusations that Obama is elitist. I suspect the unions will help. Despite the fact the Democrats felt somewhat betrayed by Clinton in 1992, I don’t think they want to risk losing Congress again.
If McCain is elected, he will likely face a Democratic Congress that still does not have a veto proof majority in the Senate. He will have to decide, if the Congress does decide to pass a universal health insurance bill (and in this situation they could pass Edwards’ plan as easily as Obama’s), would he veto it. If the Congress passed tax cuts for the middle class and poor, and let the Bush tax cuts expire, would McCain veto those. Honestly I have no idea, but certainly a return to government gridlock, for at least two years until the midterms, could be possible.
What’s interesting is that conservatives are partly right in talking about how liberal are talking about McCain. He used to be the Democrats best friend outside their own party. He attacked the Bush tax cuts, he supported Tom Daschle who wanted to investigate what the administration knew about 9/11 and he sponsored and passed the anti-torture bill. But McCain has backpedaled on quite a bit. He now wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent (Congress passed them as temporary) and he agrees with the administration’s definition of torture.
I think John McCain has the potential to be another Ronald Reagan, a plain spoken guy, this time a genuine hero (although a person being a hero for being a POW is a bit dubious), and someone liked even by some liberals like Jon Stewart. But I think if Obama sticks to talking about the issues, about how policy affects real people, he can keep the election focused where it needs to be - on us, not on the personalities or characteristics of the candidates.
One more brief note. Sarah Palin is described as an expert on energy policy. Maria Bartiromo said as much, based on Palin’s two years as governor, and unknown time on the State Oil and Gas board as the ethic commissioner. She resigned the board after sometime, complaining about the ethics of her fellow (Republican) commissioners. I note she raised the tax on oil and gas production at some point during the last two years. She placed the interests of 600,000 Alaskans over 299,400,000 lower 48 and 1 island Americans. This is an indication of her expertise?