Thursday, August 21, 2008

Obama - McCain

Sorry for the prolonged absence - I haven't been kidnapped by the Russians, it's just that life's a little busy just at the moment. Besides, the domestic political scene is just so tedious at the moment. Whenever something dramatic happens - such as the Foreign Secretary making an almost unconcealed bid for power - you think 'surely this is the moment that Brown will have to do something!' And it isn't. He's just squatting in place apparently without the first idea of what to do. Ho hum, it's probably going to stay like this all the way up until 2010.
Across the pond it was beginning to look as if things were equally predicatable. The beatification of Barack Obama, the lacklustre campaigning of John McCain, the stagnant economy, unpopular Republican incumbent - all these things seemed to indicate an easy Democrat victory in November, an impression underlined by Obama's big poll leads. And yet there are several reasons for doubting this scenario.
Polling: recent polling has shown a dramatically tighter race, with some even showing McCain leading. Even more interestingly, it's far from unusual for the Democrat to be leading over the summer - Kerry was regularly outpolling Bush in 2004, in polls in 1983 Mondale was massively outpolling Reagan. Obama's early leads are, on this reading a) drying up, and b) unimpressive/irrelevant anyway.
The Media: Almost every article I read in the UK about the Presidential race seems to be an 'expose' on how McCain, despite his slavish following in the media, is really a neocon/zionist/racist/whatever. Yet it's reasonably clear that it is Obama who has, so far, been the subject of more hagiographies. Apart from the famous Chris Matthews leg chills, there's been article after article proclaiming him as wonderful and serious and statesmanlike and so on - regardless of what he actually says. Look at this in the New Statesman:
What we saw in Obama and McCain, in brief, was the cerebral versus the visceral. McCain, as a seasoned politician, knew instinctively which questions presented him with the opportunity to make political points and launch into anecdotes favourable to him - and when to be short and sharp. Obama did not, and instead did something politicians rarely do: he tried, to his cost, to answer questions straightforwardly.
But that went down with a resounding thud. Asked, for example, at what point a baby is entitled to human rights, Obama launched into a confusing ramble: "Well, I think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade. But let me speak more generally about the issue . . ."

Whatever that answer is, it's not an example of a politician answering questions straightforwardly.
Exposure: I said in my last piece on Obama that a whole lot of people are going to be really disappointed when they discover that Obama really is just another politician with a nice line in speeches. The problem he is having now is that he has received so much exposure that people are starting to believe this now. His honeymoon period seems to have worn off before he's even got to the Convention - let alone the election. In fact the media hero-worshipping may have done exactly what McCain needed: turned the election into a referendum on Barack Obama.
So, it isn't all over. Despite the fundraising and the sports stadia full of supporters, Obama is, for the first time in his political life, in a real battle against a serious Republican opponent. The new focus on foreign policy in the Caucasus will inevitably play more to Republican strengths than Democrat ones - and perhaps most important, Obama is now so high on a pedestal that there's really only one way for him to go. The form book may say Democrat, but the parties have done what they do best - the Republicans have picked the candidate most likely to win and the Democrats have picked the candidate most vulnerable to losing.

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