No question, the past few weeks of the presidential campaign have been all about Barack Obama. The press covered the presumptive Democratic nominee’s trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Europe as it would a sitting president. Yet despite ample coverage in favorable locales — speaking before 200,000 screaming fans in Berlin, for instance — Obama continues to struggle for dominance in the polls.
Meantime, Obama’s Republican rival, John McCain has been focusing on . . . Barack Obama. McCain’s recent ads mocking Obama’s "messianic" campaign, accusing him of arrogance, and comparing him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton all question whether the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois is qualified for the presidency.
With Obama favored to win and the election less than 90 days away, the question remains: Is Obama ready to lead? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
John McCain has conceded what conservatives have been saying for months. There is no compelling reason to vote for him, except one: Defeating the Democrat. The election is a referendum on Obama. A vote for McCain is a "no" vote on Obama’s hectoring and deceptive message of "Hope" and "Change."
That’s fine. McCain-as-antidote to Obama’s messianism might be enough to eke out a win. Obama supporters have slammed McCain for taking the low road, but his ads are basically true: Obama’s charm and charisma cannot disguise the fact that he would raise taxes by letting the Bush tax cuts expire, boost federal spending by tens of billions of dollars, and promote a disastrous domestic and foreign policy agenda.
Arrogance bordering on hubris has characterized Obama’s campaign. Independent and undecided voters shouldn’t be fooled by partisan claims that "arrogance" is somehow a racist codeword. Just listen to the man. "We are the change we have been waiting for"? "This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal"? "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions"? Obama’s brilliance on the dais is not the same as leadership. It’s demagoguery.
If Barack Obama’s rhetoric is demagoguery, then let’s have more of it. After eight years of leadership that exploited our fears, it’s a welcome change to hear from a politician who appeals to our hopes. Republicans used to be experts at sunny optimism: It’s why Ronald Reagan — a man whose deification by the GOP makes Obama look like a piker — is still beloved. Now the party of "Morning in America" runs advertisements featuring Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. It’s an ugly sight.
It is often impossible to predict how a candidate will govern, and Obama is no exception. But his abilities in the pulpit are, in fact, one indicator of his ability to lead. Though it may be hard to remember in the era of a president with 29 percent approval ratings, most politicians find it easier to get things done if they can persuade voters to back their decisions. In a democracy, that’s not a bad thing.
If John McCain is running as "not Obama," it’s fair to say that one of Obama’s most appealing qualities is that he is not President Bush. He’d have a different approach to matters of war, foreign policy, the economy and energy. In the search for our next leader, those may be the best qualifications of all.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog at blog.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)