Much is being made of the only electability strength John McCain seems to hold over Obama, that is, the belief he is stronger on homeland security. I have little doubt Obama has his response planned if there is a natural or man-made catastrophe prior to the election1. I can only hope that if such an event occurs it won’t propel McCain into the White House.
Americans are suckers for imagery. Tough talking usually trumps reason.
Witness how Rudy Guiliani is now being rolled out as a McCain surrogate on fighting terrorism. Only the Democrats are reminding us that it was Rudy who located New York City’s emergency response center in the World Trade Center even after it was bombed in 1993, and the fire department and police department couldn’t communicate via radio on September 11th because they still didn’t have a shared frequency.
Obama should get a jump on McCain, who has to be careful about criticizing George Bush for not firing Michael Chertoff after Katrina, by emphasizing that he will assure that his Homeland Security Department director will assure will handle disasters, whether they come from nature or terrorists.
Obama can also point out what Frank Rich notes (in his New York Times OpEd): “the McCain terror expert is the former C.I.A. director James Woolsey. He (like Charles Black McCain’s chief strategist) was a cheerleader for Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled Iraqi leader who helped promote phony Iraqi W.M.D. intelligence in 2002 and who is persona non grata to American officials in Iraq today because of his ties to Iran.”
While McCain’s tough talking leaves me cold, apparently many Americans who still buy a 62 year old Sly Stallone playing Rambo IV, view him as a warrior.
Nobody can take away the fact that McCain flew into harm’s way during the Vietnam War and behaved heroically during his years as a POW2. But why does this status make him any tougher than Barak Obama?
Is anybody going to say that Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who was only 52 when elected president, five years older than Obama would be) wasn’t as tough as Winston Churchhill who saw combat in India, the Sudan, the Second Boer War and briefly in World War I?
Countering the tough guy image enjoyed by McCain should be made easier by taking advantage of McCain’s seeming inability to control his snide superior smile even when trying to effect gravitas.
Obama has a natural, or at least natural appearing, ability to publicly convey humor when appropriate and at other times talk seriously about the future of our nation.
While McCain’s speech writers may tone down the bellicosity, I think their candidate’s natural tendency is to veer into pugnacious and combative language when trying to convey that he’s commander-in-chief material. Unless he gets a personality implant, this will come out in interviews and during the debates.
Obama needs to be mindful of the disastrous Dukakis lecture about how he’d react if his wife was raped and add a solemn passion to his words about national security. This can challenge some of the McCain as Rambo voters to reevaluate their sense that Obama isn’t tough enough to be commander in chief.
I understand why many liberals are upset about every degree Obama tacks towards the middle, and every tactical compromise like now wearing the flag pin, which he makes. But to get elected Obama has to package and market himself to voters who respond more to images than substance.
There is no more important area where this applies than national security.
Related: Last weeks column “Obama’s a Muslim, McCain will keep us safer from terrorism, and there are ghosts in Middleboro Town Hall” about gullibility and critical thinking and an article in Washington Post “In Flag City USA, False Obama Rumors Are Flying” read what an ordinary 74 year old poster child for the inability to thinking critically has to say about why he can’t decided whether or not to believe Obama is “a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance”.
1 Or the as of today no-longer secret war against Iran escalates and McCain can claim that the country needs a tested warrior more than ever. Read the important Seymour Hersh New Yorker article just published: “Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran”
2 Of course we still don’t know for an absolute fact what happened to McCain during his years as a POW. His North Vietnamese jailer, a man who recently endorsed him, tells a far different story than McCain does. See “‘Hanoi Hilton’ jailer says he’d vote for McCain”