Why McCain Needs to Focus on Issues

Rich Lowry argues that the McCain campaign’s decision to “double down” on character attacks in the last month of the campaign is a losing strategy.

McCain has to meet a higher standard. Not having a compelling economic message before the financial crisis hit was malpractice; now it’s madness. McCain’s pet causes of bipartisanship and earmark reform don’t qualify as such a message. Bipartisanship is an empty concept; the parties can unite just as easily to pass foolhardy laws as necessary ones. Meanwhile, only John McCain would — as he did in the first debate —steer a discussion about a complex global credit crunch onto earmarked federal spending for bear DNA research.

McCain has suffered from his own manifest lack of interest in economic issues. He was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee for four years, but you’d never know it.

[…]

McCain has to make the case that Obama’s most dangerous association is with a Democratic Congress that will take Obama’s proposals for tax and spending increases and make them much worse.

Otherwise, the race might take on the cast of the 1992 campaign. In the midst of economic discontent, George H.W. Bush ran against Bill Clinton on character and experience. Clinton pledged to fix the economy. Bush had little or nothing to offer the middle class, while Clinton (like Obama this year) promised those voters a tax cut.

Obviously, I agree, but one of the major problems that McCain has on the economics front is precisely is lack of interest in such matters. In his speeches, he mouths platitudes against “greed.” In his record, he’s pretty much just voted with the rest of his fellow Republicans. He’s never been a leader on economic issues. And his campaign’s policy is emblematic of that. It’s a hodgepodge with no real focus. I believe that Barack Obama has some real vulnerability on economic issues. Particularly, his opposition to free trade agreements and his xenophobic ads against foreign cars and other foreign products, not to mention his ill-defined “regulate more!” solutions to economic problems.

John McCain could be hitting Obama on those issues. That he’s not, though, isn’t much of a surprise.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Economics and Business, ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Obama’s character, or rather his lack of it, IS the issue, since all the rest of his choices, and positions, spring from that lack.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Bithead,

    Do you think McCain really wants people taking a hard look at his character? Are you willing to?

    What’s your opinion on philandering adulterers?

    I think McCain would be wise to keep the debate focused on issues, myself. Frankly, it’s better for America if the debate remains at the issue level. Constant personal attacks devalue the political process.

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    Not only will I say that bipartisanship wont help but that it is, generally, a political bad…from the point of view of taxpayers. Bipartisanship can be, in most cases, summarized as “how can we f*ck the sh*t out of the taxpayer?” I hate it. This is why I prefer gridlock. This is why, in the end neither candidate works for me. Obama with a Democratic Congress, not a very comforting thought, and McCain with his Maverick BS and bipartisanship crud is just slightly better (McCain fails in other areas so in the end he is just as bad).

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    I am also a gridlock fan. I’m hopeful that the elections will keep the Senate Republican minority with enough people to keep to the filibustering course.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Do you think McCain really wants people taking a hard look at his character?

    Yea, that’s a door I am willing to open. A hard look at McCain, away from his carefully crafted image is very revealing and not very pleasant.

  6. cian says:

    Like I said in comments to a previous post, if the polls start shifting in McCain’s direction on foot of these latest attacks, hold on to your hats. McCain’s guys are going right to the bottom. Reports of Palin’s supporters attacking journalists, and photographs of kids at her rallies wearing t-shirts depicting Obama with blood red crosses slashed over his features, is just the start.

    Ever since the economic crisis hit main street there has been a growing sense that the McCain team is losing control of themselves and the campaign. Now that lack of control seems to be spreading to their supporters.

    Palin is particularly shrill and her attacks are dangerous. Likening the nominee of one party to a terrorist sympathizer and as someone ‘not like us’ will attract all the wrong kind of support to McCain. But that’s where they are now, and God help us, it just might work.

  7. Bithead says:

    What’s your opinion on philandering adulterers?

    This is a threat, I take it?

    The issue is not his personal life, but what he does WRT his elected position. Wasn’t that the argument we got with Bill Clinton? Funny how all that goes out the window, at need, Alex. I can’t say I’m shocked; I more or less expected it. I’ll label it, though what it is, a desperation play.

    But yes, I’m quite willing to open that door. I suggest to you Americans are going to find someone involved with the people and groups Obama’s been connected to (And that he’s been denying being connected to) more of an issue, more of a threat to America, than a 20 years gone relationship.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    The issue is not his personal life, but what he does WRT his elected position. Wasn’t that the argument we got with Bill Clinton? Funny how all that goes out the window, at need, Alex. I can’t say I’m shocked; I more or less expected it. I’ll label it, though what it is, a desperation play.

    Bithead, I supported the articles of impeachment being filed against Clinton (I did not support him being removed from office, but I felt there ought to be some accountability for his perjury.) So, there’s that.

    However, let me be clear. There are people in this country who will care a lot more about the fact that McCain dumped his wife, who stood by him while he was trapped in a POW camp, for a younger, richer woman than a man that Obama met (by my count) less than 20 times over the course of a decade. Now, given that a lot of those people are social conservatives, they might not vote for Obama, but they might not vote, either.

    The problem with character based attacks is that once you open the door, you have no idea what will stick and what won’t. McCain has a lot of skeletons in his closet that are widely known among political junkies but not so much among the general public. On the other hand, Ayers, Wright, Rezko et al have been in the news for almost two years now, and Obama still currently leads in the polls by a significant margin. In other words, McCain’s character issues will be NEW to a lot of people. Ayers, etc. won’t be. So there’s a decent chance that character attacks will backfire on McCain.

    But the primary reason I oppose character based attacks is, by and large, that they’re stupid. Guilt by association in particular. I guarantee you that just about everybody has had business relationships with ethically unsavory characters. That’s just the way of the world. It sucks, but to get things done, sometimes you have to work with people like that. McCain should know–he worked with unrepentant segregationist Strom Thurmond on the Senate Armed Services Committee for years. Should we assume by that that McCain is a racist, too? Don’t be ridiculous. McCain was assigned to that Committee, so we worked with Thurmond. End of story.

    Elections should primarily be about issues, experience, and record. Diving into this character bs is nonsense on stilts.

  9. Billy says:

    When are you all going to learn to stop feeding the troll that is Bithead? He is incapable of acknowledging any of the many, many facts that explicitly refute the obviously ridiculous positions he takes in defense of his tribe.

    Please ignore him. It’s the only chance that he’ll shut up.

  10. anjin-san says:

    As far as Clinton goes, I was furious with him over the Monica incident. It showed poor judgment, lack of character, and a self-centeredness that is not a good quality in a leader. I still regard Clinton as a good President overall, but he is tainted by his character flaws.

    When Monicagate broke, Clinton was a sittinig President. McCain is running for President, and an assessment of his character on all levels is entirely in order. What is the objection to an examination of his treatment of women in general and his wives in particular? Got something to hide?

    He opened the door to the character argument, I am not really interested in whining from the right if they don’t like where it leads to.

  11. Bithead says:

    Bithead, I supported the articles of impeachment being filed against Clinton (I did not support him being removed from office, but I felt there ought to be some accountability for his perjury.) So, there’s that.

    There were, if you’ll recall, far more serious issues at stake with Clinton than the Blue Dress, all of which had to do with his lack of character and thereby his chocies.

    However, let me be clear. There are people in this country who will care a lot more about the fact that McCain dumped his wife, who stood by him while he was trapped in a POW camp, for a younger, richer woman than a man that Obama met (by my count) less than 20 times over the course of a decade.

    Actually, it was quite a bit more than 20, Alex, as more and more of that relationship gets peeled like an onion. I suspect and suppose that Obama’s peple are thinking you’re wrong. It’s the only explanation for the desperate diversion play we’re seeing from them just now.

    Obama has demonstrated from the outset that he would do anything he had to to keep that relationship hidden.

    As for the bit with the ex-wife, look, don’t blame Mccain if the pass he gets on that… and I think he will… was set up by Clinton supporters, a decade ago.

    When are you all going to learn to stop feeding the troll that is Bithead? He is incapable of acknowledging any of the many, many facts that explicitly refute the obviously ridiculous positions he takes in defense of his tribe.

    Funny thing, Billy; I’ve never seen you admit you were wrong in here. Not once. Trust me, you’ve been wrong enough for anyone to notice.

  12. just me says:

    Well I think McCain does need to give the voter a reason to vote for him-an “I’m not the other guy” strategy is never really a winning one in presidential politics.

    However, I think the problem with Obama is that his track record, what there is of it, is very liberal, but he seems to be running on a “I will bring you change, trust me on the details” type campaign.

    When the opponent is saying trust me, then character attacks can come into play IMO, but I think you still have to give a good reason to make the voter want you more than the guy who says “trust me.”

  13. anjin-san says:

    Actually, it was quite a bit more than 20

    Got documentation? (I have no idea how many times they met, but anyone that things any major figure on the national political scene does not have a few unsavory associations does not get out much)

  14. The Other Ed says:

    The Dow is down another 500 points today. That’s almost 900 in two days. If either candidate spends time on this type of trivial character garbage instead of the Economy, they’ll pay for it on Nov. 4th

  15. Joe R. says:

    As far as Clinton goes, I was furious with him over the Monica incident. It showed poor judgment, lack of character, and a self-centeredness that is not a good quality in a leader. I still regard Clinton as a good President overall, but he is tainted by his character flaws. When Monicagate broke, Clinton was a sittinig President.

    I grew up in Arkansas, and Clinton’s proclivities were common knowledge. In fact, I witnessed them firsthand (in the mid to late 80’s, he didn’t quite have Secret Service level security). This was before the internet, so word never spread, or was ignored. My point is that to pretend the press could not ever known and alerted the public is naive. They chose not to. The story could have broken years before Monicagate.

    Oh yeah…based on character, McCain is a bastard. So is Obama…or is exposing his children to racist rhetoric not a character flaw?

  16. Bithead says:

    Got documentation?

    Start reading Kurtz. More keeps getting added daily.

    (I have no idea how many times they met, but anyone that things any major figure on the national political scene does not have a few unsavory associations does not get out much)

    Else they’re above board.
    But isn’t it interesting how these things keep popping up, with Obama? And isn’t it interesting how every time, the individual in question was suppsoedly ‘not the person Obama thought they were’.

    One is forced to conclude Obama is a fool and a poor judge of character, else a liar and of poor character himself. There is no other logical conclusion to be drawn, once you start really digging into this.

    The Dow is down another 500 points today. That’s almost 900 in two days. If either candidate spends time on this type of trivial character garbage instead of the Economy, they’ll pay for it on Nov. 4th

    Makes the false assumption that the government can ‘fix’ the economy. The best thing government can do is get the hell out of the way. If you accept nothing else I’ve written, accept this: If the government failed of itself tomorrow, the economy would continue. If the economy failed tomorrow, the government would collapse 15 minutes later.

    The economy doesn’t need government. Rather, it is burdened by it.

  17. od says:

    I suspect that if most people were going to vote on character they’d write in someone other than either McCain or Obama – both of them sound like hypocrites when they start discussing the personal failings of the other.

  18. anjin-san says:
  19. Bithead says:

    So, given the post date on this vid, I’d say offhand that the attacks on McCain started quite a while ago. Rather hard, I should think, for Obama to now claim victimhood.

  20. anjin-san says:

    Rather hard, I should think, for Obama to now claim victimhood

    Obama claimed nothing. He had nothing to do with the video. It simply points out that McCain lied when he said he was going to run an honorable campaign and not go negative. His own words indict him…