Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How McCain could have won

He still can, and Howard Wolfson continues in the curious Beltway tradition of premortems. It has gotten me thinking a bit, though. What would I have done differently if I were John McCain?

It boils down to two things: dump the base and respect peoples' intelligence. That's right, dump the base. Most of them will find their way back because they hate/fear Barack Obama, so don't worry about 'em. Winning the base alone is not enough this year, and McCain's strategy seems to have been to move far to the right and hope that he'd have enough residual centrist cred to appeal to the center. It did not work.

Instead, McCain could have run an Eisenhower-like campaign. Ostentatious centrism might have worked well this year. He could have avoided flipping on the Bush tax cuts to begin with, or flip back after the primaries and say that he'd changed his mind and that the cuts should be allowed to expire. Adopt something like Obama's tax plan, junk the giveaways to the rich. Sign on to the Wyden-Bennett health care plan, say that Obama's plan for UHC is too socialistic or whatever, and that his plan is better. Become (and remain) the more green candidate in the race, and point out that Obama's record on these issues leaves something to be desired because of his support for coal. Talk about spending and promise to balance the budget for real by means-testing social security and other entitlements. Commit to public financing of elections, saying that part of the reason there's so much spending is because of campaign contributions. Announce that he'll have no litmus test for judges, and that he'll end the Iraq War and have everyone out in four years. He could even say that the surge made victory possible, and that Maliki's endorsement of Obama's plan represents victory.

And he could have picked Bobby Jindal for VP. The pick would have made a splash, just like the pick of Palin did: he's a young conservative governor with a reformist record. But Jindal has many other advantages. He's from the South. He is fluent in policy and can speak in complete sentences. He's a plausible president in a way that Palin isn't, and he's a serious conservative thinker instead of a vapid repeater of talking points. Such a decision would have appeared less calculating in terms of trying to capture disgruntled Hillaryites, and while it might have looked like an attempt to steal the historic label away from Obama by picking someone of another race, it would be less calculating than if, say, McCain had picked J. C. Watts, and certainly less cynical than picking Palin. It would have been a base pick for VP, just like Palin was, only it would probably have been accepted more by the public at large because Jindal isn't an idiot.

I spend so much time on the VP pick since I do think it was McCain's biggest mistake in this election cycle. Picking Jindal, being right on the social issues, and relying on base loathing of Obama might have been enough to secure the base, while moving sharply to the center on domestic policy issues (and maybe even on some foreign policy issues) and maintaining his honor would have been winners for the center. Maybe he could even have admitted that George W. Bush was a failure. Oh, the bittersweet memories of what might have been...wait, what am I saying? I want McCain to lose! Of course, I would have preferred him to lose in some way like this, rather than because he's just an incompetent, stupid, and sleazy pol. It taints the mandate.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.