Change? Experience? Character?

I started this post three weeks ago and then got lazy. I figured with the convention this week it'd be a good time to do a political post though.

This election it seems that the themes each campaign has chosen correspond to their own weaknesses. John McCain is running on "experience" despite the fact that he's never held any executive or managerial position in his life. McCain's also running on character and "putting America first," despite his temper tantrums and slime-slinging campaign ads, and the fact that his chief of staff was recently a paid agent of a foreign government.

Barack Obama is running on change, and in the primary most of the positions he laid out clearly were a break from the status quo. However since then he's bought in to three major establishment ideas: immunity for telecom companies that aided the government in illegal domestic intelligence collection; the prioritizing of Israel's short-term security over that of the Middle East as a whole; and the selection of Joe Biden as his VP pick (not a bad pick, but not exactly about "change"). His staff selection also is filled with experienced Washington people - and while you definitely need some experience so you can figure out how the place works, filling your Senate staff with Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle staffers doesn't exactly signal that you want to transform American politics.

John McCain's primary argument is that he's experienced and Obama's a novice who will mess everything up. A look at their campaigns suggests otherwise. Obama's been called "Machiavellian" due to his ruthlessly efficient campaign. Disputes within his office (and I'm assuming they exist) do not end up on the front page of the Washington Post or New York Times the way they do in McCain's campaign and the way they did in Hillary Clinton's. He has raised money hand over fist. His ground operations were by all accounts much better than those of his rivals. He's laying the groundwork for his reelection campaign in 2012 even before he's elected.

Contrast that to McCain's campaign, which is so disorganized he doesn't even know his own positions on key issues like birth control or climate change. He cycles through different cliques of advisers - does he want to be "the original maverick"? Or does he want Karl Rove's proteges to bring him evangelical votes? The answer changes every few months. After a series of attack ads against Obama, defenders of McCain were arguing that McCain was such an 'honorable' guy that his campaign would only put those ads out if McCain wasn't totally in control. It takes a special kind of campaign to reduce the candidate's five years in a torture cell to a farce.

McCain's character and integrity has been a sacred cow in the national press corps - despite reversing practically all of his political positions to win the Republican nomination, cheating on his first wife, his involvement in a corruption scandal, his repeated attempts to portray Obama as un-American, and various other failings of character.

Perhaps some campaigns decide to attack other candidates along certain lines in order to take the focus off their own failings. By attacking the other candidate's character or change credentials, maybe they hope they won't have to defend their own. I can't figure the exact reasoning but it definitely makes for a surreal campaign.

As an addendum, all this talking head crap on TV about a divided Democratic party is stupid. The Democratic party is divided over personalities, which can be much more easily mended than being divided over substance. The GOP on the other hand is divided over substance and the entire direction of party, which threatens to split the entire party in a national realignment.

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