Thursday, September 25, 2008

Obama's Opening

A good article about the opportunity Obama has in the upcoming debate focused on foreign policy:

Obama’s Opening

The first debate is on McCain’s favored ground: foreign affairs—which presents his opponent with a large opportunity. By John Heilemann

With Wall Street in flames, the credit markets quaking, and the financial system in utter disarray, last week was pretty bad for pretty much everyone—except Barack Obama. It was a good week for the Democratic nominee, first and foremost, because he was no longer talking defensively about the array of pseudo-issues, from sex education for kindergartners to lipstick-festooned pigs, that had consumed the campaign in the wake of the Republican convention. Because the economy was front and center, and the economy is the biggest club that Obama has in his bag. Because he did a creditable job of using that club to pummel his opponent. And, not least, because John McCain did an even better job of pummeling himself.

The McCain train wreck on the economy was both predictable and predicted. But who ever thought his incoherence would be quite this rank? The lurch from “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” to “we are in a total crisis.” The lunge from a career-long stance of “I’m always for less regulation” to calling for a new “proactive” institution to intervene in the financial sector. The shift from opposing the AIG bailout to supporting it—in the space of 24 hours! And then, of course, there was the assessment of McCain’s voluble economic surrogate, Carly Fiorina, that “I don’t think John McCain could run a major corporation,” a judgment so accurate, impolitic, and damning that it earned her one of the great blind quotes (offered by a top McCain adviser to of this election cycle: “Carly will now disappear.”

No wonder then that by the end of the week, Obama had retaken a slight lead over McCain in the national polls conducted as the financial crisis hit. The Republican bounce had dissipated. The Sarah Palin bubble seemed to be deflating. And the horse race had reverted more or less to where it was before the two parties’ national conventions.

As I said, a good week for Obama—but a week now come and gone. The financial crisis is almost certainly not over, and its fallout will be with us for years to come. But the story line of the campaign is about to pivot to foreign policy and national security. Why? Because those are the topics on the agenda at the first Obama-McCain debate this coming Friday at Ole Miss. A lucky break for McCain, I hear you saying, a chance to move the debate to ground that favors him. And you may be right. Or maybe, just maybe, it will prove to be the moment when Obama begins to put this thing away.


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