September 27, 2008

Jim, let me just make a point. I’ve got a bracelet, too…
~Barack Obama

This statement, better than anything else said, sums up Barack Obama’s performance at the presidential debate last night. Coming in a close second would be this exchange on the Georgia-Russia situation (or was it the Wall Street bailouts?):

LEHRER: You see any”€”do you have a major difference with what [McCain] just said?

OBAMA: No, actually, I think Senator McCain and I agree for the most part on these issues.

The bracelet comment was more poignant in that it reveals who Barack Obama could have been”€”and most definitely is not“€”as a presidential candidate.

I can”€™t say for sure, but I imagine the soldier’s mom who gave Obama the plastic bracelet imagines he’s something close to George McGovern or Ron Paul, or maybe even a real peacenik or antiwar Leftist. What she wants is a candidate to exclaim, boldly and genuinely, “€œCome Home, America!“€ And truly, Obama would be a fascinating candidate if he actually were any variation on the antiwar populist. Instead, he’s become an off-the-rack Democrat who’s brought an assortment of liberal interventionists, most notably Madeleine Albright, Susan Rice, and Joe Biden, on as advisers. The soldier’s mother, as well as all those who”€™re supporting Obama specifically because they want to end the war, still don”€™t grasp the fact that though Obama would get us out of Iraq a little bit sooner than would McCain, his plans is to redeploy these soldiers to Afghanistan and retain current troop levels in the region. The idea that Obama would want to shrink America’s worldwide military commitments is ludicrous—the opposite is true.     

Because Obama has gone this direction, all he was capable of last night was some me-too-ism (most notably with Georgia and the bailouts), a few “€œI told you so”€s with regard to invading Iraq (which make him seem like he’s stuck in the past, re-fighting all those battles from 2003), and then, worst of all, some aping of GOP war-hawk rhetoric in a new context. Obama was essentially arguing that his opponent “€œtook his eye off the ball”€ in Afghanistan and missed the real central front on the war on terror. Obama wanted us to believe that he would be best suited to enact a new surge in the land of the Afghans and expand a war there that is looking like it’s even more unwinnable than Iraq.

This is a losing rhetorical strategy (or is it a tactic?). And I have little doubt that Obama was beaten in last night’s debate. (But I can”€™t say for sure—the TV pundits will make the final determination of who the public should think won or lost, and I”€™ve cancelled cable.)

Regardless of who will be declared victorious, Obama’s abandonment of the antiwar Left means that we all just watched the Seinfeld of political events”€”a debate about nothing.

I”€™ve had my disagreements with Ross Douthat in the past; however, he’s right on the money with his depiction of the kind of big Zero Burger the presidential race has become:  

It’s the Russo-Georgian War all over again: McCain responds boldly/impulsively, Obama responds carefully/overcautiously, but they both end up saying roughly the same thing, and the pundit class goes back to obsessing about whatever shocking poll or web ad has been released that day.

Partisans on both sides claim that we’re staring into the abyss: If you listen to some conservatives, you’d think that John McCain and Sarah Palin are all that stands between turning over U.S. foreign policy to William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright; if you listen to some Obamaphiles, you’d think that a vote for McCain is a vote for fascism, or theocracy, or the Putinization of America. But if you watch the candidates themselves, and listen to them, the stakes seem much, much lower.

Whether Obama wins or loses he will be remembered as a what might have been. 


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