Tuesday, July 08, 2008I have a confession to make: I think that Obama has been running a pretty bad campaign lately. Now some of his difficulties stem from dealing with a press corps that wants to McCain's BFF. The coverage of McCain's campaign has given "kid gloves" a new meaning, and the argument that Obama changed his position on Iraq or will raise taxes on middle class people is just silly. However, Obama has lost the crisp counter-punching style he exhibited shortly after he won the nomination, and is instead running like Al Gore or John Kerry - or worse, like someone who is protecting a lead.
Let me state one thing first - Obama does not have a lead. While he consistently has 4-6 point lead in the polls, only rarely does he break 50% in these polls - which means that all he has done thus far is assembled the base Gore/Kerry percentage of around 48% of the vote. The reason he has a lead is that McCain is doing much worse then Bush, and is only polling at around 43%. The other roughly 9% is still undecided, but by definition most of them voted for Bush last time. Now if Obama was running at 55% in the polls, THAT would be a real lead, and perhaps one worth protecting. But 48%? Not a defensible lead.
Second, Obama's "positioning" moves lately have been hamfisted. Yes they have been portrayed in their worst possible light by the McCain campaign and the national press corps. But Obama's folks should expect this - it's what's happened in previous election cycles, so why should it change now? Therefore, Obama should be EXTREMELY careful about any shifts in position - but he's not. There is now an emerging narrative that he is shifting to the center, the subtext of which is NOT that he's middle of the road, but that he's the same old type of politician who'll say whatever he needs to to win. Not good.
Third, even if some re-positioning is important, it is an elementary part of campaign strategy to not do so by changing one's (perceived) policy stances. The way you feint to the left in the primary is to emphasize those positions you have that are liberal, and then feint to the center by emphasizing your more moderate positions. There's nothing immoral about this, necessarily, and it protects one from a) looking shifty, and b) saying thing one doesn't mean.
Fourth, blurring the distinction between one's self and one's opponent only works when you do so where you are weak, while preserving the distinctions where one is wrong. Obama is weak on experience but strong on Iraq, therefore to moderate his position on Iraq is just dumb, since it lets McCain off the hook.
Fifth, Obama's re-positioning on abortion in particular has been a major blunder. His ability to rally Clinton's feminist supporters to him is most easily achieved through a defense abortion rights, and McCain is vulnerable on that issue (a lot of people mistakenly believe he's a moderate, when he's not). Rather than shifting to the center, he should just run as a pro-choice Democrat. Now what I think is happening is that Obama is trying to neutralize the religious right - to reduce their turnout, because they're already disillusioned with McCain. But this approach comes with tremendous risks, since you also risk fracturing your OWN base.
I'm pissed at him on FISA, but regrettably I don't think it's a mass voting issue, so it probably won't hurt him that much. Which is why I think his vote on the issue is so frustrating, since he's not going to lose on it. He's going to get attacked for being soft on defense anyway - why not using civil liberties and the protection of the Constitution as his defensive ground? It's stronger than a lot of other defensive postures he'll have to take on the subject.
Obama is clearly ahead at this point, but I really don't think he's been doing very well. Over the last couple of weeks he has been on the defensive, and if he doesn't make adjustments, he's going to stay that way.