Experience alone does not a president make

by lestro

After a day of celebration, relaxation and pride (remember the day after the 2004 election?  What a difference around the world, eh?), it is time to get back to the hard work of political punditry and that, of course, means post mortems on the campaigns.

The big game today seems to be “what went wrong” for John McCain and Newsweek goes right for the jugular, asking if the McCampaign was “the worst ever.”

It is tough to say it was the worst campaign ever, but it certainly ranks among them. According to Newsweek, the reason it is the worst comes down to two words: Sarah Palin.

… Team McCain ran a campaign that ranks on the bottom of this list. This was an aimless and chaotic operation made worse by poor choices at key moments. Their first mistake was picking Gov. Sarah Palin.

Actually, this was NOT their “first mistake.” However, Palin was the Gateway Meme, the first look behind the curtain that allowed the general public to see how everything Johnny Mac said was like a turd in the punchbowl that cannot be denied.

It was clear by September 3, 2008, before Charles GibsonKatie Couric and Tina Fey pulled on the thread that would eventually unravel the campaign, what Newsweek now describes:

By picking Palin, McCain simultaneously eliminated his own best argument against Senator Obama—the limited experience of his opponent—while compounding his own most negative image, that of someone who was erratic and out of control. The pick also fueled the feeling that grew throughout September and October that the Republican candidate was willing to take any step necessary to win the campaign. The Palin pick made every decision that followed seem purely political.

Like Katrina pulled back the curtain on the Bush administration, Sarah Palin revealed McCain as willing to do or say anything to get elected, all with little to no forethought.

And that’s no way to run a campaign, let alone a government.

Newsweek lists as the second mistake the decision to go negative. It rarely works, but then again, they really had nothing else: they were out of ideas and their campaign was faltering in the face of a new political movement that was building.

But what Newsweek lists as the campaign’s third mistake is really the overriding problem, the real reason McCain never picked up steam.

The third mistake was the “no-state” strategy. In contrast to Obama’s “50-state” strategy whereby Democrats hoped to win support in red states, the Republican ticket moved from one state to the next without any clear rationale.

Just as the Republicans lacked a broader vision, they also lacked a clear electoral strategy. From the start, they were playing catch-up and allowing Democrats to drive their decisions.

It wasn’t just McCain. This was the same reason Obama beat Clinton and the reason it was obvious last year that he would be the nominee: This was an election about CHANGE, not just of president or party, but of a complete generational world view shift and Obama was the only candidate to recognize that.

Or as Scut put it last August:

What the people seem to want more than anything right now is CHANGE.  It’s time for a new way, a new voice and a new view. Baby boomers, your time is coming to an end.  Thanks for ruining the planet, making us fat and dooming the rest of us to an insurmountable mountain of debt, but step aside….

When you look at it that way, really the best choice is probably Obama, whose stump speech echoes the idea that the battles of the 60s are still being fought and it’s time to elect leaders who have already moved past that.

To do so, he had to rebuild the very base, reaching out and organizing from the ground up. All of the other campaigns had to adapt while Obama maintained a steady message throughout.

McCain, who opposed Bush in 2000 and really did earn his “Maverick” brand by taking on his party, had already sacrificed his opportunity at change by running hard toward George Bush even before the 2004 re-election campaign and then again during the primaries, stating himself that on the “transcendental issues” of the day, he and the president were in complete agreement.

As the primary went on, McCain flip-flopped his views on the Fundie wing of the party (eventually sucking up to the “agents of intolerance” and hiring the same dirty strategists that caused his demise in the 2000 South Carolina primary, effectively handing Bush the nomination), sacrificing his actual maverick-ness so as not to scare off the wing nuts that under the Bush plan made up the base of the Republican party.

Had McCain stayed the McCain of 2000, he could have had a shot, but instead, he threw his lot in with the most unpopular president ever at a time when the country was starting to get a look behind his curtain. (Interestingly enough, as Katrina was destroying New Orleans, Bush and McCain were celebrating Mac’s birthday.)

But as reported by the Kiwi on Sept. 29, the real problem with the McCampaign, like the Bush Administration, was the basic misunderstanding between strategies and tactics, something for which McCain incorrectly admonished Obama during the first debate.

A tactic is a means by which to accomplish a broader strategy. McCain, whose entire campaign was built on his military service, should have known this, but obviously didn’t.

Obama, meanwhile, had a fully-formed strategy while, as they pointed out, McCain veered from tactic to tactic, sacrificing long term goals for short term boosts in the polls that often fell apart when people realized how dumb they were (see: Palin).

It was just this lack of a coherent strategy that the Palin pick revealed. One cannot base an argument on “experience” and then pick a total neophyte with less experience than your opponent, but once again, McCain (who actually did not, it appears, make the decision so much as grumpily accept it) took the quick boost in the polls and suffered miserably in long run.

Kind of like declaring “Mission Accomplished” a good eight years before the war actually ends.

Newsweek goes on to cite McCain’s response to the economic crisis as his fourth mistake, when really, it too is an example of supplanting a tactic (quick! suspend the campaign! try to dominate news coverage!) for a strategy (this is the long game, try to look presidential and measured in response).

By the time the debates kicked off later that week, McCain’s erratic nature was on wide display while Obama’s level-headed cool gave him gravitas and millions of voters got their first look at him: calm, cool, reasoned.


From that point on, it was officially over. It was only then that the McCampaign started going really negative because following that debate, everyone realized that while he did lack experience, Obama did not lack the smarts or the temperament to do the job, while McCain proved once and for all that experience alone does not a president make.

Again, it all comes back to a lack of coherent strategy, revealed by the gateway meme, Sarah Palin.

But Kiwi readers already knew that…

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