Yesterday, I read a multi-page analysis from the Politico’s John F. Harris & Jim Vandehei, detailing the political dangers facing Barack Obama in the general election should he win the nomination to represent the Democrats. The piece predictably highlighted the various controversies and preconceived weaknesses that will supposedly continue to haunt him as the November vote looms, and suggested that the Clinton camp has restrained itself thus far in exploiting the bulk of it:
Republicans will also ruthlessly exploit openings that Clinton — in the genteel confines of an intraparty contest — never could. Top targets: Obama’s radioactive personal associations, his liberal ideology, his exotic life story, his coolly academic and elitist style.
The popular consensus I’ve gleaned over the last few months is that the majority of this war will be waged on the new-media battlefields of YouTube, blogs, and talk radio, with a mix of ads coming from agents of independent actors like 527 groups. Obama will be picked to shreds while McCain mostly sits on the sidelines, and the end result will be a disaster for the Democrats…or so the meme goes.
So, in light of the fact that I’ve seen scarce commentary on it, I’m going to go ahead and count my chickens before they hatch here for a moment, and predict that while Obama will certainly take his lumps, he will eventually find himself in the White House by utilizing a more old-fashioned forum: The presidential debates.
Now, I can imagine what my readers might be thinking. “Um, Chen? By most accounts, Kerry won the debates in 2004, and he still lost. Debates are overrated”.
That’s a fair point, but I should probably point out that we’re talking John Kerry vs. George W. Bush here. It was like watching a spelling bee for 1st graders. Sure, somebody won, but it was pretty tough to come away from it feeling particularly impressed. They might as well have skipped them, quite frankly.
This time around, however, the stage is set a bit differently. On the one hand, you have a young, highly educated, charismatic and articulate public speaker. On the other, an aged, quiet and rather uninspiring man that is developing a track record of confusing basic facts (hence, my picture of Lieberman whispering into McCain’s ear; something he won’t have the benefit of come debate time) related to things that are considered his strengths (i.e. national security and foreign policy). This could be the making of a political wrecking ball; a situation where one candidate outperforms the other to the point of making him look like he doesn’t deserve to be on the same stage (as opposed to the 2004 situation, where neither of them appeared to deserve it). Picture the highlight reels playing for days, complete with detailed analysis of the rout by the punditry and plenty of still shots of McCain’s scowls and assorted confused looks.
I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that a strong showing such as this could overshadow many of the swipes that had been taken at him by the various surrogates and hacks. The visual of a head-to-head comparison can be a powerful, memorable and well-publicised event, after all. It certainly could be enough to tip the scale in a very close election, so, I’m putting this prediction out there. Or, to channel Hans and Franz…Listen to me now and believe me later: McCain gets smoked in the debates, and it costs him the general.
BTW- Like all threads here in the Chamber, the comments section is left open indefinitely, so feel free to come back and mock (or praise) me right here come November. Of course, in the unlikely event that Hillary gets the nod, I’ll have no choice but to acknowledge my little jinx, and post an update.
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