Is the 2008 election a referendum on Obama?

I have heard representatives of the McCain campaign state that McCain’s most effective stragegy is to keep asking in the context of every issue “whether Obama is ready.”  I have heard numerous pundits state without qualification that this election is a referendum on Senator Obama.  As the campaign gets under way the assumption is being made that Senator McCain by virtue of his war experience and his longevity in the United States Senate has demonstrated his qualifications to serve as President.  The situation is reminiscent of the Democratic primaries during which it was always assumed that Hillary Clinton had somehow demonstrated her qualifications to serve as President, and the burden was repeatedly being shifted to Senator Obama to demonstrate not only that he was qualified, but that he was justified to challenge her claim to be the destined nominee.

OK, as a campaign strategy for Obama’s opponents, it is understandable that pressure would be kept on Senator Obama to demonstrate that he was qualified to serve as President.  Obama’s recent trip abroad appeared to be a result of goading by McCain that so much time had passed since he was last in Iraq that he needed to be brought up to date on changes on the ground.  Interestingly, when Obama did not change his views on Iraq after visiting, McCain claimed that he only went there to confirm his policies, not to listen to Petraeus and others. 

It is less understandable that pundits would continuously buy into the notion that Obama did, and McCain did not have to establish his qualifications.  What is disturbing, however,  is that implicitly the Obama campaign is also giving free play to the view that the burden of proof belongs to Barack Obama.  How so?  Bent on maintaining a campaign that takes the high ground, the Obama campaign rarely mentions Senator McCain.  Not only do they refrain from personal attacks, they do not raise questions about the positions he has taken, not to mention his qualifications to be President.  The closest that they come to criticising McCain directly is to say that the election of McCain would result in a third term for Bush.  I am sorry, but given the continued support for McCain, it appears that most voters are not moved by this.  Consequently, the image of McCain developed by media (long ago seduced by McCain) that he is an independent maverick prepared to break away from the shiboleths of the Republican faithful and religious conservative diehards continues to drive the opinion of voters. 

After losing to Bush in 2004 McCain began by becoming something of a nemesis to Bush.  He may have played this role as recently as his criticism of the way the Iraq war was being conducted and his strong advocacy for a huge troop buildup in Iraq (something well beyond the surge that actually took place.)  But at some point not too far into the Bush presidency, when he realized that he wanted to run again in 2008, McCain began to become the advocate for Bush’s policies, and began to vote consistently with Republicans and religious conservatives on the issues important to them.  He backed away from opposition to Bush’s tax cuts.  He voted with those opposed to abortion.  He has backed away from the bill bearing his name on campaign finance reform.  It is clear that McCain is simply not an independent maverick,  His record as a Senator needs to be examined and subjected to criticism not only by the media, but by Senator Obama’s campaign. 

So on a day to day basis what is the shape of the horse race upon which the media insist on focusing their attention?  It takes the form of airing McCain’s most recent criticism of Obama, most of which are demeaning and demonstrate a complete lack of respect (e.g. Senator Obama would rather lose in Iraq so that he can win the presidency, he just doesn’t understand the consequences of losing in Iraq).  Media representatives then turn to Obama himself,  or to a surrogate for his campaign, and request a response.  The response is inevitably a defensive comment.   Defensive comments make any person appear weak, and detract or undermine all of the positive positions a person sets forth. 

One further evidence that the Obama campaign is sliding into compliance with the McCain strategy is the loss of the advantage that Obama had when he spoke about the need for change.  One of his major emphases was on changing the way that politics is carried on in Washington.  This clearly resonated with voters.  But he also spoke about needed change in government policies on taxation, education, health care, foreign affairs, and America’s military involvements.  Somehow the emphasis has shifted away from the specific changes for which Obama stands to the question of whether he can bring about change.  So McCain without having to put his own ideas for change alongside of those proposed by Obama is left free to develop an image of himself as the person most qualified to bring about change by virtue of his age and experience.  Clearly, based on his actual voting record, McCain needs to be held accountable for articulating the specific changes for which he stands.  The point is, that the same burden of proof needs to be placed upon McCain as is being placed on Obama.  Only the Obama campaign can take the initiatives necessary to make this happen.  But this won’t happen so long as the Obama campaign is willing to accept a one-sided burden of proof.

If this pattern continues, McCain will slide into the White House unscathed by the campaign.  What is worse, he will never be foreced to set forth his own positions and defend them from criticism,  just as his predecessor George Bush found his way into the White House without having to inform Americans of what he would do once he got there.  And under McCain we will continue to live with a presidency which exercises imperial power without accountability.  To the Obama campaign I make an open appeal:  Please hold Senator McCain accountable not only for demonstrating that he has the qualifications to be President, but also for articulating and defending the course of action on which he would set our nation if he were elected President.

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3 Responses to “Is the 2008 election a referendum on Obama?”

  1. My new WordPress MU Site » Blog Archive » Is the 2008 election a referendum on Obama? Says:

    […] Booman Tribune wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe situation is reminiscent of the Democratic primaries during which it was always assumed that Hillary Clinton had somehow demonstrated her qualifications to serve as President, and the burden was repeatedly being shifted to Senator … […]

  2. Congress Blog Says:

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.FrancisScottKeyFitzgeraldFrancis Scott Key Fitzgerald, aka F. Scott Fitzgerald

  3. Alex Says:

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

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