July 06, 2008

Both McCain and Obama Move to the Right

After the American Century

Both Obama and McCain have been shifting their public stands on many issues, staking out the positions they will take during the fall campaign. They are doing so with quite different goals. McCain is moving to the right, Obama toward the center.

McCain's move toward the conservative Republican base is being orchestrated and supervised by a cadre of Karl Rove's apprentices. Their well-known philosophy is that elections are won by energizing core supporters, not by trying to appeal to the center. This strategy has not really been proven a success, in my view, as George Bush did not win a majority of the votes cast in 2000 and only barely was reelected in 2004. In each case, one could argue that he won as much due to the poor campaigns of his opponent as he did because galvanizing the base is a sure winner. Note, too, that the "Rove philosophy" is to attack one's opponent where they appear strongest. The "swift-boating" of John Kerry is the prime example.

Obama's move toward more mainstream positions means that he has embraced more traditional political philosophy, seeking to be the unifying candidate who can appeal to moderates and independents, and reach across party lines. The danger of this approach is that the core supporters become somewhat disillusioned, taking some of the energy out of the campaign, as they realize that Obama is (surprise?) a shrewd politician more than he is ideologically driven. As noted several blogs ago, his stands on Israel, gun control, and other issues have shifted, to appeal to moderates.

The result of these two contrasting campaign models is that both candidates are moving to the right - with Obama seeking the center, while the supposedly "straight-talking" McCain is making himself over to suit the evangelicals. The man who once opposed Guantanamo torture now seems to accept it. The man who once publically worried about global warming is saying little about it. The man who once wanted to give illegal immigrants a "path to citizenship" is now a hard-liner on securing the borders. The man who once called Jerry Falwell an "agent of intolerance" now meets privately with his ilk, seeking support.

Will the selection of vice-presidential candidates reinforce these campaign strategies, or will they be drive by other imperatives, such as geographical appeal? One suspects that Obama will find a VP who is moderate, who holds his new positions, almost certainly a white person (but possibly Hispanic), and one with solid military experience to shore up his candidacy at its weakest point.

The Republican ticket is harder to anticipate. Will McCain choose a "born again" evangelical from the right-wing of the Republican Party, like Mike Huckabee? Might we expect a moderate non-military person under 60 who comes from the Middle West and who can appeal to the swing states? A church-going woman? A clone of Dick Cheney? Or most horrifying of all, the actual Dick Cheney? McCain's choice will signal how thoroughly he is willing to revamp his campaign to resemble Bush's 2004 campaign. Whatever the new Rove-inspired McCain team decides could be a surprise, because he continues to run behind Obama in the polls, and he needs to find a way to regain the initiative.