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A winning proposition

The conventional wisdom is that, as the economic downturn shifts the focus of the presidential debate back to domestic issues, the advantage goes to Obama. This view isn’t entirely implausible, but it tends to be overstated by members of the liberal MSM who think that the Democrats have all the right answers domestically and have lost presidential elections only because of national security and cultural concerns.

The conventional wisdom notwithstanding, McCain already has gained the upper hand on one economic issue — drilling for energy. In a slumping economy where consumers are paying $4 dollars for a gallon of gas, this may be the most important economic/domestic issue of the campaign, and McCain is on the popular side of it.

Now another domestic issue (though not mainly an economic one) favorable McCain may be emerging. Voters in Arizona, McCain’s home state, will be voting on a proposition that would ban the state from preferring people on the basis of race. The proposition states:

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

McCain supports this proposition; Obama, I understand, opposes it on the grounds that it is “divisive.”

McCain is on the popular side here, and it’s not even close. The very “blue” states of California, Washington, and Michigan have all passed this resolution by sizeable majorities. Moreover, in 2000, a Pew Research Center poll found that only 13 percent of the public strongly or somewhat agreed with this statement: “Blacks should get hiring preference.” Pew broke down the responses for those living in blue and red states and found no difference.

McCain, though, should not over-emphasize this issue. For one thing, it’s not central to his thinking and to pretend otherwise might undermine his authenticity, perhaps his most valuable asset. For another, stridency on this issue might make McCain seem divisive, to use Obama’s term. Independent and swing voters overwhelmingly side with McCain over Obama on this issue, but probably won’t appreciate being bludgeoned with it especially given Obama’s race. Though President Bush’s squishiness on racial preferences bothered me greatly, I think it helped him politically because it softened his edges. Unlike Bush, McCain’s moderate credentials are well-established, so he doesn’t need to be squishy, just not overly aggressive.

But McCain shouldn’t let the matter die either. The MSM can be counted on (1) to ignore the issue as much as possible (2) when discussing it, to obfuscate by casting the matter in terms of “affirmative action,” not racial preferences and (3) if all else fails, to accuse McCain of playing the race card. Thus, McCain must focus on the wording of the specific proposition that Obama won’t support: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” This formulation commands overwhelming support, and Obama’s attempt to finesse it by crying “divisiveness” is likely to reinforce his emerging image as wishy-washy and unwilling to stand on principle.

JOHN adds: You can only shake your head over liberal claims that it isn’t “divisive” for government to engage in race discrimination, but it is “divisive” to point out that fact and stand up for equal treatment under the law.

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