An unconvincing pre-mortem

David Broder writes: “Because McCain could not create a coherent philosophy or vision of his own, he allowed Obama and the Democrats to convince voters of a falsehood: that electing McCain would in effect reward Bush with a third term.”

To the extent that Obama convinced voters that a McCain administration would approximate a third term of President Bush, he succeeded for three reasons: (1) McCain is more like Bush than Obama is, (2) Obama had virtually unlimited resources with which to exaggerate the similarities between Bush and McCain, and (3) the mainstream media assisted Obama by playing up the bogus theme that McCain had changed and was no longer a maverick.

What “philosophy” or “vision” was McCain supposed to forge that would have overcome these factors? Broder doesn’t say. Calling on politicians to create a vision without suggesting what that vision might be is the kind of thing that gives pundits a bad name.

Broder thinks McCain was hurt by his “one from column A; one from column B” (my phrase) approach to policy making. He finds that McCain’s Teddy Roosevelt era progressivism and his Reagan era conservatism don’t co-exist easily. But one could more plausibly argue that the combination of these elements is what has kept McCain within shouting distance of Obama. Without the Reagan element, McCain would have lost the base; without the TR element, he would be doing much worse among moderates and independents.

At root, Obama and McCain said the same thing this year, which isn’t surprising inasmuch as good politicians are good because they figure out the thing that needs to be said. Both argued that our situation has gotten worse in recent years and both argued that they could transcend business-as-usual partisan politics and get the country on course.

Obama based his argument on his personal “freshness” and on meaningless claims of being post-partisan. McCain based his argument on his past history of “reaching across the aisle” and of taking on special interests. McCain had the better case, but as a Republican, and under constant attack from the mainstream media, he was less convincing than Obama as a critic of the status quo and an agent of change.

There probably wasn’t anything McCain could have done about this. But it’s in the interest of members of the mainstream to develop a narrative that blames McCain if he loses in the hope that disaffected voters won’t blame the MSM.

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