John Baer: As campaigns end, here’s how they veered

Posted: October 27, 2008

HAD ENOUGH of John McCain's "my friends" and Joe Biden's "ladies and gentlemen"?

Weary of Sarah Palin's windshield-wiper wave and Barack Obama's rousing rallies?

Well, just one week left in this overlong race - a good time to look at how it started and progressed.

Obama formally announced at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., on a frigid morning (Feb. 10, 2007) in front of thousands of enthused supporters.

He called for national unity at (symbolically) the site of Abraham Lincoln's pre-Civil War "a-house-divided-against-itself-cannot-stand" speech.

Obama spoke of inclusion and change to "transform" a nation, reshape the economy, tackle health care, end the war and free America from "the tyranny of oil."

He said that he hadn't been in Washington long, but long enough to know it must change.

It was an inspiring speech about "us."

(He also said: "Let's be the generation that ends poverty in America," but how much have you heard about that since?)

He saw the future, warning against "the smallness of our politics, the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial."

Has there been a campaign with more (flag lapel pins, lipstick on a pig, Sarah the shopper, That One) of the "petty and trivial"?

McCain began in New Hampshire, at the Portsmouth Naval Yard (April 25, 2007) in front of a crowd of a few hundred described in published reports as "listless."

He spoke (at a site reflecting his military service and prior electoral success: He won the 2000 New Hampshire primary) of reforming the tax code, fixing Social Security and reducing dependence on foreign oil. He barely mentioned the war.

He said he's not the youngest candidate, but the most experienced.

He identified government failures - Katrina, care of veterans, foreign policy - and repeatedly intoned, "That's not good enough for America, and when I'm president it won't be good enough for me."

It was a flat speech about "him."

And he said that voters are tired of campaigns of "insults instead of ideas," adding: "This election should be about big things, not small ones."

How do you think that worked out?

Economic crisis has since altered the race, but Obama, apart from the poverty thing, has been more consistent in sticking to the basis of his campaign than has McCain.

So, in a year of change in a sinking economy with the nation at war, the "change we need" candidate leads the "country first" candidate with one week to go.

("Country first" suffered with the pick of Palin. As McCain put it yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," "I'm so proud of the way she ignites the crowds," which, of course, is the top qualification for a running mate or vice president.)

What does McCain do to close the gap?

Play up comments from Joe the Plumber and Joe the Biden.

Never mind that Joe the Plumber isn't licensed and doesn't pay taxes (he owes Ohio $1,200) - his tagging Obama's plan "socialism" because it spreads the wealth is a rallying cry.


The intent of taxes is to spread wealth. If that's socialism, what's the $700 billion Wall Street rescue that McCain supports, or the $300 billion mortgage buyout that McCain proposes?

And Joe the Biden's comments that Obama would be tested by an international crisis within six months of assuming the presidency need context.

It is this: There's an international crisis every six months, no matter who's president.

The International Crisis Group, a respected global nonprofit headquartered in Brussels, with 135 staff members on five continents, last month alone monitored 70 crisis situations in the Congo, North Korea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen and elsewhere.

It's a dangerous world. McCain knows it. Fear-mongering about it is beneath him.

And Obama isn't pure. His unfair, misleading ads against McCain on stem-cell research and Social Security make him part of a practice he himself condemned in Springfield - seeking to score "cheap political points."

But overall, McCain veered from "big things" (constant droning about "earmarks," for example) more than Obama abandoned his themes of unity and change.

These two campaigns are as different as their opening speeches.

In a week, America decides which one it likes best.

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