Obama’s Jab

More from James Fallow’s analysis of the Presidential debates, and how Barack Obama might handle John McCain:

Once he gets on the stage, McCain will try to remind Obama of Hillary Clinton—that is, of someone he must take seriously, someone who is willing to challenge him and even insult him to his face. Obama “is vain about his idealism and ‘nobility,’” a staff member for one of Obama’s Democratic opponents (not Clinton) told me on the phone. “He is thin-skinned about having his motives and competence questioned, so that’s what you do.” Grizzled pols like Hillary Clinton or her husband would laugh off such an attempt; Obama may still be innocent enough to be shaken by it. McCain made many dismissive references to Obama after Obama became the presumptive nominee. The easy next step is to do so while looking at him.

For Obama the key is: look at John McCain, and see Alan Keyes.

Frankly, I think the best response to this, on stage, is to fight offense with more offense. That is to say, if McCain has the cajones to make accusations face to face, Obama should essentially call him out. So if McCain makes some reference to Obama opting out of the public financing system, Obama should immediately fire back by noting that McCain opted out during the primary, and then reference his questionable ethics in moving in and out when it suited him. If McCain trots out the idea that Obama isn’t really a bipartisan actor in the Senate, Obama should ask McCain point blank why he caved to the far right and withdrew his sponsorsip of the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill, to say nothing of pledging to oppose the immigration bill he helped author. And when McCain inevitably charges that Obama wants to raise everyone’s taxes, Obama should respond by cooly, and bluntly, pointing out that McCain is a petty liar. The rationale goes something like this; A) the charge is false, B) McCain knows the charge is false because his campaign has made it before and been corrected multiple times by various outlets, C) since it’s false and McCain knows it’s false, then the logical conclusion is that McCain is outright lying, and is willing to tell blatant lies about his opponent and mislead the voting public in order to win.

Frankly, I think this would go down as the monumental debate moment of the cycle that kills McCain’s chances. McCain’s entire persona is staked on the idea of being a noble, principle, maverick who doesn’t much care for personal success. If he were exposed as a callous opportunist who actually lied and otherwise told abject falsehoods with greater ease than most politicians, it would completely shatter the perception, or brand, that holds McCain up. It would of course get gobs and gobs of press coverage (what’s better conflict than one guy calling the other a liar to his face?), and anyone who paid attention and/or examined the facts wouldn’t be able to draw any realistic conclusion other than that Obama is right, that McCain is simply lying about his opponent’s proposals. At best, I suppose, they could conclude that McCain doesn’t pay enough attention to know the previous charges were corrected, but is that really much better when you’re voting for President?