Grand County voters need to decide what they want from our next president
August 10, 2008
We are in an interesting phase in the presidential and congressional campaigns. Candidates are trying to define their opponents by running attack ads that paint them in the worst light possible. They are also running ads that paint themselves in the best light.
It reminds me of a paintball contest. Shoot something at your opponent to see if it will hit and stick. Keep yourself as clean and shiny as you can. Dodge and divert attention are great techniques. So what’s new?
This is a time-honored strategy that works because it takes some thought on the part of voters to sort it out and often voters are not willing to make that effort. This is my challenge to the voters of Grand County: Make that effort.
Both Joan FitzGerald and Jared Polis have made use of this strategy to some extent in our own 2nd Congressional District race. Democrats in Grand County have an opportunity to voice their choice for a Democrat to be a candidate to replace Mark Udall, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
Both have run negative ads, though ads have been more about issue differentiation than personal characteristic painting. The primary will be Aug. 12. While Grand County may consider itself firmly Republican, the second Congressional district is heavily Democratic. This means the winner of the Democratic primary is the odds-on favorite to be our next representative.
That is why there is so much money being poured into the race in the form of slick mailings and TV commercials. In short, Aug. 12 is virtually the general election. So you are not a Democrat but you are registered as unaffiliated? You can still vote; just turn up at the polls and change your registration on the spot.
The presidential race is also in the same phase: Define your opponent and yourself before the other person does. McCain is formulating his attack ads to raise questions about Obama’s character more than he is raising issues. (The exception is that outrageously simplistic ad blaming Obama for your current high gas prices). Is he ready to be president? Just who is this flip-flopping guy? (Never mind that McCain has done 180 degree about-faces on tax policy, off shore oil drilling, and much more). Obama is no more than a celebrity; no more substance than Paris Hilton, McCain’s ads claim. McCain wants you to believe Obama is all talk, nothing else.
Not only is it getting very personal, I’ll bet you forgot about your economic pains and fears and the war, didn’t you? This paint ball attack strategy serves to divert our attention from what really matters to our well-being and keeps us from questioning the failed economic and foreign affairs policies McCain wants to perpetuate. This is how and why the strategy works.
Here is where Barack Obama has put himself at a disadvantage. The fact that he is new on the national scene, he looks different, and that his background is out of the box makes it especially easy for the McCain camp to paint him in a bad light. Sen. Obama is still a blank page, unknown to many voters who did not follow the primaries in the spring. Now, sad to say, some of that paint slung at him by Sen. McCain is beginning to color the page.
Obama believes that attack ads of the sort being run by the McCain campaign are examples of the old politics he wants to change, and he is reluctant to launch a negative response or try to project a negative slant onto the persona of John McCain.
Obama’s response to date has been to talk about issue substance and to introduce himself to voters through positive ads. He is in a bind. If he hits back with negative ads himself, he appears to feel threatened and it gives those attacks credence.
Obama has muzzled 527s, the swiftboating type of supporters who pay for negative ads, so they cannot do much to help by acting as pit bulls on his behalf. Taking the high road is a risk … and it remains to be seen if it pays off.
McCain is having a field day with his negative attacks. Let’s face it. McCain is lacking in vigor and charisma. As one Republican strategist said the other day on MSNBC, he needs to embrace a bear. He is a terrible campaigner.
All McCain can do in the face of Obama’s ability to rally large crowds and communicate with voters is to diminish the importance of charisma and communication skills. The McCain campaign looks like it is suffering from charisma envy.
However, every great leader in our country’s history has had those skills of inspiring the public … from Washington’s inaugural addresses to Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, to Roosevelt with “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” to JFK and Ronald Reagan, the great communicator. Can you name one great leader in our history who had no oratorical or inspirational skills?
Charismatic oratory is a legitimate skill that should not be dismissed as irrelevant or ridiculed. Indeed, our country is in the doldrums.
We need to be inspired if we are going to make the tough decisions needed to dig our way out of the Iraq disaster, do what it takes to reposition our priorities in going after Al Qaida in Afghanistan, find solutions to our health care crisis, restore the health in our housing and financial markets, and to roll up our sleeves to develop a long-term energy solution that does not destroy our planet. It is going to take strong leadership to do all of this.
Here is a challenge to Grand County voters: Look beyond the paint balls and ask ourselves if we feel more secure from terrorism today, if we are financially better off today than you were eight years ago, and whether we are prepared to elect John McCain, who promises more of the same.
Then ask ourselves what Sen. Obama is planning to do, the kinds of advice he is listening to, and whether he has the necessary leadership skills to get the job done. I don’t just want a change from the Bush policies, I want effective change, and Obama has what it takes to move political mountains to get it done.
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