I think we are beginning to see the full measure of the Obama general campaign strategy, framed along ten or so key directives that can allow the election of the most leftward candidate in American political history.
So far the candidate himself needs no coaching, inasmuch he has proved to be one of the most pragmatic, flexible, and ambitious figures in recent memory, with superb handlers who understand the challenge of getting such a hard leftist past the suspicious American electorate.
1. “Maturing” Views. Move to the center on as many problematic issues as possible — whether FISA, NAFTA, talking to dictators, the death penalty, etc. Disguise blatant flip-flops by talking about McCain’s changes of heart — such as his opposition to tax cuts eight years ago. And just as dreams of Obama’s father were once essential in cementing his questionable racial bona fides in Chicago, now the thing to do is drop most mention of the African connection, and instead resurrect his grandparents as proof of his more influential midwestern, working-class Americana credentials. Think “Dreams from My Grandmother.”
2. Resort to “Sorta.” Avoid details on any current hot-button issues (so sort of be open to discussion of nuclear and clean coal, and sort of not, sort of getting out pronto from Iraq and sort of not, sort of against gun control and sort of not, etc.). It is always better to “hope and change” an issue, than to get bogged down in details of a topic — such as evoking the banalities “wind, solar and green” than counting barrels of oil saved or produced when talking of the current energy meltdown.
3. “Hope and Change.” Keep to teleprompted set speeches in front of enthusiastic crowds, avoiding as much as possible press conferences, off-the-cuff venting with donors, interviews with neutral correspondents, town halls, and one-on-ones with McCain. These forums only showcase Obama’s inexperience and hubris, and consistently lead to deer-in-the-headlights-pauses, embarrassing “48-states” bloopers, and the voicing of left-wing nostrums — as well as sudden loss of the mellifluous “hope and change” sound patterns, with their Reverend Wright-lite cadences and studied pauses.
4. Outsourcing. Let the sympathetic media defend the more blatant flips like public campaign financing or boasts of meeting McCain “anytime, anywhere.” Outsourced pundits can do a far better job of explaining inconsistencies and placating the netroots than Obama himself. Trust that, for all the left-wing shrillness on the blogs and cable shows, the hungry zealots will prove far more pragmatic than expected — on the unspoken assumption (cf. the inoperative rust-belt populist speeches, the now ancient Rev. Wright contortions, and the long forgotten Gettysburg Race Address) that, once elected, Obama will veer back to the hard left.
5. No Lecturing. Ensure at all costs that Michelle avoids Phil Donahue–like, walk-into-the-crowd, unscripted lectures in front of sympathetic audiences. These are unguarded moments in which her long accustomed and familiar ideological and educational referents, in Pavlovian-syle, spontaneously begin to surface. The public is only one “raise the bar” and “no pride” moment away from a complete turn-off.
6. Lock the Closet Door. Make sure that surrogate watchdogs keep a tight lid on Wright, Pfleger, Rezco, Ayers, and all the other embarrassing Chicago intimates of the last two decades. They are now to be as expendable and irrelevant as they once were central and involved. In case of unforeseen outbursts, adopt the vocabulary of hurt — like “disappointed in” or “disrespected me.”
7. “Politics as Usual.” Raise tons of private money at record levels, whether bundled or not, while talking of the evils of politics, lobbyists, and same old, same old big money in Washington.
8. Corral the Mustangs. Weed out or temporarily muzzle hard-left advisers, former generals, professors, and future appointees, occasionally with the qualifier that an aide erred, or the person who sounded off is not the same sober voice Obama once knew.
9. Play the Victim. From time to time, hint about or make explicit mention of race, the exotic middle name, etc., as a way of reminding audiences of the illiberal and racialist mentality of all those who would will surely stoop to such tactics in future attacks.
10. Cue the Swift-Boats. Egg on the 527 third-party hit-men on the Left, like Moveon.org, while preemptively decrying the “swift-boat” tactics to come from non-liberal enemies.
In defense of Obama, his campaign has little choice, and can hardly debate the issues in any depth. While the electorate is tired of two decades of Bush/Clinton and the sleaze of the past Republican spendthrift Congress, it is even more wary of the recent hard-left, do-nothing Democratic congressional majorities and their Carteresque liberal agendas.
In other words, to defend a 60-percent tax bite on top incomes, trillion-dollar new government subsidies and programs, open borders, rejection of the successful anti-terror, post-9/11 protocols, trade protectionism, U.N./EU deference in foreign policy, and stasis on coal, nuclear, and oil drilling, is not necessarily to win a U.S. presidential election — even with a candidate as gifted in set-speeches and as malleable as Barack Obama.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal and the 2008 Bradley Prize.