The Corner

Subject: Obama & Biden

A shrewd e-mail from a Democratic reader:

Rich,

I am a Democrat and I will vote for Obama in November.  I am appalled at how poorly the Obama campaign has handled–and, apparently, continues to handle–its response to the selection of Sarah Palin.  The Obama campaign has made several tactical blunders that could have been avoided with a little forethought.

First, the campaign decided to highlight Palin’s inexperience and lack of traditional qualifications for the vice-presidency.  This was a huge mistake.  When McCain announced Palin as his running mate, many commentators noted (correctly, I thought) that Palin’s inexperience would make it more difficult for McCain to attack Obama’s inexperience.  The selection of Palin really did undercut a key theme of McCain’s campaign; it’s not a coincidence that McCain’s speeches over the last 10 days have placed less emphasis on experience and qualifications.  If Obama’s campaign had said nothing about Palin’s inexperience, he would have benefited from the shift in focus.  But, instead, Obama’s surrogates (and, even more incredibly, Obama himself) were out front hammering Palin on her lack of experience for the job, which produced the entirely predictable result of a bunch of stories that compared Obama’s lack of qualifications to Palin’s lack of qualifications.  The Obama campaign’s unnecessary attacks shifted media focus to an area in which Obama compares unfavorably to McCain.  And McCain didn’t have to say a word.

The Obama campaign also faltered by focusing on the personal details of Sarah Palin’s life.  Palin’s life story is a strength, not a weakness, of the McCain ticket.  Obama’s campaign and its surrogates drew attention to Palin’s compelling story with repeated references to Palin’s baby, her daughter’s pregnancy, and her “small town” political maneuverings.  They would have been better off ignoring these matters entirely. 

So, how should have the Obama campaign responded to Palin?  I think that, like the Clinton campaign in 1992, they should have stayed focused on an economic message.  Voters are frustrated with the economy and should be receptive to Democratic themes in 2008.  I think Biden had the right idea when he said the following after Palin’s speech: “I didn’t hear the phrase ‘middle class.’ I didn’t hear a single word about health care. I didn’t hear a single word about helping people get to college.”  Unfortunately for the Obama campaign, this type of effective attack is getting drowned out by distractions of their own making.

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