Posts Tagged ‘Tonight’s Debate’

Sacrifice: Why McCain Is Losing

October 8, 2008

A good example of why John McCain is losing this race came tonight when a “child of the Depression” asked both candidates about what Americans needed to sacrifice. McCain spoke first and gave a dry answer about cutting spending and programs. Barack Obama gave a deeper answer referencing the way President Bush squandered America’s spirit of unity after September 11th. He then talked about the need for National Service and its appeal to young people — an answer that drew positive responses from CNN’s group of undecided voters. When the question came back to McCain, he returned to the subject of Obama and taxes.

This was more than a missed opportunity for McCain, one of the leading Republican proponents of national service. Obama’s answer was exactly what McCain was saying about Americans and sacrifice in 2001. Back then, McCain gave a major speech on national service to the national gathering of City Year. That same year he sponsored national service legislation and promoted it again in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It’s unbelievable that McCain, who is now in the part of the campaign when the candidate is supposed to be capturing the center, ceded this ground to Obama, when he backed national service at a time it faced threat from the Bush Administration.

Here’s what McCain wrote about the issue in the Washington Monthly that year (notice, by the way, McCain’s specific reference to sacrifice.)

America is witnessing a welcome blooming of popular culture chronicling the contributions of the generation that lived through the Depression and vanquished fascism. From Saving Private Ryan to Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation to Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, Americans are hungry to learn about the heroic service of our parents and grandparents. Some of the commentary surrounding this positive trend, however, has been wistful, even pessimistic. While rightly celebrating the feats of the World War II generation, many pundits bemoan the lack of great causes in our day and doubt whether today’s young people would be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to meet such challenges, even if they existed.
I believe these commentators have it wrong. During the last presidential race, I had the privilege of traveling the country and meeting vast numbers of young people. I cannot express how impressed I was. With energy and passion as contagious as it was inspiring, these young Americans confided their dreams and shared their aspirations, not for themselves alone, but for their country. Their attitude should come as no surprise. Though today’s young people, according to polls, have little faith in politics, they are great believers in service. Indeed, they are doing volunteer work in their communities in record numbers—proof that the urge to serve runs especially deep in them. Indeed, most Americans share this impulse, as witnessed after last month’s terrorist attacks, when thousands of Americans lined up to give blood and assist in rescue efforts. It is time we tapped that urge for great national ends.

And it is not true, as the cynics suggest, that our era lacks great causes. Such causes are all around us. Thousands of schools in our poorest neighborhoods are failing their students and cry out for talented teachers. Millions of elderly Americans desperately want to stay in their homes and out of nursing facilities, but cannot do so without help with the small tasks of daily life. More and more of our communities are being devastated by natural disasters. And our men and women in uniform are stretched thin meeting the vital task of keeping the peace in places like Bosnia and Kosovo.

Beyond such concrete needs lies a deeper spiritual crisis within our national culture. Since Watergate, we have witnessed an increased cynicism about our governmental institutions. We see its impact in declining voter participation and apathy about our public life—symptoms of a system that demands reform. But it’s a mistake, I think, to believe that this apathy means Americans do not love their country and aren’t motivated to fix what is wrong. The growth of local volunteerism and the outpouring of sentiment for “the greatest generation” suggest a different explanation: that Americans hunger for patriotic service to the nation, but do not see ways to personally make a difference.

What is lacking today is not a need for patriotic service, nor a willingness to serve, but the opportunity. Indeed, one of the curious truths of our era is that while opportunities to serve ourselves have exploded—with ever-expanding choices of what to buy, where to eat, what to read, watch, or listen to—opportunities to spend some time serving our country have narrowed. The high cost of campaigning keeps many idealistic people from running for public office. Teacher-certification requirements keep talented people out of the classroom. The all-volunteer military is looking for lifers, not those who might want to serve for shorter tours of duty.

The one big exception to this trend is AmeriCorps, the program of national service begun by President Bill Clinton. Since 1994, more than 200,000 Americans have served one-to-two-year stints in AmeriCorps, tutoring school children, building low-income housing, or helping flood-ravaged communities. AmeriCorps members receive a small stipend and $4,725 in college aid for their service. But the real draw is the chance to have an adventure and accomplish something important. And AmeriCorps’ achievements are indeed impressive: thousands of homes constructed; hundreds of thousands of senior citizens assisted to live independently in their own homes; millions of children taught, tutored, or mentored.

The Bailout Plan: Points For Obama

October 8, 2008

I give a lot of credit to Barack Obama for explaining the rationale for the financial rescue plan in a straight forward way.

McCain’s Economic Answer

October 8, 2008

Two parts of John McCain’s answer on the economy failed to resonate. He spoke of the needs to make America energy independent and to curb Washington spending, neither of which address the scope of the current financial crisis. I did like his suggestion of addressing the basic home prices for ordinary Americans. This seemed to be an attempt to come up with a proposal relevant to voters. While I’m not sure I understand the substance of his vague proposal, he deserves points for devising an appeal to the average American.

Tonight’s Debate

October 8, 2008

I’ll be looking at one issue, and one issue only, at tonight’s debate: whether John McCain can connect with undecided voters on the economy. I’ll be thinking of the 1992 town meeting when Bill Clinton clinched the presidency. While Clinton successfully channelled America’s economic angst during our last recession, President Bush appeared entirely disengaged, even glancing at his watch.

Barring an unexpected colossal gaffe on Barack Obama’s part, McCain wins tonight not by attacking Obama on Rev. Wright or William Ayers. Only by showing Americans he feels our pain and has a plan to salve it can he claim a victory.

The Palin-Biden Debate

October 2, 2008

Undoubtedly tonight’s debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will be among the most watched political events on television this year. Interest in Palin is huge, and voters will be watching to see if they will encounter the sassy, charismatic Palin of the Republican National Convention, or the stammering, unsure Palin of the Katie Couric interview.

I don’t think it matters. With the unraveling of the American economy during the last two weeks, the presidential race has fundamentally changed. While previously the campaign existed on the level of personality and atmospherics, now it is down to one very simple issue — the economy. The Republican, John McCain, comes from the same party as President Bush and owns the poor economy. Obama, the Democrat, represents something different — to use a phrase that has been worked to death, change.

Before Obama’s personal style — not race, mind you — served as an impediment to attracting votes in the Rust Belt; now, the economic upheaval has crowded out both the positive and negative aspects of his political persona. Obama’s grandiose speeches, his sweeping rhetoric, the slight mood of revolution surrounding his campaign — none of that matters any more. Obama may have needed those qualities to challenge Hillary Clinton, but now they just get in the way. For Obama to win, he needs merely to be a steady Democratic hand, a Hubert Humphrey.

That might be a tough sell for Obama, but, to his good fortune, he’s got Hubert Humphrey on the ticket. Well, Joe Biden, a reliable Democrat who can deliver a solid Democratic message at a time when American voters are fed up with Wall Street and a Repubilcan president. A restrained — but not robotic — Biden will do the job tonight. No dazzling displays of foreign policy are necessary. He shouldn’t overreach, which will risk turning some voters off. Merely show up.

The best Palin can do is make an emotional play to the Joe Six Pack audience. It won’t likely advance the cause of the McCain-Palin ticket, but it’s the best hand she has to play tonight.