If campaigns are driving you crazy

By James Fallows

1) If you feel as if you'll drink the hemlock if you have to hear another discussion about the short-knives tactics of the campaign -- which negative McCain themes are working, whether Obama needs to get more negative fast -- I highly recommend instead listening to this 40-minute Fresh Air interview, originally aired two days ago. In it, Terry Gross draws out Andrew Bacevich, of Boston UniversityCollege [brain-freeze typo, sorry] on his views about America's strategic situation. Bacevich, whom I have praised many times here before, is no pinko or softie. West Point grad; career Army guy; self-proclaimed conservative; and, a delicate point, the father of a son who was killed in combat in Iraq.

Listen to the interview, reflect, and moan about the way these issues generally get discussed when we choose our next crop of leaders. I will also mention, because it's relevant to Bacevich's outlook, this cover story, by me, in the Atlantic two years ago.  Update: This interview with Bacevich, on Bill Moyers Journal last month, is also worth watching.

2) On the same strategic level I recommend a dispatch, after the jump, by Chuck Spinney. Spinney, who is now on an extended stay outside the country, was for decades a leading "defense reform" advocate inside the Pentagon and close collaborator with the legendary John Boyd. One of Boyd's great insights was that the moral element of conflict -- between nations, companies, or even political candidates -- had tremendous importance in the end. Spinney applies that logic to the McCain-Obama race.
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Spinney writes:

I am beginning to sense that McCain behavior is destroying himself and that Obama has the good sense or instinct to take a deep step back and let McCain dig a hole so deep he can not get out.

After all, McCain has spent years branding himself as a straight talker of truth who puts country ahead of self ... it was always a phony image, but now he is aggressively destroying that brand name and replacing it with the opposite Rovian brand. This is something we have seen all too often -- a man who will do anything and say anything to get elected, to include selecting someone for vice president who is obviously not qualified to be President, even though he would be the oldest person ever to be elected President, and is a cancer survivor to boot, with a heart condition and an abused body (from torture), and therefore, actuarially the most likely President in history to die in office, if elected.

Maybe Obama's behavior is akin to subtly waving the red cape to lure McCain into reinforcing the rebranding operation.  I think Obama did a capejob on Hillary, and she ended up up with the immoral alternative of either having to destroy the democratic party inorder to win its nomination or quitting.  I think (hope?) Obama is doing a similar thing with McCain, and McCain is walking into the trap. 

In the end, this election is a battle that takes place within an overarching moral context, and as Boyd showed, you can not isolate your opponent in moral warfare (i.e., the game of surfacing mismatches in three legs of the triangle connecting what your opponent says is and what he really is and the world he has to deal with).*  

Your opponent has to morally isolate himself,  and he does that by destroying legs of the moral triangle, and in so doing, exhibits behavior that promotes his own well being by violating the codes of conduct or standards of behavior he professes to uphold and others expect him to uphold.

I have this vague sense that Obama's goal (maybe instinct is a better word) may be to create an atmosphere (perhaps by looking weak, iter alia)  that encourages McCain to reinforce this self destructive behavior and thereby make his hypocrisy obvious to a majority of the undecided voters.  But then maybe I am seeing visions in cloud formations.

* Spinney is talking in shorthand here, about a whole theory of conflict in which "mismatches" are a crucial element. If there is a mismatch between what your adversary thinks is happening, and what is actually underway, he is on the path to defeat. So with the mismatch Spinney is referring to here, between the moral standards a combatant professes to uphold and the way he actually behaves.  For more on this whole theme, the mother lode is at Chet Richards' Defense and the National Interest site  here.
 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2008/09/if-campaigns-are-driving-you-crazy/8820/