Reaching out to the centre should have been regarded as a priority
because of the Palin nomination. For the moment, that looks like a
great success: she gave an amazing speech and, to the consternation of
the Democrats and a large part of the US media, triumphantly vindicated
McCain's decision to select her. But Palin is a social conservative.
Yes, maybe she can bring in centrists as well: that possibility makes
her an instant force to be reckoned with in American politics. But
right now it is no more than a possibility. She has energised the
base--that much is certain--but her views on abortion and other social
issues will alarm many centrists who might have been leaning to McCain.
Having delighted the base, he needed to rebalance the ticket by moving
deftly to the centre himself. Securing the base was necessary but not
sufficient: the Republicans cannot win without independents.
Mr McCain, one imagines, would prefer victory to glorious defeat.
Yet his centrist gestures were confined mostly to underlining his
maverick instincts, his taste for bipartisanship, his willingness to go
against party orthodoxy, and his appealingly frank criticisms of what
the Republicans had achieved, or failed to, during the Bush years. All
that was fine, as far as it went, but much too general. Give us
examples. Offer some reassurance that this will not be the right-wing
ticket that the Palin nomination suggests it could be. Yes, that would
have risked disappointing the hall, but the hall has been very well
catered to this week and it was a risk worth taking.
More detail was needed in its own right, too, not just to rebalance
the ticket. Once Palin blew the doors off the convention on Wednesday,
bringing the torrent of derision over her nomination to an abrupt halt,
lack of specific proposals in the Republican platform became the
principal line of criticism--and unlike the response to the VP pick,
this was a well-aimed attack. In his own superb speech at the end of
the Democrats' convention, Obama took pains to list a series of
specific policies. McCain needed to match that or better. He not only
failed to do so, but he made the gap all the more obtrusive with the
part of his speech that mentioned by name families and individuals that
were struggling for one reason or another. McCain said he would honour
them and work for them. Good, but how, exactly?
Not for the first time, it occurred to me that McCain's biggest
mistake in this campaign has been in failing to develop a
market-friendly proposal for universal health care. Mitt Romney did it
in Massachusetts so do not tell me a Republican cannot go there. That
plus Palin would have given him a shot at the base and at independents
too. It would have cemented his appeal to middle America, which is much
preoccupied with the worsening failure of the US health care system.
Not to mention, it would have been the right thing to propose on the
merits. If he had done this, I think I would be betting on McCain-Palin
right now. Ceding the issue to the Democrats, in my view, was a mistake
in every way. And I groaned to hear his attack on Obama's health plan,
falling back on the old "socialised medicine" line, which is a travesty.