The Weakness Of McCain

Yes, the Democrats are tearing themselves apart. Yes, he just gave an excellent speech on foreign policy. He's still got a mountain to climb this fall. My column in the Sunday Times here. Iraq is his main but not only problem:

It’s hard to see how the US surge of troops in Iraq helps him in November, whatever happens. If troops cannot be withdrawn for fear of all-out civil war, if violence is back up after a lull, the surge may appear as digging a deeper ditch for America to get out of. McCain will seem like Bush, the Sequel. If, on the other hand, Iraq has calmed, the risk of a young, inexperienced bridge-builder such as Obama may seem less serious.

It’s lose-lose for McCain. If another serious attack hits the mainland, or if a miracle happens in Iraq, he may still have a chance. But he is a war candidate; that’s his brand. And war is currently deeply unpopular.

The polls, moreover, show the economy emerging as the major issue of the campaign. Even McCain admits he is uninterested in economics. He admirably rejects the easy impulse to use taxpayers’ money to bail out the reckless lenders and borrowers of the real-estate bubble. But this is not exactly popular in the distressed heartland. And Obama has been slowly learning how to address these issues.

On two critical narratives, an Obama-McCain match-up is tough for McCain. One voted against an unpopular war; the other supported both the invasion and the surge. One will be 72; the other will be 47. The narrative will not be age as such; it will be the future versus the past. Americans are future-oriented people – and this election so far has disproved the usual truth that the next generation does not vote. If Obama is the nominee, there will be a tsunami of a youth and black vote, the likes of which America has not seen since the 1960s.