Why It's Close


Jake Weisberg argues that only race can explain why Obama's still neck and neck with McCain. I don't want to deny that race may play a role in this election - particularly among older, white voters. But the reason for the close race is surely over-determined. Yes, this is a change election - 80 percent believe the country is on the wrong track. But McCain is not an incumbent vice-president, and rightly boasts a record that isn't - at least until the past few years - a Bush-Cheney Republican wet dream. He's in favor of tackling climate change, for example, something the Bushies have adamantly resisted. He opposed the Medicare prescription drug coverage and the first Bush tax cuts. His campaign has not mentioned these - but they're there and people remember them. He was Bush's nemesis in 2000. That helps in trying to distance himself from the Bush legacy. In fact how the campaign uses Bush and Cheney at next week's convention will be far trickier than Obama's dealings with the Clintons this week.

And, yes, experience is an issue. It should be.

It is not unreasonable or unfair for the GOP to target Obama's relative youth and inexperience. Sure: McCain hasn't had any real executive experience either. But he's been around a long, long time and he was right about the surge. America is a center-right country and doesn't like to face defeat or failure (even when, as in Iraq, it has to). McCain's appeal not to see Iraq as a failure appeals to Americans' sense of pride and optimism, even as reality still nags at their psyches. For all these reasons, it's perfectly predictable that this should be a close race for president. It may well not be for the Congress. But that too undercuts Obama's change theme: with Democrats in the Congress, voters won't have a repeat of 2002 or 2004.

What Obama has to do is pretty simple: he has to explain that he alone will cut middle class taxes while raising them on the wealthy to Clinton era levels; that he alone will give everyone who wants it access to health insurance; and that he alone will extricate the US from Iraq and that McCain is itching for a deeper longer war in the Middle East and another Cold War with Russia and China.

If you believe that we can tackle domestic problems and the rising debt without raising any taxes, then vote for McCain. If you believe that the problem with the last eight years has been an insufficient use of military force and an insufficiently aggressive hostility to other great powers, McCain is your man. If not, Obama is the right choice. In the end, there's a big question domestically and a big question internationally. Both matter. And Obama's argument will have to be more than usually persuasive if he is to overcome the experience question.

(Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty.)