The Uncreative McCain Campaign

Writing in response to my suggestion that the McCain campaign has wanted for creativity, I think Rich Lowry makes a strong case that they've been quite tactically imaginative, and I agree with Rich that they wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for some brilliant improvisations. What I had in mind, though, was ideological creativity - the sort of creativity, for instance, that might have provided stronger talking points for your new-minted veep nominee to trot out when the subject turns to, say, the state of the economy. The McCain camp has found exactly one good domestic-policy talking point to call their own - namely, offshore drilling - and that one was more or less forced on them by rising gas prices and pressure from right-wing talk radio. They have a potentially decent health care plan that they don't want to talk about because they don't know how to sell it, and a grab-bag of tax proposals that they don't want to talk about because there's not much for the middle class and the numbers don't add up ... and then, of course, they have earmarks. (ZZZzzzzz ...) Which is why they're spending most of their time trying to tear down Barack Obama - because the case against the Democratic nominee is the best case they really have.

Obviously, I have my own set of prescriptions for the kind of ideological creativity McCain could have displayed. But my preferred avenue isn't the only one he could have taken. He could have run as a Rockefeller Republican, version 2.0 - campaigning harder against his own base on issues like immigration reform or the environment, embracing the Wyden-Bennett health care plan to undercut Obama's advantage on the issue, and generally casting himself as a "just to the right of center" candidate of national unity. Or he could have aped Ross Perot's 1992 campaign, talking up entitlement reform and running as the candidate of real fiscal austerity (as opposed to the notional austerity of porkbusting), gambling that a difficult economic climate would produce middle-class support for belt-tightening, as it did '92. Or he could have combined elements of a Sam's Club agenda, a Rockefeller agenda and a Perot agenda to create something potentially new and interesting (or, yes, potentially new and idiotic).

Instead, the McCain campaign decided that they didn't want to take the kind of risks that real ideological experimentation would entail - that despite the difficulties, short and long-term, facing the GOP as a whole, there's was too much potential downside in trying to imitate Bill Clinton in 1992 and George W. Bush in 2000 (both of whom ran genuinely creative campaigns at a time when their parties desperately needed them). I had hoped that the Sarah Palin pick was a sign that they were open to rolling the dice a bit more on policy; at the moment, though, it looks like Palin herself was the roll of the dice, and it's just going to be down-and-dirty politics from here on out. There's no question that anti-Obama hardball makes sense as a strategy given the limitations of McCain's message; it's just that a lot of those limitations are self-imposed.