Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 15, 2008
POLITICS: Advice for McCain vs. Obama: Pork and Earmarks Will Not Cut It

OK, with McCain stuffing the Huck-insurgency back in the bottle Tuesday, it's time to start thinking general election strategy (see here for a RedState roundtable we did on how he should try to win over skeptical conservatives). Now, we know the basics of what John McCain needs to do to beat Hillary Clinton, which is mostly based on (1) reminding voters that she is Hillary Clinton and (2) letting voters get prolonged exposure to watching and listening to Hillary Clinton.

But Barack Obama, if he manages to keep his back free of Clinton shivs long enough to secure the nomination, will be a more challenging nut to crack; he has far lower built-in negatives and is surrounded by a protective heat shield of worshipful press coverage. He's unlike the unlikeable and fundamentally disingenuous candidates the Democrats ran in 2000 and 2004, and much more similar to the candidates they ran in 1972 and 1984. That last analogy suggests why Obama, strong as he is on the surface, should not be confused with an unbeatable candidate.

Anyway, I'll start with one specific issue that I think needs not to be overplayed in a campaign against Obama: pork-barrel spending and earmarks. Yes, it's a hot issue and a worthy one. Yes, it contributed to the air of fiscal irresponsibility and corruption that fed the GOP's defeat in 2006, and from which McCain needs to distance himself. Yes, it's important to McCain's good-government, spending-hawk brand, is an issue he attacks with genuine enthusiasm and helps serve as a firewall against the charge that McCain's superior experience is a liability because he doesn't represent Abstract Nouns like a man who just got to Washington in 2005 and hasn't even located the big spigot where the taxpayer money flows from yet.

But for all of that, if Sen. Obama is the nominee, I hope Sen. McCain is clued in early to the fact that this issue is not going to be a useful distinction against Obama, for three reasons.

1. People like Obama and think he embodies Change from Business as Usual. Trying to change that perception is going to be harder work than it's worth. You beat a guy like Obama by burrowing into his fundamental naivete, extremism and inexperience, by showing how his combination of extreme liberalism and lack of experience leads him to be very wrong on the very biggest of the big things, and to take extremist positions on cultural-signifier issues. Small-bore goo-goo issues won't do that.

2. One of Obama's very few actual accomplishments in DC was co-sponsoring the "porkbusters" bill on earmark disclosures with Tom Coburn. Granted, Coburn did all the heavy lifting, but Obama will get (deservedly) some credit for putting himself out there on the issue and reaching across the aisle.

3. McCain's been in DC so long, and Obama so little time, that it will be much easier to find examples of projects McCain himself has brought home than Obama. That's not to say that Obama has no weaknesses in this area; one can certainly point to letters Obama wrote as a state Senator in support of a $14 million taxpayer-funded housing project that yielded more than $850,000 in fees for now-indicted Obama fundraiser Tony Rezko. But while McCain has fought the good fight against some of Congress' most ridiculous wastes of money, he has never himself been entirely immune to bringing home what Arizona voters wanted.

McCain will talk about pork and earmarks in his stump speech; as I noted above, it's part of his appeal. But those of us who remember his 2000 primary campaign and other races like Rick Lazio's 2000 Senate race (which was run by the same people) know that "process" issues can grease a candidate's good press but they don't win elections; the big things do, the things that go to people's basic hopes, fears, needs and values. Let's hope Sen. McCain keeps that in mind in focusing his priorities. The remarks McCain made Tuesday night (more here) are, thematically, a good start.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:36 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

"surrounded by a protective heat shield of worshipful press coverage"

Quote of the day - very well put...

Posted by: Lyford at February 15, 2008 12:14 PM

Exactly right, BC.

McCain needs to make the point again and again-Obama represents change, but hardly good or worthwhile change.

Posted by: John Salmon at February 15, 2008 2:03 PM

Yeah, we don't need any change. It's all good baby. The kind of change we need is to a doddering, slightly-crazy, old Republican. Sounds, just about right. Mmmmm. Tasty.

Posted by: jim at February 15, 2008 4:02 PM

The funny thing is that McCain has also long been surrounded by the same protective heat-shield himself. Though I'd tend to agree that the worshipful press for Obama will trump McCain's.

Posted by: Jerry at February 15, 2008 4:54 PM

One thing the public needs to remember is that bring home the pork is part of the job of our representatives. That waste treatment plant or new highway that helps spur economic development can keep an area from becoming stagnant.

Crank, I agree with you that Obama is pretty and speaks well...even if he doesn't say much. He does however have one big negative that will be hard for him to overcome. The fact that he is black will not play well in a large part of our country. I am not saying it is OK or that I agree with it, but it is a fact. In much of the south he will not have a chance and as we have seen before, the south is the key to victory.

What does give him hope is that he appears to be running against McCain, who probably also will not be real popular in the south. That is why I keep hoping for a credible third party candidate.

The Republican party has deserted Conservatives and if we keep accepting the lessor of the evils our country will suffer. In 2000 we knew that W was not Conservative, but he was better than McCain or Gore, so we accepted him as the lessor of the evils. Again in '04 Bush was better than Kerry, so we accepted the lessor of the evils.

At some point Republican or at least Conservatives need to stop accepting the lessor of the evils. If we don't we will be no better than the Democrats who have had their party taken over by the far left wing, even though most actual voters don't agree with their agenda. They have accepted the lessor of the evils.

If Conservatives can not take back the Republican party, we need a new party. One that believes as we do in limited government, lower taxes and the security of our nation. I have check on the Libraterians and while some of their stances are good, many are not. In my opinion they are not the answer either. Now is the time to act, the longer we put it off the longer it will take to amke the change.

Posted by: maddirishman at February 15, 2008 6:09 PM

Uh, Irish, let's get a clue here. The Repubs as the party of limited govt? Bwaaahahahah! bwahahahah! Sorry, regains composure as I'm about to call my gf on my wiretapped phone to discuss the largest budget deficits in history, and how if the Repubs have their way she wont be able to stop the govt from invading her personal decisions. You people are seriously deluded. The whole premise of Crank giving "advice" to McCain on how to run his campaign is laughable; I'd say the old fart is doing quite well considering his inability to raise a dime or please the malcontent 'base" of his party. Stick to sabermetrics crank, where youre actually right most of the time.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at February 15, 2008 8:23 PM

Seth you are obviously a victum of our failed public education sysytem...because you can't read. Which part of "If Conservatives can not take back the Republican party, we need a new party. One that believes as we do in limited government, lower taxes and the security of our nation" wasn't clear? My post was not supporting the current policies of the Republican party, but urging a return to our "Conservative" core beliefs...which McCain will not lead.

Posted by: maddirishman at February 16, 2008 8:22 AM

Uh, youre implying that Bush isnt conservative. What is he centrist? A liberal? Name a point in history when conservatives as you define them controlled the republican party and promoted limited govt?

Posted by: frank at February 16, 2008 9:43 AM

W is a Conservative through and through.
Since when is replacing lifetime civil servants with political appointees NOT a Conservative approach?

Posted by: Robert in BA at February 18, 2008 1:38 PM
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