Jonathan Chait On How Obama Should Run Against Mccain

by Jonathan Chait | June 6, 2008

With the primary race finally wrapped up, we asked a few people to consider the type of campaign Barack Obama should run against John McCain. Up here is Jonathan Chait, senior editor of The New Republic.

How should Barack Obama run? Here are some sub-themes I would suggest he emphasize:

1. Embrace class-based affirmative action. This one is a winner all around. First, it's good substantive policy--it's clear that the transmission of poverty or wealth across generations, through school quality and parental values, is a serious problem and one that effects whites as well as blacks.

Second, Obama seems to agree with the concept. (Obama has said, "I think that my daughters should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged, and I think that there's nothing wrong with us taking that into account as we consider admissions policies at universities. I think that we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have what it takes to succeed.")

Third, the politics are phenomenal for him. He needs to try to regain his "post-racial image" that took such a beating in the primary. When you read interviews with whites who fear Obama, they often express a fear that Obama is only going to look out for his fellow African-Americans. What better way to show this isn't true?

2. Emphasize his bipartisan compromises. Republicans have been saying for weeks now that Obama has no record of bipartisanship or serious legislation. It's utterly false. The blogger hilzoy documented Obama's record on issues like nuclear non-proliferation, ethics reform, and other small but worthy causes. Oddly enough, Obama's campaign itself has done little to disseminate this record. It should start.

3. Striking terrorists in Pakistan. This one is a bit of a hobbyhorse. Last year, Obama announced in a speech that if he got actionable intelligence about al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, he would strike. (This came shortly after The New York Times reported that President Bush had acquired such intelligence in 2005, planned a snatch-and-grab operation, but got cold feet and called it off.) John McCain has ridiculed Obama for this position. But it turns out that the Bush administration has started carrying out such operations. Why is McCain softer on al Qaeda than either Obama or Bush? Obama should make him answer that.

4. Hit McCain's policy reversals. This week, McCain didn't show up to vote for a climate change bill that he helped shape, and which he holds up as one of the great points of contrast with the Bush administration. (He said he probably wouldn't have voted for it even if he had shown up.) McCain has also refused to endorse his own immigration bill. He has also changed his mind on the Bush tax-cuts, torture and the Geneva conventions, and the rape-and-incest exception to the GOP's abortion amendment. These are matters of high principle, and not nearly enough attention has been paid to the lengths McCain went to in order to make himself acceptable to the GOP right. Obama frequently hits McCain on his support for tax cuts he once called unconscionable, and that's great, but he needs to expand the list. Moderates should realize that the McCain they once admired--I was one of them--is not the same man.

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