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September 04, 2008


Eric Chen

The McCain campaign has proven to be more adept than I expected. Senator McCain, rather than follow the standard GOP platform, has presented himself as a virtual Independent. Given the setting, McCain rather forcefully rebuked his own party during his acceptance speech. McCain is now cast as the substantive 'change' candidate, the career reformer, the outside-the-box maverick, who has a lifetime record of independent judgement and results, and a long family heritage of lives given to America-first public service. In effect, McCain has at least partially disowned and countered the GOP with his message of vote for or against me based on my merits versus Obama's merits, not on my party affiliation.

That said, the case the McCain campaign has put forward against Senator Obama is the same case that Senator Clinton put forward against Senator Obama, so it's not as though the McCain campaign has been forced to be innovative. The difference is that Clinton's anti-Obama argument is more compelling with the comparison of Senator McCain's record and (political and life) experience to Senator Obama's record and experience.

The Democrats have been front-running for so long in this election cycle, it was interesting that for the first time, they were forced to speak from a defensive position following the GOP convention. By emphasizing, as you have done Professor, that a vote for Obama ought to be a broader vote against the Republicans, the Dems have tacitly admitted that purely within a candidates-to-candidates comparison, McCain and Palin own distinct advantages over Obama and Biden.

I agree with you that arguing against Governor Palin's experience is a bad choice for the Democrats. First of all, it highlights the main flaw of the Dems presidential candidate, which is a poor pay-off when attacking a VICE-presidential candidate. It also emphasizes that Obama chose Biden to be his VP as a Cheney redux, highlighting Obama's lack of self-confidence in his foreign policy judgement, whereas McCain's Palin choice displays McCain's confidence in his own foreign policy judgement. The only way attacking Palin on experience can work is to be age-ist and imply that McCain is going to die in office, due to no other reason than his old age. Highlighting Palin in the campaign also backfires because her political experience actually compares favorably with Senator Obama's political experience. Of the Presidents in my lifetime, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George Bush Jr were all governors before they became President. George Bush Sr, of course, was Vice-President for 8 years. In other words, history shows that high-level executive experience matters to the American people when we choose our Presidents. Of all the candidates in this election, Governor Palin holds the most and highest executive experience.

As an Independent, I wish Senator McCain was 10 years younger and that he was more inclined to the Democrats agenda rather than the GOP agenda. At the same time, I wish Senator Obama had a track record that reinforced his appealing pledges and he had served his country in the military in some capacity, at least something akin to President Bush's Air National Guard service.

On the Columbia issue, Senator Obama is a fellow Columbia grad, who even majored in Poli-Sci/IR like I did. Senator McCain's daughter graduated from Columbia, too, which is good, but I'll give the edge to Obama.

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