Friday, August 29, 2008

A Contender

If the first night of the Democratic convention left me uneasy, the last night left me hopeful. In Barack Obama, the Democrats have a candidate who will carry the fight to the Republican Party and John McCain. No more Mike Dukakis riding in a tank, no more Al Gore missing the point about the Florida recounts, and no more watching John Kerry stand mute while the Swiftboat campaign derails his candidacy.

All of these candidates were good men, but they (or at least their campaigns) lacked the combination of strategic and tactical sense to fight the Republicans effectively. Obama's sense of history, his dramatic timing, and his ability to come through in the clutch--plus a combative spirit on display last night--will all make him a far tougher campaigner than any Democrat the Republicans have faced since Bill Clinton. Best of all, Obama does not have the personal weaknesses and vices that made Clinton a vulnerable leader against determined opposition.

Looking back, it does seem that the convention followed a narrative structure that lifted up Obama. First, the convention introduced Obama's family in as likable and non-threatening a way possible. Then it healed rifts in the party. Then it sent the presidential nominee out to fight.

So far, Obama has painted McCain as a decent man who is simply out of touch with the needs of the times. Republicans who put their faith in McCain's war record as the antidote to all Democratic charges should remember something: Bill Clinton ran against two distinguished veterans of World War II and beat them by framing them as yesterday's men. Obama has the capacity to do the same thing to McCain.

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