Friday, August 29, 2008

Wiley experience versus unsteady charisma: McCain Vs. Obama

On August 28, 2008, Democratic Presidential Candidate and apparent wanna-be Caesar Barack Obama gave the speech of his life at the Denver Invesco stadium to a huge crowd of nearly 80,000 fans. Fans, I say, because it has become clear that Obama is more of a celebrity than a candidate. The mainstream media treats Obama like a Rock Star: ignore his foibles, pretend that he is not frightfully lacking in experience, do not draw attention to the confused and conflicting policies he has put forth, try to cover for his arrogance and haughty attitude that reinforces the feeling from many Americans that he is either totally out of touch or woefully elitist.

So today, August 29th, it would be natural to expect that Obamania would cover the pages of the electronic media. But no. Look at, and you don’t see Obama today. Nor will you find his Lordship gracing the cover of the more liberal No, instead you see McCain—and his newly announced running mate.

Just at the time when the press was all giddy about Obama—McCain may have just upstaged him!

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been tapped to be McCain’s VP, surprising most people who thought that Romney or Pawlenty would have been the natural choices. Was this a brilliant strategic move by McCain? Palin is young, relatively inexperienced, could this have been a mistake?

Coming out of the Democratic Convention, CNN talking heads proudly pronounced that “76% of Democrats said that the convention unified the party.” Interesting spin on a statistic that we already knew weeks ago: about 30% of the Hillary Clinton supporters were bitter about how she was treated by the Obama campaign and surrogates, and were not likely to vote for Obama. Many women in the country, who are likely to be the swing voters and turn the tide in this campaign, felt deeply disappointed that Clinton was not the Democratic nominee, or at the very least, Obama’s choice for VP. So saying that 76% of Dems feel that the party has unified is just another way of saying that 24% are still not happy. And that 24% equates to hundreds of thousands if not millions of votes.

Whenever I analyze this situation, the most logical analogies that come to mind seem to be either Chess or military strategies. I am a fan of chess and in chess there are three principal elements to the game that must be mastered in order to win the game.
They are Space (territory on the board), Momentum, and Material.

Once upon a time, Obama had all three of these to his advantage.
Voter support, translated into votes, won states, and thus delegates, is the territory. And according to most polls, Obama appeared to ahead. But he has slowly leaked that support away through a number of missteps. Obama gave up territory.
In order to win—Chess or war battles equally—combatants sometimes must sacrifices territory in order to gain either momentum or material.
Obama apparently decided that, by nominating Joe Biden to be his running mate, he could use Biden’s years in Senate to counter the attacks on Obama’s lack of experience, and hopefully come out of the convention with increased momentum. But this didn’t seem to work. Many who had hoped that he would choose Hillary were disappointed. And while Biden is a fairly serious choice, back when Biden was one of the Democratic candidates opposing Obama, he had made a number of stinging criticisms about Obama’s lack of experience.
This gave new ammunition to the GOP, and facilitated the attack on Obama’s lack of experience—and judgment: Obama's choice actually undermined the weak flank he had hoped would be reinforced. And Obama left the convention without gaining in momentum.

McCain’s choice of Governor Palin appears to be a classic flanking maneuver. McCain had attacked Obama on experience, which forced Obama to choose Biden over Clinton, since Clinton—in spite of her popularity—could not claim many years of experience as anything other than the wife of a former President. The choice of Biden reinforced the public’s suspicion that Obama was inexperienced, but it also reinforced the resentment by Hillary’s supporters, and the women who had so wanted to see a woman in the White House in a role other than first lady or sexy intern.

That third element in chess, material, is usually the “pieces” that empower the player. Rooks, Knights, Queen, etc. Without material, the player simply cannot control the board or the momentum. In politics, it can be equated to financial support, and that intangible support that is media attention and buzz.

The Palin choice, announced the day after Obama’s biggest speech, has taken that advantage away from him, and with it will come momentum. After all, on the day when everyone should have been talking about Obama’s great speech, they are instead talking about VP candidate Palin. Women callers to the Laura Ingraham show this morning were energized, excited, and without an exception said that this decision will encourage them to donate to the McCain campaign. In other words, McCain has now gained additional material to propel his campaign forward.

On all three fronts, material, momentum, and space, McCain has slowly whittled down the Obama advantage. We are witnessing a classic example of a battle led by two very different generals: an older, experience statesman, and a young, brash, charismatic celebrity.

And it is becoming very clear, that while there is a romantic attraction to the young and charismatic leader, unless that charisma is enhanced by some real street smarts, he can easily be outclassed by the wily old man.

In my opinion, barring some unforeseen disaster on the McCain camp, Obama just lost the lead, and may be headed toward doom.


Anonymous said...

Very insightful, well thought out analysis. As they say, "Age and experience will beat youth and enthusiasm every time." Hopefully, this will hold true in November.

Anonymous said...

I find McCain's decision to pick Palin was indeed bold, whether it was smart or not is yet to be seen. I don't think by making such an announcement takes anything away from Obama or anyhing he did last night during his nomination speech. Even if the media is focused on Palin's VP nomination,it still doesn't take anything away from Obama. Obama resonates with his supporters and whether or not the media is covering him is not a factor. He will still get our votes. I don't think the attention Palin & McCain are getting right now will have no bearing on Obama path to the White House. I think using the word "doom" might have been stretching it just a bit, don't you think? I don't think there's anything else in the world that can bring people out of their humanity other than a presidential election.