The Next Cheney

Democrats have a new site up attacking McCain’s possible running mates. It’s pretty silly, but worth viewing if for no other reason than to see how they would go after the various candidates if McCain were to nominate one of them.

The Debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the moderators and format of this fall’s presidential and vice-presidential debates:

First presidential debate Friday, September 26 The University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss. Jim Lehrer Executive Editor and Anchor, The NewsHour, PBS

Vice presidential debate Thursday, October 2 Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Gwen Ifill Senior Correspondent, The NewsHour, and Moderator and Managing Editor, Washington Week, PBS

Second presidential debate (town meeting) Tuesday, October 7 Belmont University, Nashville, Tenn. Tom Brokaw Special Correspondent, NBC News

Third presidential debate Wednesday, October 15 Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. Bob Schieffer CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent, and Host, Face the Nation

One presidential debate will focus on domestic policy, one on foreign policy, and the second one will be in the town hall format. That means that at least two of the debates (foreign and town hall) will play to McCain’s strengths. A key, as always, will be the expectations game. If, going in, McCain is expected to dominate because of his experience, a fairly competent performance by Obama may convince Americans that he has what it takes to be president. If, however, Americans who haven’t seen Obama before are expecting a rock star performance, they may be surprised to see Obama come off (especially in the town hall format) as pretty aloof and humorless, while McCain, instead of being a boring old guy, connects with the audience, and manages to make the laugh.

McCain Isn’t the Original Maverick

John McCain just launched a new ad , clearly aimed at independents, in which he casts himself as the anti-Washington reform candidate who “has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties” and who will “reform Wall Street” and “battle Big Oil.” It also borrows from Mitt Romney by declaring that “Washington’s broken,” (is McCain giving us a hint?) and creates distance between McCain and President Bush by declaring “we’re worse off than we were four years ago.” It also includes a factual error. The ad refers to McCain as the “original Maverick,” but the original Maverick was actually a man named, Sam Maverick , a 19th-century Texan who refused to brand his cattle.

Should McCain Actually Pick A Conservative?

Most on the right, understandably, want McCain to show that he cares by picking a solid conservative to be his running mate. While I would also like to see this in theory, in practice, most of the conservatives I can think of are doing so much good in their current positions that I’d hesitate to waste them. Whether it’s Tom Coburn in the Senate, Paul Ryan in the House, or Bobby Jindal at the state level, they’re all serving an important function in fighting for conservative principles, often against a Republican Party that has embraced big government and abandoned a commitment to reform. It’s hard to see them being more effective in a VP capacity within a McCain administration — and that’s if the ticket wins.

McCain-Cantor?

There’s been some talk of Rep. Eric Cantor becoming John McCain’s VP choice, and there are several things he has going for him. He made the American Conservative Union’s list of the “best and the brightest” in Congress in 2007 for achieving a 100 percent rating, so he would be acceptable to the right, he’s been an active McCain surrogate, he’s from the swing state of Virginia, and he could help McCain chip away at the Jewish vote, especially in Florida, and at 45, he’s still young. The drawback is that he’s untested at the national level and as a Congressman, would face the “is he ready to take over if something happens to McCain” question. But McCain could do much worse than picking Cantor.

All Fun and Games Til Somebody Lacerates His Foot

Blogging from California, where I’m detained for a few extra days, because I had a rope climbing accident while playing with my nephew on the beach in Santa Monica, which resulted in a deep gash across the bottom of my foot requiring 11 stitches. “I once saw a guy who sliced up his entire foot on the rudder of a boat,” a medical assistant told me. “But your cut is much gnarlier.” Perhaps one day I’ll write a full account of the incident, including the part when I was driven off the beach in one of those “Baywatch”-style rescue vehicles, with a cheering crowd of onlookers. But for now, just rest assured that all is well, but the scarring will put an end to my foot-modeling aspirations, so it looks like the world will be stuck with my writing forever.

I’m Just Saying…

John Edwards, a former trial lawyer and a politician, has never been particularly shy about talking to the press, but

About a dozen reporters and photojournalists attended a speech Edwards gave to an AARP Foundation symposium on poverty and aging in Washington. Afterward, he avoided most of the waiting reporters, at least some of whom wanted to question him about recent reports in the National Enquirer that alleged an inappropriate relationship with a former campaign videographer….

Edwards apparently ducked out a side area used by the kitchen staff in the fourth-floor ballroom of Washington’s historic Hotel Monaco. Edwards emerged from a lower-level handicap ramp near the rear of the hotel with two men. When approached by a Charlotte Observer reporter, Edwards said, “Can’t do it now, I’m sorry” and quickly walked past.

Asked what he was doing at the Beverly Hilton last week, Edwards said “sorry” and got into a waiting car with the other men.

The Obama Uncertainty Principle

Quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg famously posited that it is impossible to precisely measure the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously. His “uncertainty principle,” in popular usage, has come to mean that any attempt to observe something changes what is being observed.

This is becoming an accurate description of Barack Obama’s quest for the White House.

When Obama suggested, weeks before visiting Iraq, that he could “refine” his 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq after meeting with commanders, he came under fire for flip-flopping on the signature issue of his campaign. Coming on the heels of his reversals on FISA, public financing, and gun rights, Obama was starting to look like John Kerry redux.

So Obama dug in, and reiterated his support for a 16-month withdrawal timetable, to be instituted regardless of the advice of commanders or conditions on the ground. But this drew criticism for recklessly putting ideology over sound strategy, and so in an interview with Newsweek this past weekend, Obama said the number of residual troops he would leave in Iraq would be “entirely conditions-based.”

Losing presidential candidates tend to get stung by simple narratives. Michael Dukakis became known as the soft, bleeding-heart liberal in 1988, the elder President Bush was seen as out of touch in 1992, Al Gore was the serial exaggerator in 2000, and Kerry was the flip-flopper in 2004.

To anybody closely following his policy zigzags, Obama comes off looking very foolish, but his malleability has also made it difficult for John McCain to pin him down. Portraying him as a shameless flip-flopper who is tacking right during the general election makes Obama look less like a rigid liberal ideologue and more like a pragmatist, while pegging him as an uncompromising leftist undercuts the image of him as a flip-flopper.

This is not the only example in which competing portraits of Obama have worked to his advantage. From the time he began considering a presidential run, seasoned reporters and analysts described Obama as a wet behind the ears rookie who would be bulldozed by the Clinton juggernaut. The race was dubbed “Obambi vs. Hillzilla,” after the cult classic cartoon in which the Japanese monster stomps the doe-eyed little deer.

IN THE END, Hillary Clinton would prove the perfect opponent for Obama, because the Clintons’ long-established reputation as the most calculating political family in modern history obscured how devious Obama could be. As a result, the media — and Democratic voters — sided with the nice, innocent-seeming Obama over the nasty, cut-throat Clintons during the primaries.

Only after he vanquished Mrs. Inevitable and began his general election makeover did Obama start being portrayed as Machiavellian, and in a recent issue of the New Yorker, as an operator who had mastered the art of dirty machine politics in Chicago.

Once again, though, these portraits of Obama are difficult to reconcile. Obama may be a naive rube, or he may be Richard Nixon on steroids, but it’s difficult to make the public see him as both at the same time.

Even the controversies that have caused the most problems for Obama — his relationship with his long-time pastor Jeremiah Wright and his comments that working class voters in small towns “cling” to guns and religion out of bitterness — represent competing narratives.

The Wright episode highlighted his ties to the most offensive elements of the inner-city racial grievance industry, while “bitter-gate” made him appear as a Harvard-bred elitist.

BUT NOW, a new narrative is taking hold — of Obama’s hubris. The charge was once confined to conservative commentators, but none other than the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank picked up on the theme this week, even referring to Obama as the “presumptuous nominee.” From his introduction of a new presidential seal, to his Berlin rally in front of 200,000, to his declaration that “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” Obama has given analysts plenty of fodder.

While Americans like their presidents to be confident, the “hubris” label would be damaging to Obama, because his tremendous self-regard is inversely proportional to his actual accomplishments, and his opponent has served the nation with honor for decades.

But given Obama’s consciousness of others’ observations, his shape-shifting tendencies, and Machiavellian political skills, we should stay tuned. A humility offensive may be just around the corner.