Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tonight’s debate between John McCain and Barack Obama should reveal a Republican nominee who is willing to acknowledge that he has an opponent standing next to him and knows he can win on the issues, without questioning the character of the person standing next to him.

One of the criticisms of the McCain campaign is that it has not been strong enough in drawing a contrast between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, but now the campaign has signaled that it will indeed begin to dig into Mr. Obama’s character. This new tactic is affectionately referred to in politics as “going negative.” While negative ads and campaigning have proven to be effective, the McCain campaign has ceded Michigan and it is on the defense in three or four traditional Republican-leaning states that now appear to be leaning Democrat. Going negative could be viewed as desperation by voters.

There are plenty of issues that can be used to tear down the facade of leadership Mr. Obama presents. Yesterday, Mr. McCain began in earnest to tie Mr. Obama and the Democrats to the current “financial crisis” through their collective support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - and he should. Fannie and Freddie’s risk-based investments in mortgage-backed securities is a factual position for which their most ardent supporters have no defense.

Mr. McCain can pull statements about Mr. Obama’s lack of leadership and experience at his leisure from Mr. Obama’s Democratic primary opponents. He can also hit Mr. Obama for his associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Weather Underground co-founder William Ayers. Such criticisms are usually made by private-political groups, but a lack of fund-raising has forced the campaign and the Republican National Committee to go at it themselves.

Mr. McCain can also hit Mr. Obama with questionable votes, as Joe Biden attempted to do during the vice presidential debate. But this sort of barrage may take up about 25 minutes of the debate - and that is assuming he doesn’t answer the questions asked or cuts off his answers to delve into his own strategical subject matter.

There is another alternative. Mr. McCain could simply debate Mr. Obama on the issues and show clearly that raising taxes - on the rich, on corporations, on capital gains and dividends - are not sound economic policies. Mr. McCain should also point out the vast spending initiatives that Mr. Obama has said he would undertake as president. And while Mr. McCain has been criticized as a Bush Republican, Mr. Obama certainly deserves criticism for being a Pelosi Democrat (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that is).

It would be the best of both worlds if Mr. McCain could debate Mr. Obama on a range of issues - the economy and taxes, health care and other entitlements, Supreme Court nominations and national security. But if Mr. McCain attempts to simply impugn Mr. Obama’s character tonight - which he said he would not do - that would mean reneging on his word.

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