- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

The unexpected has happened to both presidential candidates in the past week that has turned the race for the White House upside down.

Barack Obama’s promise-them-anything acceptance speech did not draw the immediate bounce in the polls that most analysts had been expecting. With his approval numbers falling as he headed into his celebrity-filled Denver rock show, his old-style political attacks on John McCain tarnished his image as a new age leader, revealing himself to be just another pol.

His speech was filled with boiler plate liberal, welfare state proposals his party has been peddling for decades that belied the “change you can believe in” promises he has been making. His disappointing speech on a presumptuous Greco-Roman set in the Denver Broncos stadium was a costly leftist wish list that promised a vast enlargement of government that we have heard so many times before from Walter Mondale, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. Where was the change?

The Arizona Republican, however, showed himself to be the maverick, reform-minded leader he always has been by choosing a relatively little-known woman governor who threw a confused Obama campaign on the defensive - while strengthening Mr. McCain’s support at his party’s base.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as governors before her, was immediately susceptible to charges of inexperience in foreign policy, and questions of whether she was up to the job. Former governors like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had little overseas experience either, but dealt effectively with innumerable foreign policy crises.

But Mrs. Palin’s hands-on executive experience as governor, plus her real-life role as a wife, mother and political reformer - not to mention her fiesty talent as a political combatant - suggests that Mr. McCain had scored a political bullseye.

Even influential social conservative broadcaster James Dobson, no McCain cheerleader, is singing the senator’s praises as a result of his decision to place pro-lifer Mrs. Palin on the ticket.

Early political reaction pointed to her limited experience in government. She has only served two years as governor. But she arguably has much more executive experience than Barack Obama, who until just a few years ago was a state senator and before that a neighborhood organizer.

As governor, state oil and gas commissioner and former mayor she has run things and, maybe more importantly, taken on tough fights within her own party - something that Mr. Obama has avoided like the plague.

She went after her party’s Republican state chairman over ethical improprieties, forcing him to resign from the state’s oil and gas commission and pay a $12,000 fine. She defeated Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski in her party primary, going on to win the governorship with ease against a popular former governor.

In short, this is a woman with considerable political skills who will be no pushover in the vice presidential debate with Sen. Joe Biden.

Two more developments have occurred that promise to help the GOP as the presidential race heads into the general election - one is economic, the other is in Iraq.

Despite the gloom-and-doomers who have been predicting the country is falling into a recession, the U.S. Commerce Department announced last week that the economy grew by a 3.3 percent annualized rate between April and June - much stronger than was first thought.

The second quarter gross domestic product estimate was put at 1.9 percent initially, but reevaluation of the economic data showed that a surge in U.S. export sales had risen by nearly 14 percent over the three-month period.

This was sharply at odds with the Democrats’ deliberately pessimistic characterization that America doesn’t manufacture much of anything any more.

In fact, we are making more and selling more abroad than ever before in our history - raking in more than $1.6 trillion a year.

Meantime, gas prices were falling as the price of oil receded, and there was evidence that new and existing home sales were showing signs of life as a result of more affordable prices.

This is having a modestly positive affect on consumer sentiment. The University of Michigan consumer confidence index rose slightly to 63 points last month, up from 61.2 in July.

Then there is the likelihood that U.S. troop withdrawals will begin this month as a result of the successful U.S. military surge strategy that Mr. McCain championed and that Barack Obama predicted would fail.

It was announced this week that the Iraqi army has now taken over the once-violent Anbar province, one of more than a dozen provinces that Iraqis security forces now effectively safeguard.

This not only lowers the intensity of the Iraq war as an issue that Mr. Obama hoped would sweep him into the presidency, it raises troubling questions about his judgment on the war. He predicted defeat for U.S. forces there, while Joe Biden proposed dividing Iraq into three countries (Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurd), forecasting nothing but “chaos” for its new government. Both were wrong.

There will be many more twists and turns in this contest, but as of now, Mr. Obama has lost ground and Mr. McCain has gained some.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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