John McCain Finds His Campaign Storyline

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The first thing college kids learn, after the thing about the beer bongs, is they must have a thesis in their papers, a unifying idea that unites all the words that follow. The same is true for presidential campaigns. There needs to be a unifying idea, an argument, one that is not just suited to the candidate but the environment. Obama has one: He is the change you can believe in. He is the guy who will change not just the policies of Washington, but the politics of Washington and the world. For most of the summer, John McCain has not really had one. He has a biography, a commitment to serve a cause greater than himself, but that has not been enough, especially with Democrats trouncing Republicans on the generic ballot and a sitting Republican president who polls on par with Richard Nixon when he resigned from office. As a result, McCain was left talking about a list of issues, about the meaning of “timeline” and the wisdom of the “Lexington Project.”

That’s now changing. On Wednesday, the McCain campaign spelled out its storyline, its thesis statement. Since this election is about Barack Obama, most of the story concerns Obama and not McCain. But it is clear, cogent and biting. (Democrats and many independent observers will also charge that it is nasty, negative and unfair.) It also just might work. Here is the nut of the idea, from a story I posted today on

[The] argument […] amounts to this: Barack Obama is a huge phenomenon, but he does not have the experience, or the judgement, to lead the country. In fact, he is just another politician, an empty suit, who will do whatever he needs, and make as many vague but eloquent speeches as he has to, to get elected. John McCain, on the other hand, is a proven, principled leader you already know. . . .

“It’s beyond dispute that he has become the biggest celebrity in the world,” [McCain Campaign head Steve] Schmidt said of Obama. “The question we are posing to the American people is this: Is he ready to lead? . . . Do the American people want to elect the world’s biggest celebrity or do they want to elect an American hero, somebody who is a leader, somebody who has the right ideas to deal in a serious way with the problems we face? . . . And that will be the fundamental choice that Americans will make as they focus in on who to elect the 44th President of the United States 97 days from now.”