Obama's Ideal Focus for the Homestretch: Trade and Taxes

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 8:51 AM EDT

Yesterday we cobbled together a strategy for John McCain — paint himself as the more experienced of two "reform" candidates (best not to use "change," it's too obviously owned by the other guy), ignore all issues where he mirrors Bush, and allow third party attacks to keep hammering away at Obama's character and otherness. Today, in the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson has a prescription for Obama:

One key contrast Obama has been reluctant to draw is over globalization and investment. On these issues (and most others), McCain is a standard-issue Republican. He's never met a trade deal he didn't like, and his formula for boosting the American economy is to preserve tax cuts for the very rich and slash taxes on corporations. Obama, by contrast, acknowledges the costs as well as the benefits of trade and argues that globalization requires strengthening the safety net for American workers at home and putting enforceable labor standards into any future trade deals. Unlike McCain, he favors a domestic investment policy that designates tax dollars and tax credits for building a greener economy.
But these are contrasts that Obama has yet to draw in a compelling way. In a speech on the economy Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla., he talked about investing in infrastructure projects and green jobs without contrasting his stances with those of McCain, or of George W. Bush, whose economic policies are essentially indistinguishable from McCain's.

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It's a great point — one that shouldn't have to be made by Meyerson, considering that Obama returned from his overseas trip and announced that he'd be focusing on the economy for the duration of the election. On these issues, McCain's history as a reformer is irrelevant. Obama's "celebrity" and unknown quality are irrelevant. McCain's willingness to seek the middle on energy, immigration, and other issues is irrelevant. Obama's relative lack of experience, his sometimes unconventional foreign policy positions, and all the other aspects of this campaign that give Obama headaches are irrelevant.

On these issues, Obama is a standard Democrat and McCain is a standard Republican, and right now America is begging for a new economy policy. As Meyerson puts it, "Essentially, Obama is declining to swing at hanging curve balls."

So, hey David Axelrod and David Plouffe — giddyup. Your next ad in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the Great Lakes states should be all about McCain's embrace of trade agreements that send job overseas and his tax plan that rewards the same corporations that pull the trigger on that off-shoring. That indeed is a fat pitch.

Update: You'll note that the recipes for success outlined here suggest McCain focus on biographical issues, Obama focus on economic issues, and neither candidate focus on Iraq. I think that's about right. My instinct is that the Iraq War is a wash politically and that Americans are tired about hearing about it. I would guess neither candidate benefits greatly from mentioning it regularly.

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