To utilize a trite, overused sports analogy this election season, it is third and long in the fourth quarter for John McCain. Barack Obama has settled into his “prevent defense,” and McCain needs a couple of scores to have a chance of winning. McCain’s biggest opportunity will come in Wednesday’s final debate, and he needs a sharp performance that exceeds his first two in match-ups against Obama.
The second debate, in particular, was a disaster for McCain, marked by a sudden proposal to purchase $300 billion in residential mortgages and his flippant reference to Obama as “that one.” He also missed several opportunities to score big points that a skilled debater would have seized. For instance, when Obama set forth his opposition to consumer interstate insurance options, he referred to what lawyers call “the race to the bottom,” explaining how insurance companies would flock to the least regulated state, just as corporations gravitate towards Delaware. McCain should have responded: “I am glad that you mention Delaware, since we are talking about corporate greed and deregulation. Who is the senior senator from Delaware?”
McCain also lost a chance to hit Obama on his contradictory foreign policy, whereby he thinks the U.S. has a moral obligation to intervene against totalitarian, oppressive regimes but still opposed deposing Saddam Hussein’s murderous dictatorship. And when Obama talked about how courageously our troops in battle have performed, McCain should have demanded an explanation on the “air-raiding villages and killing innocent civilians” comment.
In addition to capitalizing more effectively on Obama’s mistakes, McCain must articulate several things in the final debate. McCain, thus far, has failed to explain to Americans the implications of an Obama presidency coupled with a solid Democratic majority in Congress, including a potentially filibuster-proof Senate. When Obama tells voters that he will not raise taxes for anyone making less than $250,000, McCain should ask whether he can promise Americans that he will veto any Nancy Pelosi bill that raises taxes.
While voters might mistrust Republicans at the moment, given eight years of the Bush administration and the Wall Street meltdown, an Obama victory would establish a government far more Left-leaning than most Americans want or realize. It is crucial for McCain to emphasize this.
McCain also needs to explain how Obama’s rhetoric on the economy and taxes is misleading. While McCain did a good job of explaining how Obama’s proposals would increase taxes on many small businesses and how his voting record does not square with his word, he must go further. Much of Obama’s proposed “tax cuts” are actually subsidies to people not currently paying taxes. This is classic, liberal income re-distribution, not tax-cutting.
Obama also has proposed raising the capital gains tax, which would not just affect the wealthy and elite, as many American families have long-term investments that would be subject to higher taxes under Obama. Furthermore, by allowing tax cuts passed under the Bush Administration to expire, rates in each income bracket will rise several percentage points in 2011, and the estate tax exemption will decrease to $1 million. In practical terms, this means that for any assets over $1 million that an individual accumulates in a lifetime, 60 percent will go to Uncle Sam.
While the biggest focus until November 4 will be on the economy, McCain still must use the final debate as a forum to confront Obama directly on some of his questionable affiliations, starting with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose anti-Americanism and long relationship with Obama resonates much more with people than the William Ayers connection. McCain should tie that argument into doubts about personnel appointments Obama would make in his administration, including Supreme Court justices. Obama voted against two eminently qualified Supreme Court nominees in John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and McCain should discuss the Boumediene v. Bush decision, which granted suspected terrorists federal habeas corpus rights, to highlight the kinds of liberal, political decisions we should expect Obama appointments to render from the bench.
While McCain’s task is a tall one on Wednesday, he still has a chance to win this election if he can hit Barack Obama on these issues and capitalize on further mistakes. If that happens, John McCain could complete the greatest political comeback in history, given the state of his campaign now and early in the Republican primaries. If not, he will prove to be, as some initially feared, Robert Dole the Second.