Two Democratic priorities in the next Congress would placate two factions that hold the party's leash -- organized labor and the far left. One is abolition of workers' right to secret ballots in unionization elections. The other is restoration of the "fairness doctrine" in order to kill talk radio, on which liberals cannot compete. The doctrine would expose broadcasters to endless threats of litigation over government rules about how many views must be presented, on which issues, by whom, for how long and in what manner.
By promising to veto both of these forthcoming assaults on fundamental freedoms, McCain would give specific content to voters' usually unfocused fear of one-party government. Then, having delighted conservatives, who have thus far curbed their enthusiasm for him, he should make this challenge:
He should ask Obama to join him in a town meeting on lessons from Russia's aggression. Both candidates favor NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, perhaps Vladimir Putin's next victim. But does Russia's behavior cause Obama to rethink reliance on "soft power" -- dialogue, disapproval, diplomacy, economic carrots and sticks -- which Putin considers almost an oxymoron? Does Russia's resort to military coercion, and its arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, cause Obama to revise his resistance to missile defense? Obama, unlike McCain, believes Russia belongs in the G-8. Does Obama think Russia should be admitted to the World Trade Organization? Does Obama consider Putin helpful regarding Iran? Does Obama accept the description of the G-8 as an organization of the largest "industrialized democracies"? Does he think China should be admitted?
McCain, like Republicans generally, reveres Ronald Reagan. But such reverence seems to involve an obligatory sunniness, which suits neither McCain nor this moment. A great political thinker of the last century, Raymond Aron, was right: "What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error." McCain must convince voters that Obama's complacent confidence in the taming abilities of soft power is the effect of liberalism's scary sentimentalism about a dangerous thing, human nature, and a fiction, "the community of nations."
McCain is hardly the change many people have been eagerly waiting for, but Putin is part of the change we must confront. Until Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, it seemed that not even the Democratic Party could lose this election. But it might if McCain can make it turn on the question of who is ornery enough to give Putin a convincing, deterring telephone call at 3 a.m.