At a time when, in previous presidential years, neither party yet knew who its nominees would be, both have already known that vital information for months, and the problem is how to get through the nearly four months remaining before Election Day without boring the country to death.
The next president will be either John McCain or Barack Obama. They may be able to generate a little excitement over their choices for vice president, but pretty much everything else we need to know about the two tickets, and their accompanying platforms, is already known. Neither candidate is likely to have any big surprise (like, say, a novel policy plank) up his sleeve, and the two campaigns will roll forward on tracks already clearly visible.
That means that any unexpected developments will come from outside and impact on the campaigns, rather than emerge from within them. McCain adviser Charles Black was spanked publicly for telling a reporter that a terrorist attack on the United States would benefit his tiger immensely, but it is the simple truth, recognized by every politician in the land. More broadly, the two campaigns will benefit (or suffer), in opposite proportions, depending on how the military situation develops in Iraq between now and November. Recently, it has been improving, and that has marginally benefited the Republicans. McCain has shared in the benefit because he has steadfastly supported our intervention in Iraq.
Conversely, any military setback we experience in Iraq between now and Election Day would be of huge help to the Democrats. Not long ago Senate majority leader Harry Reid declared that the war was "lost," and that our only choice was to pull out. Every Democratic leader seemed to have his own specific timetable by which he or she wanted to see us withdraw.
Such talk has died down lately as the military situation has improved, but it would revive in a hurry if the military prospects began to sour.
Domestically, neither camp seems eager to draw any sharp lines in the sand. The public seems to feel that the economy is in pretty poor shape, but in fact (aside from a few glaring instances, such as gasoline prices), the situation isn't all that bad -- as demonstrated by the Democrats' failure to call for any really dramatic measures to remedy it.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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