Cindy McCain's Opening Salvo (& Why It Gives <em>Us</em> Hope)

Posted: Feb 19, 2008 2:40 PM

As MKH noted, Cindy McCain got some mileage out of Michelle Obama's gaffe today, saying:

“I am proud of my country. I don’t know about you? If you heard those words earlier, I am very proud of my country,” Mrs. McCain said while revving up the crowd and introducing her husband.
Say what you will about this being a Democratic year, but I believe both Democrats (and their spouses) are prone to gaffes.  And you never know which of these minor gaffes could become huge ones which become a media narrative (think Teresa Heinz Kerry telling a reporter to "shove it," John Kerry's getting Lambeau Field wrong, or even Kerry's fondness of wind surfing). 

(Bill Clinton, alone, has already made several of these gaffes ...)

What is more, as Cindy McCain's remarks demonstrate, the McCain campaign is ready to go on the attack -- and are, in fact, already beginning to define Obama as a weak-kneed liberal Democrat -- even before the General Election campaign begins.

Keep in mind, this Obama hasn't really ever taken a real punch (sure, Hillary has slapped him a few times on style, but what I mean is a real-life substantive punch).  It's hard to judge how well a candidate will do until he gets into a real contest.  Heck, even Mike Dukakis looked pretty great until the summer of '88.  The test of a candidate is how they stand up under scrutiny.  Don't be so sure that Obama will look so good once the American public knows everything about his positions.

Cindy McCain's comments, of course, could not really have been effectively leveled by Hillary Clinton (because she and Obama agree on ideology).  While Hillary, no doubt, would argue that she was very proud of the 1990s -- she isn't likely to criticize someone for not being a "proud American."  That is essentially a General Election fight -- one that works well coming from a former P.O.W. (or his wife) -- and also a fight in which the Democrats almost always lose (because it shows they are out-of-touch with most patriotic Americans).

For this reason, McCain will have a much easier time favorably contrasting himself to Obama than Hillary has.  If the only difference is who is more charismatic, Obama always wins.  But when real philosophical differences emerge -- as they always do in  General Elections -- I think the country is with us on most of the big questions. 

The bottom line is, unlike Hillary, McCain can make this race about more than just who the best speaker is ...