McCain-Obama III: The Naumachia in New York


The good people at Culture11 asked me to offer debate advice to Obama and McCain, and they've posted it here.

Do you want to be Harry Truman, surging back from a polling abyss to win this thing? Well, Harry Truman didn't win by acting plucky and waving newspaper headlines. He ran against the "do-nothing Republican Congress." And he had to defend his record while he did so. You don't. You can attack the lame duck Bush presidency in the same sentence that you attack Obama's votes with the majority. Don't just say he has a "liberal" voting record. He has a record of coordination with the worst Congress since, oh, 1937 or so.

When you do this, don't talk about Truman. Don't talk about Hoover, either. This election began in January 2007: Start from there. Attack Obama's economic recovery plan, in detail. Attack his abortion stance, in detail (maybe, unavoidably, in gruesome detail). He'll squirm, if you can pin some responsibility on him. Have you seen the primary debates? God, he loathes it when people do that to him. Make the young guy seem prickly and unattractive for once. You'll still lose this thing, probably, but you won't be the guy who spent the twilight of your career squealing about the Weather Underground.

That's my advice to McCain. My advice to Obama is simpler, because his job is simpler. I don't believe that McCain can "rule out" Obama for most voters with 19 days of character attacks. The man has taken the Wright bullet, the Ayers bullet, the self-inflicted stabbing of "Bittergate," and much, much more. Weaker attacks than this crippled Mike Dukakis and John Kerry. They weren't likeable, and Obama is. Maybe, maybe McCain can make him unlikeable tonight, but not with a telegraphed left hook on Bill Ayers.

If I'm right, and McCain can only win by attacking Bush and Congress, the election might have been lost when he backed the bailout. That was a real-time, 3 a.m. phone call opportunity to prove he'd be bringing bulldozers with him to the White House. He blinked.

But the advantage of an issue-based, economy-based, reality-based McCain attack is that, unlike Ayers, that's what'll come up tonight. Bob Scheiffer, the moderator, likes to stick to issues, even if he phrases the questions more zen-ly than other moderators. From last year:

Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?

We are talking about protecting ourselves from the unexpected, but the flu season is suddenly upon us. Flu kills thousands of people every year. Suddenly we find ourselves with a severe shortage of flu vaccine. How did that happen?

Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?

Stuff like that. I'll be shocked if Scheiffer, the aging arbiter of the last debate of the Most Important Election in the Universe, brings the debate to Bill Ayers or Charles Keating.

Bob Barr will be debating the candidates in his own event (not at reason HQ this time), which you can stream here.

NEXT: Live Tonight: reason's Staff Liveblogs the Final Debate of '08!

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  1. Good advice for McCain there David. I just hope he does something to make the rest of this race entertaining.

  2. I reluctantly admit I had to look up “Naumachia”.
    I kinda had it from context and root but there were no multiple choice definitions to select from.

    I blame a State University education.And dope.

  3. The Batman clip is amazingly representative of how I imagined this debate going down in the first place.

  4. You may be onto something there, Wonder-Midget! The candidates debate a little then fight with interns yelling out goofy sayings like, “POW”, “ZING”, and “KABLEWEY”. One can dream I suppose. (sigh)

  5. Sounds like you are hoping he doesn’t bring Ayers up. I would advise McCain to bring up Ayers and Wright, repeatedly.

    I would advise Obama to call him a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

    Then McCain should bring up Jackson’s comment about Zionists and ask Obama to denounce Jackson as a big mouth, no-nothing.

    Then Obama should say “Keating, Keating, Keating, nyah, nyah, nyah, so there!”

    McCain should then stick his tongue out at Obama and say “fuck it, you take it — it’s screwed up anyway.”

  6. Wikipedia Trivia of the Day:

    The only use of “Morituri te salutant” cited by a Roman source was when Suetonius was descibing a naumachia in ‘Life of the Twelve Caesars’.

    However, some on wikipedia also state that Suetonius, who was Hadrian’s personal secretary, was somewhere between the Drudge Report and the New York Post.

    Nevertheless, I would give mad props to either Senator if they openned with “We who are about to debate, salute you.”

  7. Problem comes down to:

    Obama has shown how he can spin liberal social position to sound moderate

    McCain has NOT shown an ability to spin his conservative positions to sound moderate

    Questions like: “Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?” are a baited trap for one, and a Solomon moment for the other.

  8. Then Obama should say “Keating, Keating, Keating, nyah, nyah, nyah, so there!”

    Or he could just point out that McCain hired Saddam Hussein’s Washington lobbyist. That would hurt in all the wrong places.

  9. I reluctantly admit I had to look up “Naumachia”.
    I kinda had it from context and root but there were no multiple choice definitions to select from.

    I blame a State University education.And dope.

    Well, I went to a Jesuit university and have never used dope, but I thought that naumachia was a dessert served at Greek weddings or something, so don’t feel too bad.

  10. I’m hoping that the moderator gets to th e important questions, like “Sarah Palin, does the carpet match the curtains?”

  11. I think the worst time to bring up Ayers is in a debate where Obama can offer some calm explanation of the whole thing. When you are guilting by association you want to ideally to just toss the association out there and let people infer what went on.

    I imagine the media will do their best to bring the “horse race” back.

  12. Dave is Republican shill!

  13. Hey David, that is the former Drug Czar’s website.Good career move, with an Obama Presidency there should be growth in the Right Wing journalism market.Well until the clampdown gets rollin’ anyways:)

  14. They’re not bringing up character attacks, and there’s not going to be any red meat or blood, no matter how much the media desires it.

  15. Yeah, McCain blinked when he supported the bailout. Most of us here opposed it saying it would only delay the markets finding their bottoms with both hands. Man, did today prove us right!
    But McCain was doomed to support the bailout. He may be a maverick, but he was chicken because he just doesn’t understand how markets work. He was the guy, after all, who would prop up the body of Alan Greenspan as head of the Fed.

    The whole world is like Wendy’s without Dave because the world is without Milton Friedman.

  16. “Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?”

    Maybe this is off-topic, but what’s with this question? Child mortality rates are all down dramatically, even over the last 20 years. Stupid perverse fear-mongering. Plus, as I’ve learned again and again – people are astoundingly bad at assessing trends over their own lifetimes… back when I was young and music *really meant something*….

  17. McCain blinked when he supported the bailout.

    I disagree. McCain has been in the banks’ pocket since at least the days of the Keating scandal. Voting for his contributors over the objections of his constituents was a foregone conclusion.


  18. McCain is just really unlucky this year, and his B-list campaign strategists are making Michael Dukakis 1988 campaign look like Ronald Reagan 1984.

  19. there’s not going to be any red meat or blood

    If he takes Weigel’s advice there will.Bloody red live baby meat that survived a partial birth abortion left to die alone, crying in a hospital closet. Do we know the real Barack Obama?

  20. Abortion? Yeah. That’s not a winning issue this year. In fact, if the Dems win this time, I doubt it will ever be an issue again cause the courts a’int never overturning Roe at that point for the next 30 years at least.

  21. Not to mention abortificant drugs will render to whole discussion rather quaint.

  22. I think McCain is going to crack and go ballistic. Either that or he will talk about reaching across the aisle and fondling Feingold.

  23. “I think McCain is going to crack and go ballistic. ”

    Oh please oh please oh please…make this entertaining. Maybe he’ll call Barack Obama a “mulatto”.

  24. Anybody ever notice how Barack is the opposite of a Valley Girl in that he usually ends his sentences in “down speak”?
    Well, McCain has annoying ticks and phrases that are far more grating.
    After 8 years, and two elections, we’ve gotten sick and tired of Bushisms, but I’m thinking third time–debate-wise–is charm and this will be the knock-out round for McCain… he’s driven us nuts even before the election. Or, more accurately, we’ve become pretty sure he’s the nut.

    As a geezer myself with annoying mannerisms out my ass, one might think I’d be sympathetic to McCain.

  25. BDB,

    See Weigel’s advice. Abortion isn’t the winning issue, it is upsetting Obama’s game tonight and reminding all those swing voters that they really don’t know who the guy is.Voting 4 times for infanticide isn’t the image most have of Obama.It is true and it is an opening to crack him and the perception of him by his soft supporters.It is a Hail Mary, but if it got any traction Palin just might be able to run it into the end zone. Will it work?
    Probably not.Might it work? You never know if you don’t throw the pass.

  26. I liked the job Scheiffer did four years ago and there’s no way he’ll do any worse than the absolutely horrendous job Tom Brokaw did.

  27. SIV, given McCain’s luck so far it will probably fail to shake Obama, which will get McCain even more mad and make him look like even more of a desperate old man. But you’re right, you never know. Senator McMonDole needs something.

  28. I’ve got my beer ready

  29. I really don’t get this “we don’t know who this man is” stuff. He’s been running for President for two years and gone through a brusing primary. That might have worked had he won New Hampshire and Hillary dropped out in early Feb., but not now. Actually, Hillary is the reason he’s doing as well as he is.

  30. McCainism #1 “Fanny and Freddy Mae”

    McCainism #2 “300 of that billion”

    the guy’s picking a bad time to have a senior moment.

  31. I was assigned to take note of the mentions of the Constitution for my Con. Law class. All one of them. Anyone remember it?

  32. He ran against the “do-nothing Republican Congress.”

    Ahh, the good old days…

  33. I just think it’s great that a show that I used to watch in reruns when I was a kid nearly three decades ago is now being used as social commentary. Who would’ve thunk it?

  34. As it turns out, McCain screwed up big-time on abortion.

  35. As it turns out, McCain screwed up big-time on abortion.

    joe, now you’ve gone too far. I call on you to apologize to Meghan McCain.

  36. Didn’t Dewey defeat Truman?

  37. Oh, DAMN, Abdul!

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