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.