The U.S. presidential campaign is turning into a Jiu Jitsu match, in which each side turns its opponent’s attacks back upon themselves. For example, in recent weeks the McCain campaign has been attempting to turn one of Obama’s own greatest strengths against him, by characterizing him as a “celebrity” – an interesting attempt to convert Obama’s very charisma into a liability.
A weakness of this strategy is that McCain supporters are not stupid. They may disagree with Obama’s proposed policies, but they know that he is not Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, and they know full well (even if they are loathe to admit it) that they are being talked down to by the McCain campaign.
And sure enough, the Obama camp devised a counter-Jiu Jitsu of its own. Realizing the weakness of the McCain campaign’s rhetoric – by promoting an unsupportable myth the McCain camp had exposed its own soft pink underbelly – Obama lay low and bided his time, allowing the McCain folks plenty of opportunities to repeat the comment ad nauseum, letting his opponents believe that they were scoring a victory each time they uttered the word “celebrity”.
Which set the stage perfectly for Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Rather than soaring rhetoric, instead of ringing pronouncements about The Audacity of Hope, Obama showed the nation his real strength – his ability to speak to specific issues, to clearly frame the differences between his positions and the positions of his opponent, and to use those differences to tear apart his opponent’s case on the merits. After all – for anybody who’s been paying attention – this is a skill Obama has been continually developing since his days running the Harvard Law Review two decades ago.
All of which ends up making the major recent talking point of the McCain campaign look rather silly. On the other hand, the McCain camp immediately followed with some new Jiu Jitsu of its own – it arranged for its candidate to select a woman as his running mate. And not just any woman! Governor Palin is adamantly against women’s reproductive rights and has no experience whatsoever with either national or international policy.
I just read the following comment about her, from a Republican delegate: “She hunts. She fishes. She is an environmentalist.” Trying to unravel that thought makes my head hurt – as though Madonna had actually said “McCain is like Hitler, because some of his best friends are Jews.”
Come to think of it, picking Palin is not as much a threat to Obama as it is a threat to women – the gender equivalent of appointing Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. If Hillary Clinton had made it to the White House – whether you agree with her policies or not – we would most likely have had a seasoned and capable chief executive, with a clear view of national and international policy. Her tenure in the Oval Office would have cleared a path for future female U.S. presidents.
But if, for whatever reason, McCain cannot serve out his term and Palin should become president, her complete lack of experience at the national or international level and her strong stand against women’s rights will ensure that it might be another century before either party will be able to rally women voters to support a woman for president.
Hmm. Maybe the McCain folks are better at this Jiu Jitsu stuff than I’d thought…